books

Want to up the ante at your next book club? Here’s how.

Themed dinner parties were all the rage in the 1970s (so I’m told), and I’m all for reviving the custom, albeit with a contemporary twist. With the continuing boom in book clubs and sure in the knowledge that words and wine (well, alcohol of almost any description) make fine partners, I’d like to suggest these gustatory pairings for your next literary gathering.

The Light Between Oceans
M L Steadman’s tale of a childless couple living in isolation in a West Australian lighthouse is a heart-breaking one. The description of sea and treacherous surf is so evocative that you can practically smell the salt spray off Cape Naturaliste. It’s the perfect book-club read, with a moral dilemma at its centre that everyone is sure to have an opinion on. Stoke the conversational fires with a Margaret River Chardonnay or Cabernet; try A Voyager Estate Chardy or a Vasse Felix Cabernet, and serve with seafood, and a bittersweet dessert.

The Lover’s Guide to Rome by Mark Lamprell
Think of Rome and of course the wine and food pairing options are numerous. Start with a Campari and soda to get everyone in the mood, and perhaps paper-thin slices of prosciutto, melon and pecorino romano. Alternatively, if your book club loves bubbles (and mine does so much that it’s the name of our club) then a glass of Prosecco is the answer. Australia’s King Valley makes some wonderful examples: try one from Chrismont or Pizzini. Follow this up with a traditional spaghetti alla carbonara made with pancetta, cheese and egg and match it with a crisp Frascati – the wine that is synonymous with Rome – try the Monte Porzio Catone, stocked in Dan Murphy’s, for an easy, enjoyable and delicious drink – much like the book itself.

Barbera… barbaric… the two words aren’t so far apart, and what better to serve when discussing Charlotte Wood’s harrowing, but compelling novel, The Natural Way of Things. If you have the stomach for it, then dish up a rabbit and mushroom casserole (you’ll know what I mean when you’ve read the book) and pour large glasses of this intensely berry-flavoured, acidic, earthy, strong-tannin wine. It will have almost as much impact as the book itself. Try a barbera from Coriole, Michele Chiarlo or Dal Zotto.

Maestra by LS Hilton is the latest red-hot read that’s on many people’s radars – the author’s original agent and publisher refused to have anything to do with it, and it’s certainly dividing readers. It’s sinful, shocking and sexy and I can’t wait to get stuck into it! It sounds like a book that needs to be discussed after a few cocktails – perhaps a beetroot and blood orange margarita might do the trick – and you’ll probably be so enthralled that you’ll forget all about food…

Cheryl Strayed’s raw and beautiful memoir, Wild, is sure to be a hit with book clubs: put it on the list if yours hasn’t yet got around to reading it. The story documents Strayed’s solo walk along the Pacific Crest Trail, from Mexico all the way north to Canada and she tried to make peace with her demons. Strayed walked as far as Oregon, through California, so plump for an Oregon pinot or a Napa Valley cabernet. Non-drinkers can opt for a Snapple – a drink she craved while walking the 1,100 miles of her hike. If you’re brave enough, serve freeze-dried hiking food, or perhaps just some trail bars!

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Wild was brought to the big screen in 2014. Image courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s The Language of Flowers was one of my favourite reads of 2015. It’s a poignant, elegantly written story of a homeless young woman who is saved by her love of flowers; of how she rebuilds her life by helping people to communicate with flowers, and learns, ultimately, to communicate herself. Go to town with stuffed zucchini flowers, saffron-scented risotto, crystallised violets, rose-petal martinis…. If it’s wine you’re after, then a floral New Zealand gewurtztraminer will fit the bill, try Huia’s delicious example and then finish with some soothing chamomile tea.

Liane Moriarty’s hit Big Little Lies is set for the small screen, but as any book lover worth their salt knows, it’s always best to read the book first. Serve up freshly baked banana muffins, generous amounts of fizzy pink punch and wait for the secrets to be divulged!

It makes perfect sense to discuss Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic accompanied by a glass or two of Champagne – because once you’ve read this generous, wonderful treatise, ideas will fizz and pop and perhaps even explode around you. Charles Heidsieck is a favourite, but if the budget is more modest a bottle of Aussie sparkling is sure to get the creative juices flowing: try a Taltarni Brut Taché or a couple of bottles of Janz Premium Cuvee. I’d bet Heston Blumenthal would have a field day designing food to go with this theme. I’d make a chocolate tart scattered with popping candy or infused with chilli, after plenty of flavour-packed appetisers to spark the appetite and the imagination.

You can listen to Mia Freedman's interview with Elizabeth Gilbert here:

Find it on iTunes here.

Listen on Omny here.

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Follow the Mamamia Podcast Network for more podcasts here.

Kayte Nunn is the former editor of Gourmet Traveller WINE magazine and her first novel Rose’s Vintage is out now from Nero (an imprint of Black Inc Books) in print and eBook. She plans to serve a chilled, savoury rosé and some strawberry tarts and hide in the corner when her book club discusses it.

Got any books that you think are just crying out to be matched with food and wine? Tell us your favourites.

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