Sweetbitter meets The Nightingale in this page-turning novel about a woman who returns to her family’s ancestral vineyard in Burgundy and unexpectedly uncovers a lost diary, an unknown relative, and a secret her family has been keeping since World War II.
To become one of only a few hundred certified wine experts in the world, Kate must pass the notoriously difficult Master of Wine examination. She’s failed twice before; her third attempt will be her last chance. Suddenly finding herself without a job and with the test a few months away, she travels to Burgundy to spend the fall at the vineyard estate that has belonged to her family for generations. There she can bolster her shaky knowledge of Burgundian vintages and reconnect with her cousin Nico and his wife, Heather, who now oversee day-to-day management of the grapes. The one person Kate hopes to avoid is Jean-Luc, a talented young winemaker and her first love.
At the vineyard house, Kate is eager to help her cousin clean out the enormous basement that is filled with generations of discarded and forgotten belongings. Deep inside the cellar, behind a large armoire, she discovers a hidden room containing a cot, some Resistance pamphlets, and an enormous cache of valuable wine. Piqued by the secret space, Kate begins to dig into her family’s history—a search that takes her back to the dark days of World War II and introduces her to a relative she never knew existed, a great–half aunt who was a teenager during the Nazi occupation.
As she learns more about her family, the line between resistance and collaboration blurs, driving Kate to find the answers to two crucial questions: Who, exactly, did her family aid during the difficult years of the war? And what happened to six valuable bottles of wine that seem to be missing from the cellar’s collection?
Hardcover: 384 pages
Publisher: William Morrow (June 19, 2018)
As you may know if you read this blog and my reviews, historical fiction, especially World War II historical fiction is one of my favorite genres. When you add a wine and food element to that, you get a book that hits all of my buttons and The Lost Vintage is that book. It takes historical fiction adds a foodie element and tells it, fairly seamlessly, within two stories or timelines--present day and the 1940s. In the present day we have Kate, a sommelier studying for her third and final attempt at the Master of Wine examination. On the advice of her mentor she heads to her family's vineyard in Burgundy to stay with her cousin Nico and his wife Heather (Kate's best friend from college), help with the upcoming harvest, and meet with local wine experts to improve her knowledge of the local grapes and wine. Kate and Heather start a huge project clearing out the basement filled with decades of their family's castaway items and Kate discovers a secret room with a collection of valuable wine and WWII French resistance pamphlets. Kate's family's reticence to talk about the past have she and Heather investigating and uncovering family secrets, including the existence of a young girl who would have been her Great-Aunt Helene and the fact that there are six bottles of an expensive 'lost vintage' that are missing from the secret room's cache of valuable wine. The second story is told through Helene's journal and covers the 1940s, right before the war starts and before the Nazis invade France, with Helene about to graduate high school and attend university to study chemistry. The war prevents Helene from escaping her life with her cold stepmother and she must stay home to care for her young stepbrothers. Back in the present, in addition to studying for her exam and trying to discover whether Helene and her family were collaborators with the Nazis or aiding the resistance, Kate contends with being being around her first love, Jean-Luc, Nico's friend and a neighboring winemaker (who seems to be well over Kate), as well as a possible romance with Walker, an American in the Côte-d'Or to do a 'stage' with Jean-Luc while studying for his Master Sommelier exam.
I really enjoyed Ann Mah's storytelling and her vivid descriptions of the scenery, food and life in Burgundy in the 1940s and present day. Both the stories, and Kate and Helene were interesting and I found myself happy settling into each time period. As I've mentioned in previous reviews, I like WWII historicals that show me a new perspective, make me think, and have me Googling more information, facts, and details. I was very interested in this look at the French in the countryside, the resistance and the collaborators and I learned some interesting information. This is the first book of Mah's I've read--although I do happen to have her first novel, Kitchen Chinese, loaded on my Kindle and I will make it a point to get to it sooner now that I've experienced the quality of her writing. If you love historicals, WWII novels, books set in beautiful France, novels with a food/wine slant, dual timelines, family drama, romance and secrets, definitely add The Lost Vintage to your summer reading list.
