From Russia With Love
by Ian Fleming

Company Reserve Claret 2012


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Everybody loves a James Bond film but the novels are even more thrilling and even boozier. For November Damian is channelling his inner Sean Connery with From Russia With Love. Helping him choose our #NovelPairings are Rebecca Palmer from Corney & Barrow and Simon Heafield from Foyles.

It’s a wonder Bond manages to get anything done with all his drinking. But he sky-dives and fights and shoots and lusts as if not one martini has ever passed his chiselled lips. Sadly, we never learn the secret of his tolerance – perhaps all the bad guys as just as drunk as him.

Certainly Bond’s creator, Ian Fleming, liked a tipple. After his doctor advised him to stop drinking a bottle of gin a day he switched to bourbon ‘for health reasons’. This was the 1950s.

“The films have become increasingly silly and stylised,” says Simon from Foyles. “We get the big opening scene then a casino then a car chase and on it goes. The books are a bit more subtle.”

Just a bit – this is genre fiction albeit brilliantly crafted. From Russia with Love is one of Fleming’s finest. Published in 1957, it concerns a plot launched by sinister Soviet agency Smersh to kill Bond. You’ve seen the film with Sean Connery fighting off the tiny evil Rosa Klebb with her stabby poison shoes. She’s almost funny. Not in the novel: “Unspeakable things were whispered about this woman…It was said that Rosa Klebb would let no torturing take place without her.”

Donovan Grant, Chief Executioner of Smersh, is no cartoon villain either. The novel opens with him being massaged by a young woman repulsed by his almost perfection: “She wondered why she loathed this splendid body…She looked down at the round, smallish head on the sinewy neck. It was covered with red-gold curls that should have reminded her pleasantly of the formalized hair of classical statues. But the curls were somehow too tight, too thickly pressed against each other and against the skull.”

Fleming uses details and brands to signpost his story: the gold Dunhill lighter, a Faberge cigarette case, a bottle of Chianti Broglio. Bond notices every detail and sees brands as a code to decipher. In the films it’s about selling merchandise but in the books it’s about sending and receiving messages.

“I think Bond would get along well with our Company Reserve Claret,” says Rebecca from Corney & Barrow. “He actually drinks Claret – it’s a classic choice for a man of his class at this time.” Indeed, it is reserved but soon warms into a refined but not stuffy Bordeaux.

Bond is fond of Champagne. Unusually for such a creature of habit he flirts between houses from novel to novel downing Veuve Cliquot, Dom Perignon, Krug, Pommery and Taittinger. “If he were here now he’d be drinking English sparkling wine” says Rebecca. “It’s not just a patriotic choice, Wiston Blancs de Blancs is better than a lot of what’s coming out of Champagne.”

“It’s really crisp,” says Simon. “But also buttery”. It’s like licking a knife that’s been used to spread toast with butter and lemon curd—delicious.

Our final option comes straight from the book. “Bond orders a bottle of Chianti Brolio with dinner on the Orient Express,” says Rebecca. “Grant slips a sedative powder into Tatiana’s glass.”

I wouldn’t recommend that particular pairing but Chianti Classico Terre di Penzano Vignamaggio 2014 is a food wine. “I love this,” says Simon. “It’s sophisticated but a bit rough underneath.” A bit like Bond.

From Russia With Love is a thriller—English sparkling wine seems too romantic and Chianti too redolent of a relaxing summer in Italy which this very much is not. The Claret, however, is a Savile Row suit with a scarlet lining, it’s conservative but not constrained, it’s what MI6 would serve at their Christmas party – it’s the perfect #NovelPairing. Washed down with a martini, of course.