A word of warning: this is – mostly – about a novel written in French and thus may be irrelevant to some readers. If you speak or read French though, march on!
Wine and fiction make for uneasy bedfellows. Despite the positive feedback I have received on my own novel, Tasting Notes, I am aware that the ‘wine element’ put off some readers be they wine professionals or civilians.
What I saw as a useful hook or a USP to distinguish my writing from the thousands of novels written every year turned out to be limiting, possibly because I stayed too close to the minutia of what it really means to work in wine. But enough about me…
Eric Remus, the author of Irouléguy mon amour, has approached his own meshing of wine and fiction in a different way. Although he knows about wine, not just as a consumer but as the former owner of a Saint Emilion estate, chateau Edmus, what he wants to tell is first and foremost a made up story which belongs to the ‘overcoming the monster’ genre where the protagonist battles and ultimately defeats his enemies.
Wine, and specifically fine wine, is very present in the novel though and not just as background. It becomes almost a character and pervades every single page. Remus includes detailed tasting notes for the most noteworthy wines enjoyed by the various characters throughout the novel. It makes for an almost didactic style where one stops briefly from following the story to absorb these tasty titbits. It made me pretty thirsty but then it doesn’t take much.
The wines he features are aspirational, which helps, and there is a perfect justification for them to be included: his main character is a young sommelier whose tribulations we follow, from a difficult childhood to a long battle with a more privileged nemesis he eventually – spoiler alert – gets the better of. Said nemesis being called Etienne Malfroy, I unfortunately had visions of dementors coming to his rescue a la Harry Potter. I blame my vivid imagination.
The locations featured are equally aspirational from, inevitably Bordeaux, to Paris and the vineyards of New Zealand and Australia and even include my happy place, Arcachon. Having felt a fuzzy warm kindred spirit with Remus, I was however vastly amused to find out that his inclusion of Arcachon as a location was purely random and didn’t stem from a love of the place akin to the one I feel. Remus told me he hasn’t even been there. Staying with geography and more specifically wine geography, I detected a tiny French bias throughout and especially in some comments about the Australian wine business but apart from that the story reflects accurately the growing internationalisation of wine and the emergence of cult wines in far flung corners of the world.
The choice of a sommelier as the main character is an interesting one. A winemaker would have made for a more obvious and possibly more legitimate lead but to describe the same variety of wines would then have forced Remus to artificially stretch the scope of his story possibly beyond credibility. Young Victor, our hero, does a stint as a winemaker, inevitably near Bordeaux, so all is well that ends well.
Somms are anyway very much part of French culture. There’s been a body promoting their vital importance in restaurants since 1907 in France whereas the international equivalent, the Court of Master Sommeliers was only established seventy years later in 1977. It therefore makes perfect sense that the French lead of a French wine novel should be a sommelier.
I enjoyed the detailed descriptions of the gruelling sommelier competitions, spiced up by the rivalry with the evil Etienne Malfroy, and the minute description of what it takes to make it to the top of the sommelier profession is definitely one of the big attractions of Irouléguy mon amour. Maybe it should be included in the syllabus of the option Sommellerie of the BTS hotelier Victor is studying towards?
If I have one gripe, it is the description of the various female characters and their interactions with the main protagonists. I didn’t feel any of them particularly relatable and I was sceptical of the remarkable equanimity of the ones who became romantically entangled with Victor when faced with the end of their tenure. This is however a minor quibble as this isn’t a book about relationships.
Irouléguy mon amour is an easy read which will make any wine lover worth their salt salivate with evocative tasting notes while taking them on the type of around the world trip that has become a rarity in the last year. You’ll also find yourself gunning for Victor and willing him on, a sure sign of a good page turner.
Irouléguy mon amour, Eric Remus, Editions Persée https://www.Irouléguy monamour.com/