There have been scores and food and wine pairing books, but Literary Libations may be the first guide that addresses what to pair with your latest novel. Published two years ago by Amira Makansi, the book addresses all different genres of literature from the classics to love stories and even has a section for children’s books and non-alcoholic drinks.
I recently got a chance to talk to Makansi about what inspired her to write the book and how she got into the wine business. She currently works at Irvine & Roberts winery outside of Ashland in Southern Oregon. All responses have been edited and condensed for clarity.
Liza B. Zimmerman (L.B.Z.): How did you get into the wine business?
Amira Makansi (A.M.): When I was thirteen, my parents visited Napa Valley and I rode along. They let me taste, and the servers were impressed with my ability to identify flavors in the wine. After that, my parents let me taste some of the wines they opened at dinner. I would guess the flavor descriptions, and they would read the back of the label to see if I had guessed correctly. At some point, I realized that the industry wine might be a fun career path. Now that I know how much questionable content is on the back of a wine label, I find it ironic that this ability launched my wine career.
L.B.Z.: What interested you in a move to Southern Oregon?
Recommended For You
A.M.: Southern Oregon is an undiscovered treasure trove of the West Coast, rich in art, culture, wine, food and striking natural beauty. It’s a nascent wine region coming into its own. It has a world-renowned theater company and a unique culinary scene. It’s a portal to the outdoors—from Mt. Ashland to Mt. Shasta to Crater Lake to the Rogue River. When given the opportunity to move, it was impossible to say no.
L.B.Z.: How did your getting degree in history lead you into the wine business?
A.M.: Good question! I was an opinionated, argumentative child and for a long time, I thought I wanted to be a lawyer. A history degree would have been a great backdrop to law school. Instead, halfway through college, I decided to pursue a career in wine and the rest is—well, history.
L.B.Z.: What inspired you to write this book?
A.M.: Alcoholic beverages, like books, can be emotional experiences. From lighthearted—Moscato or A Confederacy of Dunces—to serious—War and Peace or Amontillado Sherry—they each have their emotional resonance. I wanted to find that resonance between book and drink for these works that have impacted and inspired so many readers.
L.B.Z.: Why help people pair wine and drinks with books instead of food?
A.M.: Food and wine pairings are a classic, well-established subject. They’ve been talked about for decades; centuries even. Champagne and caviar. Cabernet Sauvignon and steak. Beer and a hamburger. These are pairings we all know. But what should you drink when reading Moby Dick? Well that’s a new subject.
L.B.Z.: Is it something people are confused about?
A.M.: No. I think most people know exactly what they want to drink with their favorite books once they start to think about it. But most people haven’t thought about it. That’s why it’s so much fun—it’s novel, but at the same time it feels natural. “Books and drinks?” people will say. “Why didn’t I think of that?”
L.B.Z.: Why do you think so many of the books and stories about wine and food pairing are so boring?
A.M.: Reading or talking about food or wine, outside of the direct perception of it, is intrinsically boring. If you can’t taste it, you can’t connect with it. That’s why recipes and cookbooks are the only meaningful way to talk about food; and why tasting rooms are critical to wine education. Until you experience the thing for yourself, it’s void of meaning: thus, boring.
L.B.Z.: Do you have to be a big reader to enjoy this book?
A.M.: No. But you do have to know what it feels like to connect deeply with a book. Even if you’ve only fallen in love with one book in your whole life, you’ll get it. You’ll know what I’m trying to touch, what Literary Libations is trying to express.
L.B.Z. How did you come up with the book categories?
A.M.: I looked on Goodreads, Amazon, and Google for the top words people search for when they’re looking for new books. I wanted to find something for everyone. I didn’t want all genre fiction, or all romance, or all esoteric literature. I wanted this to be a book for all people.
L.B.Z.: Have you really read all the books mentioned in your book?
A.M.: Definitely not. I’ve read about a third of them cover to cover. I did touch every one of the books in my book. I checked them out from the library. My strategy was to read the first 50 pages. Some, I couldn’t put down. Others were either too big, like War and Peace; or too boring think Moby-Dick. The ones I didn’t finish, I read the Wikipedia pages, author biographies and critical reviews to get a full picture. That gave me what I needed to find the perfect pairing.
L.B.Z.: Why did you want to do pairings for children’s books?
A.M.: Some of my most powerful childhood memories are of autumn leaves and apple cider; sucking the nectar out of honeysuckle blossoms; Banana Boat and sea salt. These are all aromatic in nature. Sensory experiences are stronger for children and I wanted to offer kids—and their parents—a more tactile way to engage with literature.
L.B.Z.: How will people be reading and pairing differently during Covid?
A.M.: We’re all finding new ways to stay engaged, from Tiger King to sourdough starters to TikTok. Quarantine means more people are turning inward for entertainment. I think a year from now we’ll see a huge burst of creativity and innovation, from books and music to cocktails and recipes. My hope is that everyone has the perfect drink to enjoy along the way.