Author Notes: Ann Mah is a food and travel writer based in Paris and Washington DC. She is the author of the food memoir Mastering the Art of French Eating, and a novel, Kitchen Chinese. She regularly contributes to the New York Times’ Travel section and she has written for Condé Nast Traveler, Vogue.com, BonAppetit.com, Washingtonian magazine, and other media outlets.
Find out more about Ann at her website, and connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest.
As Ann Mah is a food and travel writer, it is only natural that along with the wine, the food is plentiful in this novel--primarily French foods, although we get a bit of American food, "Thaitalian" fusion (made me chuckle) and Mexican food thrown in. I took two pages of food notes but here is just some of what was mentioned: Courgette (restaurant name), toast with cherry jam and yogurt, margaritas and tequila, lemonade, tea and shortbread, charcuterie, cheese and crudites, dark chocolate stuffed into a baguette, pork sausages, brownies, Comte and various French cheeses, pate, honey, pot-au-feu (beef stew), buttered tartine, roast pig, lentil salad, apple tarts, blanquette de veau (veal ragout), tapenade, pear frangipani tart, jam and pickles, avocado toast, quatre cake (French pound cake), rosemary lamb chops. vegetable terrine, potatoes and tripe stew, boeuf bourguignon, potted meat, calf's foot jelly, eggs, chicken vol-au-vents, individual beef Wellingtons and various appetizers, chocolate eclairs and raspberry tarts, sardines, poached eggs in meurette sauce, snails in garlic-parsley butter, steak frites, salad with sauteed chicken livers, Crème Brûlée, spaghetti, porridge, Lapsang souchong tea, Thaitalian artichoke lemongrass carpaccio and green papaya carbonara, a super-vegetarian taco, burrito, pasta with broccoli, garlic and chile, chilled crab and shaved white asparagus, and veal stew.
It's been the kind of week where I needed something simple and I needed to not be eating bread, desserts, and chocolate, so I went for lemonade as my book-inspired dish as it was mentioned a few times. I looked for traditional Citron Pressé (French lemonade) recipes, but then I saw Ina Garten's Fresh Lemonade recipe and liked the fact that it was whirled up with ice in my blender--quick, cold and refreshing--so that's what I did. Sometimes fast and simple is just what we need.
By Ina Garten via Barefoot Contessa at FoodNetwork.com
(Yield 1 1/2 Quarts)
1 cup freshly-squeezed lemon juice (5 to 6 lemons)
1/2 to 3/4 cup superfine sugar (I used the lesser amount)
1 cup crushed ice
4 cups very cold water
Place all the ingredients in a blender and process until completely smooth. Serve over ice.
Notes/Results: A very refreshing and tasty lemonade. I used the lower amount of the sugar and a bit more of the ice-to-water ration and liked that it retained a delicious tartness, I think the blender is perfect for both pulverizing the ice and mixing in the sugar so it will be my lemonade-making tool from now on. I will make this again. (Maybe I'll add vodka the next time!) ;-)
Linking up this Ina Garten recipe to I Heart Cooking Clubs where it is Potluck week. Any recipe by our current or past IHCC chefs.
I am sharing this book and food pairing with Novel Foods #33, an event celebrating food inspired by the written word and hosted by my friend Simona at Briciole. This deadline for this round of Novel Food ends Thursday, March 23rd.
I'm also sharing this post with the Weekend Cooking event at Beth Fish Reads, a weekly event that is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share. For more information, see the welcome post.
Note: A review copy of "The Lost Vintage" was provided to me by the author and the publisher, Harper Collins, via TLC Book Tours. I was not compensated for this review and as always, my thoughts and opinions are my own.
You can see the stops for the rest of this TLC Book Tour and what other reviewers thought about the book here.