Book – Wine Pairing: Independent People by Laxness
Welcome to our second Book-Wine Pairing: a recurring category that combines two of my favorite things! This month I’m featuring a rather tenuous pairing for the book Independent People by Halldór Laxness — a pairing that is probably based more on my interest for trying a certain wine than anything else. Keep reading to find out more about the book and the wine.
The Book: Independent People by Laxness by Halldór LaxnessFirst Published: 1934
Find it/Buy it here:Independent People
Synopsis (from Amazon): This magnificent novel—which secured for its author the 1955 Nobel Prize in Literature—is at least available to contemporary American readers. Although it is set in the early twentieth century, it recalls both Iceland’s medieval epics and such classics as Sigrid Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter. And if Bjartur of Summerhouses, the book’s protagonist, is an ordinary sheep farmer, his flinty determination to achieve independence is genuinely heroic and, at the same time, terrifying and bleakly comic.
Having spent eighteen years in humiliating servitude, Bjartur wants nothing more than to raise his flocks unbeholden to any man. But Bjartur’s spirited daughter wants to live unbeholden to him. What ensues is a battle of wills that is by turns harsh and touching, elemental in its emotional intensity and intimate in its homely detail. Vast in scope and deeply rewarding, Independent People is a masterpiece.
Review: 3.5 stars. Although this novel considered to be a sweeping family saga, in reality it is a book about Iceland. It novel gave me a detailed look at a certain part of Iceland, a country about which I knew little. The descriptions of the land and the harsh living conditions were wonderful. The author also included a lot of detail about land laws and changing political climate in Iceland in the early 20th century. The writing was beautiful and at times very poetic. There are songs and poems interspersed with the prose. The problem for me was that the main character, Bjartur, was so dislikable and I had a hard time connecting with him or his family. Bjartur’s goal of being an independent man was so rigidly adhered to that he was unable to show any empath or kindness toward anyone else, even those in his own family. When he sets a goal to own his land and build up his flock of sheep, he refuses help from anyone even when his family is struggling to survive. Independence can be a respectable trait but taken to extremes, it leads to losses of things that are much more valuable.
For the first book-wine selection, I actually went with a wine that matched the feel of the book. You can read that post here. For this month’s pairing , I decided to do something a little different. This book was a very bleak and dark tale about survival in harsh conditions. The people struggled to make ends meet and to achieve their own sense of independence. So rather than pick a wine that would match the book’s atmosphere, I picked a wine to lighten the mood that could provide a nice contrast to the heavy, bleak atmosphere of the Iceland-based book. So, I decided to go with ice wines.
Ice wines are made by leaving grapes on the vines until temperatures drop to the extreme lows. Grapes are harvested and pressed while still frozen (usually at night) and, as a result, are highly concentrated. Grapes used are usually highly aromatic, high-acid varieties like Riesling, Vidal Blanc, Sylvaner, and Gewürztraminer. Germany and Canada (no, not Iceland) are the leading producers of traditional ice wines. They are usually fairly expensive given that they can be difficult to make and grapes produce much lower yield than grapes processed with tradition methods.
So why pick Ice Wines for this book? First, ice wines are sweet and sugar was an important commodity to the family in the book. The sweetness and acidity in ice wines complement salty food and the family ate lots of dried fish meal. Furthermore, the process of making ice wine is complex, hard work, and relies heavily on weather conditions. This process parallels the hard work and importance of weather conditions for the family in the book. Finally, I personally felt like I needed something a little sweet to digest the book which was so gloomy and dark.
So, I selected two ice wines for this one based primarily on what was available at our local wine store. One Canadian and one German wine. Here they are:
Wine #1: Nobel House Ice Wine 2008 ($28.00). I couldn’t find much online about this particular wine in terms of reviews. Customer comments seem to think it’s okay but nothing special. The consensus is that it is good for the price and is considered more of a budget wine. Very fruity and sweet with little complexity or acid to balance out the sweetness.
Wine #2: 2012 Inniskillin Vidal Icewine 375ml ($59.99). Here’s what the wine makers say about this bottle: “This Icewine is billowing with ripe peaches and apricots on the nose combined with the delicious overtones of marmalade and candied brown sugar. Perfect on its own as a dessert, or an excellent match to fresh fruit, rich pate or fine blue veined and cream based cheeses.” I loved it! We ate it with blue cheese and it was delicious. It gets high ratings across the board.
The final verdict: My husband and I tried these two wines. He liked #1 which to me tasted like a flat version of the sparkling cider you buy in the supermarket. He liked this wine because it wasn’t quite as sweet. I thought it lacked acidity and was uninteresting. I liked #2 because I found it much more complex and beautifully aromatic. While the taste winner was #2, the first wine is a better fit for the book because it is cheaper (and financial hardship was a significant element of the book) and less complex in terms of flavor thus matching the stubbornness and simplicity of the protagonist’s single-minded goal!
Buy the book here: Independent People