I’m in the throes of studying for my upcoming WSET Diploma exam on the Sparkling Wines of the World. I should be researching Cava, and how it will respond to the threat from Prosecco (and other cheaper-than-Champagne alternatives) on the world sparkling wine market. But I’m taking a quick Wine, Words & Wednesday break instead.
Today’s words come to us from American novelist, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Specifically, from the literary classic, and perennial contender for the best American novel, The Great Gatsby.
Published in 1925, The Great Gatsby takes place in the fictional town of East Egg on Long Island, in the summer of 1922. The events are set against the backdrop of prohibition, one of the biggest legislative backfires in American history. It’s part unrequited love story, and part critique of the extremes of wealth, social decadence, and recklessness of the Roaring Twenties.
The main character, Jay Gatsby, is a mysterious millionaire who throws nearly constant, lavish parties, where alcohol is not only abundant, but in excess. People were rarely invited to Gatsby’s parties, they just went, as you would to an amusement park. No one at the parties is sure how Gatsby accumulated his fortune. Some say he killed a man, others say he was a German spy. Really, he was a bootlegger who used prohibition to make piles of money.
Gatsby is in love with Daisy, the woman who lives (along with her philandering husband, Tom) across the bay from Gatsby’s house. Gatsby and Daisy met and fell in love when Gatsby was a penniless soldier, before World War I. While Gatsby was fighting in France, Daisy met and married Tom, who was from an extremely wealthy family. Jealousy ensues, and Gatsby devotes the rest of his life to accumulating wealth and status, in an attempt impress Daisy. Cue extreme partying with endless Champagne.
The narrator of the novel, Nick Carraway (who lives in a small house next to Gatsby), is uncomfortable at his first Gatsby soirée, so he heads off to the cocktail table, “the only place where a single man could linger without looking purposeless and alone”. There, he finds a little perspective in a couple of glasses of Champagne.
Nothing like a couple finger bowls of Champagne to turn the absurd into the profound.
Sidebar: During the first half of the 20th century, it was de rigueur to drink Champagne out of coupe glasses, which look a lot like stemmed finger bowls. As much as I love Champagne coupes (I have my grandmother’s and my mom’s vintage coupes), I don’t ever drink bubbles from them. And finger bowls? I never have understood those. Maybe I’m not fancy enough.
Gatsby himself actually drinks very little but, “sometimes in the course of gay parties women used to rub champagne into his hair.” Sure. As one does.
Perhaps that’s how Fitzgerald got his hair to do this?