Part memoir, part wine guide, To Fall in Love, Drink This is, more than anything, a meditation on how deeply personal wine experiences can be. Alice Feiring has always melded personal and professional experiences in her writing, and to great effect, but this is her most powerful outing to date.
Years ago, I heard a famous importer of French and Italian wines relate having poured another vintage of the Cornas that was in our glasses to a friend. His friend, taking one swirl and sniff, was overcome with nostalgia, as the wine’s aromas recalled exactly the scents he’d experienced some twenty years before when he would run his fingers through his favorite dog’s dense, curly coat. I hadn’t read Proust and probably didn’t have a clue what a madeleine was at the time, but even though I didn’t share this stranger’s memory, the fact that the wine had that moving effect was still powerful to me. This is precisely Feiring’s métier. To Fall in Love, Drink This is filled with compelling stories from Feiring’s life, and her deft prose delivers the reader directly into the emotional impact of her remembrances, both of events and of wines.
Comprising 15 short essays, the book recalls in roughly chronological order episodes from Feiring’s life, then explores a wine that was meaningful to the author at that same time as each story. She provides context for each of the wines, with respect to style, region or history, then recommends related producers, as well as guidance on enjoying them.
Much will be made of the story of her near escape, at age 14, from serial killer and rapist Rodney Alcala. And rightly so—it’s a gripping tale, certainly screenplay-adaptable. But the most potent moments are Feiring’s reflections on family. Admitting that she had forged Kosher-for-Passover insignia on bottles taken home to drink in the company of her rigidly orthodox Jewish mother, Feiring tells how she eventually worked with winemaker friends in the Republic of Georgia to bottle a kosher wine especially for her, so she’d have something she could drink with her mother on holiday visits. Her writing leaves the reader equally sympathetic with both women in the story.
We are also invited into Feiring’s earliest smell memories, recorded at the side of her grandfather (“Pop”), whose day job was slaughtering chickens but who kept a drawer of perfume bottles at home because he liked their aromatic complexity so much. Tracing the beginnings of her own relationship with smell and its partner, taste, to moments with him sniffing at the perfumes, at schnapps, even licorice breath-freshener candy, Feiring ties that origin story to her love, as an adult, of aromatic white wines and leaves the reader with some curated recommendations.
Every episode is mostly about being human, but wine is always in the room. From sharing a suitcased bottle of Georgian mtsvane in jelly jars with her brother, his palate handicapped by chemotherapy, to coaxing a stubborn, fur-coated Nina Simone to get dressed and get on stage (Feiring had brought Domaine Huet Vouvray Pétillant Brut), wine is the common thread. The prose is clean and economical, and humor and humanity reverberate through every anecdote, driven by Feiring’s curiosity not just about the wines of the world but about its people.
To Fall in Love, Drink This, A Wine Writer’s Memoir, Scribner (8/2022), 256 pages, $17
This story appears in the print issue of Summer 2022.
Like what you read? Subscribe today.