#50: Spain

Year: 2013
Grapes: Mencia
Producer: Dominio do Bibei
Alcohol: 13%
Source: Madeleine Mitchell

Every couple of months, Liv pops round to our old flat to hoover up any mail that’s been sent there by mistake. That usually consists of marketing spam from companies we’ve not bothered to update with our new address details, but a few weeks after the wedding, she returned from Hubert Grove with something much more exciting.

The fancy box contained a very fancy bottle of Spanish wine, sent to us as a wedding present by our good friend Madeleine. We were both sad that we didn’t get to see Madeleine in September, after she had to cancel her trip over from the US, so it was good to be able to raise a glass in her honour when we finally opened the wine one night between Christmas and New Year.

At the time, we were just starting to plan our 2018 reading challenge, which kicked off in earnest last week. Rather than choose the books ourselves, we emailed 26 friends and family members, and asked for three suggestions from each of them (of which we’ll pick one); we figured that would be the best way to end up with a diverse list of interesting stuff that we’ve never read, or in some cases never even heard of. In that respect, the early responses have been very encouraging indeed.

However, before we get cracking on our own reading, I thought I’d flip things round and use this post to offer a few recommendations of my own, for anyone who wants something new or different to bury their nose in this January…

…and it’s pretty clear where I ought to start, because while there are several bona fide authors among the group we emailed, Madeleine is the only one whose book we both read last year. In her words, Roadhouse Blues (published under her pen name, Malin James) is ‘a collection of twelve linked short stories that explore sexual fluidity and subversiveness in a seemingly traditional place.’ Set in the fictional Bible belt town of Styx, the stories span several decades and force the reader to confront the reality that desire is rarely simple or straightforward. We meet characters who are flawed, damaged, and vulnerable; characters with complicated pasts, and characters driven by a need for catharsis or even revenge.

By turns transgressive and tender, harrowing and heartwarming, it’s an excellent anthology that showcases the versatility of erotica as a genre – and the role conflict (internal or external) plays in creating meaningful stories about sex. It’s also achingly human. As Madeleine says, ‘in the end, sex is about people, and people have motivations, and sometimes those motivations surprise them. For me, eroticism is always in the motivation.’

My favourite of the 12 stories? That would be telling.

Moving on to authors I don’t have a personal connection with, I’m going to suggest six more books that you might enjoy if you’re looking for something new this January – or if you want to do a mini, 2018 reading challenge of your own! Some of these you’ll know already, others you won’t. Some are longstanding favourites of mine, others I only discovered over the last couple of years – however, like Roadside Blues, all six are books I feel comfortable recommending to pretty much anyone.

  1. The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy

One of the most wonderful novels I’ve ever read – in all senses. Set in Kerala and impossible to describe in one paragraph, it tells the ultimately tragic story of a family torn apart by forbidden love, guilt, grief, violence, betrayal, and a rigid social hierarchy. Roy uses language in a way that makes me both unspeakably happy and profoundly jealous – it doesn’t quite seem fair that one person should be allowed to possess that much talent. Her long-awaited second novel was published last year and I’m almost too nervous to read it, but if it’s even half as good as her first, I’ll be very happy indeed.

  1. Station Eleven, by Emily St John Mandel

I picked this up on a whim, and have since bought it as a gift for at least three different people. Winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 2015, it’s nominally science fiction, but I think even a hardcore sci-fi hater would find themselves utterly engrossed within the first 50 pages. Mandel skips back and forth between the few months leading up to an apocalyptic event that wipes out 99% of humanity, and Year Twenty after the collapse, when the worst is over and there’s a whole adult generation that doesn’t remember or yearn for their life before it. Again, this is a novel very much about people: their hopes, fears, dreams and memories…and how those reflect the world around them.

