Wine and literature: Chablis and oysters in “Anna Karenina”

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I was forced to endure Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina as an English and European Literature undergraduate at Warwick University too many years ago. It’s probably one of the reasons, among other literary horrors, why I didn’t read any fiction for at last two years after graduating.

Anyway, I recently came across this delicious reference to Chablis and oysters in chapter ten of the first book of Anna Karenina. Levin and Oblonsky are dining together:

“What shall we drink?”     
“What you like, only not too much. Champagne,” said Levin.     
“What! To start with? You’re right though, I dare say. Do you like the white seal?”      
“Cachet blanc,” prompted the Tatar.      
“Very well, then, give us that brand with the oysters, and then we’ll see.”      
“Yes, sir. And what table wine?”      
“You can give us Nuits. Oh no, better the classic Chablis.”      
“Yes, sir. And your cheese, your Excellency?”      
“Oh, yes, Parmesan. Or would you like another?”      
“No, it’s all the same to me,” said Levin, unable to suppress a smile.

Interesting to note that oysters and Chablis was already “classic” by 1873, when the novel was first published in installments. Chablis, oysters, and Parmesan sounds like a decent meal to me.

There is white Nuits-St-Georges but it’s a tiny amount of the total percentage of Nuits wine – only about 40,000 bottles per year – and unlikely to have been found in nineteenth century Russian restaurants.

Gouges and Chevillon make prime examples of Nuits blanc but red burgundy with oysters…? Almost as vulgar as an oligarch!




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