McInerney’s wine writing debut was unusual in that he entered the trade while already enjoying a rarefied echelon of wine, as opposed to, say working his way up through the trades, writing about bargain wines. Though he claimed to not know much, by 1996 McInerney already had a cellar full of 1982 Bordeaux and rubbed elbows with the global wine elite. Writing for a publication with a well-heeled readership allowed him to pursue pleasures and rarities as his subjects, while his global wine education was financed by a lavish expense account unheard of in today’s wine journalistic world. McInerney noted as our second bottle arrived, a 2020 Blanc de Morgex from the Italian Alps, “I was halfway up Everest when I began. I didn’t have to climb the first 12,000 feet.”
His columns were well-received, as he brought a writerly style that blended the cultivated wit of a social sophisticate with the open-minded curiosity of a traveling wine seeker. For McInerney, the fit was ideal, as he could indulge his wine passion on the company dime while retaining all of his literary cachet. Indeed, the two roles burnished each other.
“There’s so much more good will in the food and wine world than in the literary world,” McInerney said. “In the literary world, all the novelists and poets are jealous and competing. Yet here I come into the wine world, this literary phenomenon, cocaine, brat-pack guy. What do I know about wine? But nobody treated me with disdain. They would just say, ‘Wow, I didn’t know you liked wine. That’s cool. I’ve read your books, let’s sit and have a glass.”
Our second white turned out to be equally shrill, so we drank a couple of glasses and passed it on again. I followed by ordering a red, a light 2018 Ploussard from Frédéric Cossard. It was tasty, but not exactly satisfying to McInerney. Anticipating (correctly) that the expense I had been allocated for our dinner might not cover a truly great wine, he brought one to share. When I mentioned how thoughtful that was, he corrected, “Thoughtful and selfish. I didn’t really want to finish the night on the Ploussard.”
The wine he brought was perfectly pitched: 2005 Clos Rougeard, a culty cabernet franc from the Loire and one of the only bottles in the world venerated not only by the classical wine elite but also by downtown natural wine hipsters, in whose realm, after all, we were. He couldn’t have made a more savvy decision. The corkage fee was a rather steep $80, but well worth it to enjoy such a rare bottle (the 2011 of the same wine sells for $450 on The Four Horsemen’s list). McInerney called his driver, who was standing by, to come drop the bottle off.
Drawing a descriptive connection between a wine and a person is an old wine writer trope that at some point was denounced as facile and obsolete by the modern wine editorial establishment. Yet, McInerney, the classicist, has always stood by metaphor and simile as useful and entertaining tools to describe wine, whose sensual qualities and personality resist exact language. I agree with him.
As expected, McInerney’s Clos Rougeard was spectacular, a bottle that profoundly combined the leathery, spice-infused complexity of age and the spry, bright fruit of youth. Further, it perfectly sketched out the nuances of McInerney’s unusual place in the wine world: that of a fine wine collector of privilege and taste, who appreciates and knows the pedestrian world of rustic French country wines and can navigate the culture that reveres them but has the means and stature to drink as he likes.