  1. A Life Too Short: The Tragedy of Robert Enke, by Ronald Reng

Ronald Reng was initially asked to write a biography of his friend, the German international goalkeeper Robert Enke. After Enke committed suicide in 2009 at the age of 32, Reng attempted to understand what had driven him to that point, and in the process produced a book that made me cry consistently throughout. It talks frankly about depression, mental illness, self-doubt, and family tragedy, and sets them all in the context of a top-level sporting career, with all the associated pressures, privileges, and public scrutiny. It’s not an easy read, nor a fun one, but if you’re not triggered by the subject matter, it’s definitely worth picking up – and a working knowledge of football is in no way required.

  1. Mothering Sunday, by Graham Swift

At barely 150 pages, this is easily the shortest book on my list, and I rattled through in a few hours back in the summer. It takes place over the course of one sunny afternoon in 1924, and as in many of the best stories you’ll find, not much really happens (on-screen, at least); instead it’s the small details – brilliantly observed – that provide its emotional weight and power. Liv said recently that it reminded her of an Ian McEwan novel in that sense, and I couldn’t agree more, so if you like McEwan, you’ll probably like this!

  1. The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

On the other hand, if big, rambling, Gothic mysteries are your thing, try Zafon’s 2001 smash-hit instead. Beginning with a visit to Barcelona’s ‘Cemetery of Forgotten Books’ in the late 1940s, The Shadow of the Wind tells the story of a young man’s search for an unknown author, who disappeared in unusual circumstances nearly 30 years earlier. Chock-full of passion, intrigue and murder – of tragic heroines and dastardly villains – it’s a novel for long winter nights by the fire with a glass (bottle?) of red wine and magic in the air.

  1. The Versions of Us, by Laura Barnett

We all have our Sliding Doors moments, both in our own lives and in the lives of those who preceded us. Barnett’s takes place in Cambridge in 1958, when two young students, Eva and Jim, meet-cute on a rainy street as she cycles to class – or do they? Out of that one (potential) encounter, three different timelines are set in motion. We get to watch them diverge – and come back together – over 50+ years, in a gorgeously romantic novel that transcends its central structural quirk and packs a real emotional punch. Charming, clever, satisfying, and thoroughly enjoyable, I loved this from beginning to end.

So there you go! Seven books in total, to satisfy a range of literary palates. I’m aware they’re all very modern – nothing published before 1996 – but that aside, I think there should be something for (almost) everyone. Let us know if you decide to check one, some, or all of them out!

Wine Info

From the Berry Bros & Rudd website:

Ribeira Sacra is one of the most exciting regions to emerge from Spain in recent years. Situated in the North-Eastern corner in Galicia, the area is remote, the landscape arid and mountainous. Domino do Bibei’s winemaker, Javier Domínguez, is producing modern wines with beautiful definition and verve, using traditional grape varieties such as Mencia, Garnacha and Muraton for the reds and Godello, Albariño and Dona Blanca in his whites.

From the De Maison Selections website:

Fermented with indigenous yeast in 500L open French oak barrels with malolactic fermentation in 300L barrels. Aged 19 months in old French oak barrels. Naturally stabilized by winter’s chill and bottled unfined. Aged 16 months in bottle. Deep with a profound sense on the palate, the wine has mineral tones intertwined with clear cherry-like tones. This is a beauty.

Wine Verdict

Chris

It really is a beauty! I’m glad we took the time to decant this, and get the temperature just right, because I wouldn’t have wanted to drink it straight from the bottle. After a slightly impatient wait, it turned out to be perhaps the smoothest wine we’ve drunk so far, despite a generous amount of spice and dark, dry fruit packed into each sip. It’s subtle enough that I can see some of its appeal getting lost in a bar with friends, or even at a big chatty dinner party, but on a night when you want a bottle of something special to appreciate properly, this would be a near-perfect choice.

9/10

Livvy

Oh, this wine was so, so good! Ruby red and warm and smooth, and such a perfect December wine. It had a fruity spice that tasted like Christmas but was subtle enough that I would be happy to drink it at any time of year. It succeeded in being sumptuously rich, but wasn’t sickly and not too tannic. It was so delicious and I loved it!

9+/10, a near perfect wines

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