I confess that for the first part of Vintage by David Baker, I really didn’t like Bruno Tannenbaum, the main character in this novel. A washed-up wine writer and food critic who drinks too much, has been kicked out by his wife for his philandering and now lives on his mother’s couch, it was hard to see the good in Bruno. During the first few chapters, his drinking and bad behaviour infuse every ounce of this book. And when, after losing his prestigious newspaper job, he takes on a friend’s assignment to catalogue his wine collection – then goes to help himself to a 1963 Chateau d’Yquem – I actually had to put the book down for a few days. Apparently, I am tortured by the thought of someone opening a vintage d’Yquem for the wrong reasons.
But it turns out this moment is the one that kicks off the real story in the book. Bruno ends up on a wild, wine adventure that takes him all across Europe in search of the story for his next great book. As he researches wine history while looking for a mysterious missing vintage that may have been hidden by the Nazis, Bruno drinks too much great wine, eats too much fabulous food and uses his odd charm to make friends and ferret out clues.
Bruno’s quest is a dangerous one—he’s not the only person pursing this wine and some of the others are not afraid to use force to get it—but for Bruno it is clearly a turning point in his life. He wants to be a better father, possibly a better husband (his love life remains a bit of a muddle), and he desperately wants to regain his stature as a great writer. His research trip is clearly also about pulling together the broken pieces of his life and figuring out what still fits.
So in the end, I came to enjoy Bruno much more than I did at the start. He wormed his way into my heart in the same way he charmed so many on his trip through Europe. While I certainly didn’t approve of (or often understand) his choices, I could relate to the internal crisis he was facing and how he was looking for redemption.
While this is a work of fiction, lovers of fine wine and food and European wine history will want to check out Vintage. David Baker, who made the documentary American Wine Story, has a passion for wine and food that emerges on every page. Each chapter of Vintage starts with an excerpt from Bruno’s fictional wine and food writing that celebrates the ability of cuisine to bring people together, to heal the soul and to transform lives. These short vignettes help you better understand Bruno the character, but I think they also tell you a bit about the author and why he is so passionate about these things too.
Vintage is a fun and quick read (especially if you don’t have to take a break after the d’Yquem like I did), It’s perfect for your next vacation read (in particular if you’re spending it in a wine region) or just as a lazy weekend page-turner.
Have you read Vintage? Do you have a favourite wine-based novel? Share your thoughts in the comments or on social.
Love wine-related fiction? Me too! Check out my review of Cathy Ace’s The Corpse with the Golden Nose (set in B.C. wine country) to learn about another great read.
*I received a review copy of this book, but all opinions are my own.