Papa Hemingway and wine

Posted on: 31st August, 2017

Category: The Wine Buff

Contributor: Tony Eklof

Tony Eklof, originally from New England, has settled in Clonakilty after a career as a librarian at University College Dublin. His knowledge and passion for wine has been inspired by frequent visits to the wine growing regions of the continent, particularly Italy and France.

If you happen to find yourself in lovely Stresa, an attractive resort on the shore of Lake Maggiore, a walk along the lake promenade will take you past a number of impressive hotels, none more so than the Grand Hotel Des Iles Borromees, which is named after the Borromean Islands Isola Madre, Isola Bella and Isola Pescatore.

The Nobel Prize-winning American novelist Ernest Hemingway famously stayed in the hotel recovering from wounds suffered while ambulance driving for the Italian army during the ‘White War’ with Austria in 1918. This stay at the hotel is immortalised in A Farewell to Arms which was Hemingway’s semi-autobiographical best selling novel published in 1928. While there he wrote to his parents ‘I’m up here in Stresa, A little resort on Lake Maggiore. One of the most beautiful Italian Lakes.’

The book describes his boat trips to one of the islands, Pescatori, the fishing island. The other two islands are much visited for their ornate Italian gardens while Pescatori retains its quaint atmosphere and is wonderful for peaceful strolls particularly during the evening when the tourist boats have left. I have twice stayed on the island in the excellent Hotel Verbano.

One imagines not much has changed here since Hemingway’s time. The views out across the lake to the islands and the mountains behind remain the same. Stresa has an attractive pedestrianised centre and the train station is remarkable with mementos preserved of its past when it was an important stop on for the Simplon Orient Express travelling on the London-Paris-Venice route.

Room 106 in the Grand Hotel where Hemingway stayed remains, and the bar has a framed copy of the guest book for 1948 when ‘Papa’ made a return visit and signed the book ‘Ernest Hemingway, an old client.’

Hemingway was fond of light wine whether white or red. His favourite Italian red was Valpolicella. In his A Moveable Feast, which captures the life of writers living in the Paris of the 1920s wine drinking features throughout.

‘We had very good snails with a carafe of Fleurie’. (Beaujolais).

‘We had eaten very good cold chicken at noon but this was still famous chicken country so we had poularde de Bresse and a bottle of Montagny, a white pleasant white wine of the neighborhood.’ (Chardonnay from Burgundy).

‘Scott (Fitzgerald) was very happy when we drank the white Maconnais at each of our stops. At Macon I bought four more bottles of the excellent wine, which we uncorked as we needed them.’ (Also white Burgundy.)

A rare mention of stronger wine comes while dining with one of his editors in an expensive restaurant on the Boulevard St Michel when after having oysters with Pouilly-Fuisse he orders steak. ‘We finished the steak and french-fried potatoes and were two-thirds through the Chateauneuf du Pape which is not a luncheon wine!’

And finally, ‘In Europe then we thought of wine as something healthy and normal as food and a great giver of happiness and well-being and delight.’


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