David Baker’s ‘Vintage’ is a Sideways Novel with a Mystery Twist

vintage david baker

If you enjoyed “Sideways,” the wine movie that swept the nation in 2004, and you crave another book with the fast-paced thrill of the “Da Vinci Code,” then David Baker’s “Vintage” is for you.

This quick-paced novel follows our bumbling hero, Bruno, a failing food writer with two long-ago successes, now falling victim to his own alcoholism, in a search for a lost French World War II vintage and a journey to regain the trust of his estranged wife and family and his talent as a writer.

Vintage” employs Bruno’s second book, a guide to wooing lost loves with food, as a primary source. Wherever Bruno is and with whomever he is talking — a Chicago cabbie, a long-time customer of his Alsatian mother’s food shop, even a convicted Russian mobster — he is always able to give them the recipe they need. If he is our superhero, this is his superpower.

The food elements ring true in the writing; recipes are described in great detail and truly bring the story on the pages to life.

The book does have its faults. With its quick-paced nature, the characterization of the different people in the story is sometimes confused, a flaw that is not helped with point-of-view transitions that can prove sloppy and disorienting. Bruno’s view of his family and his relationships, for instance, is often a bit trite. We are left starved for emotion — it’s hard to know what the navel-gazing Bruno really feels, as he is a fairly hedonistic and very unreliable narrator. Who is he really attracted to? Who is he really in love with? Is he a pure hedonist, as it sometimes feels, or is he really a family man? The pace of the novel occasionally allows for ellipses on these problems, but they also mean that the ending, which wraps up some of these emotional and personal questions for us, gives us a bit of a ‘too little, too late’ impression.

Aside from these characterization flaws, the novel is quite unique, particularly in its form. I have never before seen a food-based adventure, a fast-paced thriller that leaves time for picnics and excellent bottles of European wine. The vision of Europe portrayed in the book, filled with parties that strangers are invited to and impromptu train picnics, may be highly romanticized, and yet this is forgiven: this is, after all, how Bruno actually sees it and lives it.

If you’re still on the lookout for a quick end-of-summer read, pick up “Vintage.” It’s a surprising book that’s lots of fun and may even leave you a bit hungry.

Related on Eco Salon

‘Edible Memory: The Lure of Heirloom Tomatoes and Other Forgotten Foods’ by Jennifer A. Jordan

‘Eating Rome: Living the Good Life in the Eternal City’ by Elizabeth Minchilli

Book Review: Most Good, Least Harm

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Emily Monaco

Emily Monaco is an American food and culture writer based in Paris. She loves uncovering the stories behind ingredients and exposing the face of our food system, so that consumers can make educated choices. Her work has been published in the Wall Street Journal, Vice Munchies, and Serious Eats.