I’m a huge fan of the George R.R. Martin books (A Song of Ice and Fire Series) and the Game of Thrones HBO series based on them. As a wine geek, I noticed lots of references to wine as I was reading the books. My mind would start to wonder about the wine geography and wine culture of this fictional world. Eventually, I started making notes of these references in my copies of the books with the idea that maybe I’d turn it into a blog post.
Well, five books later I’ve got a small moleskin full of notes and hundreds of dog-eared pages that need to be revisited. But with Season 3 of the HBO series starting tonight, I’ve decided to start sharing what I’ve got, with the plan to add to it as I can. I’m starting with a look at the two major wine regions: The Arbor and Dorne.
MAJOR WINE REGIONS
In Westeros, the continent on which the majority of the action in the books takes place, there seem to be two principal wine regions: “the Arbor” and Dorne. Wine is produced elsewhere, but these are the only two that are referred to with geographic specificity. There are other wines from beyond Westeros that I’ll try to cover in future posts.
The Arbor is an island off of the southwestern coast of Westeros. It is part of a fertile region called The Reach, the seat of which is Highgarden. Wine is clearly part of the identity of the Arbor: the ruling house is House Redwyne, whose sigil is a grape cluster.
Wine from the Arbor is widely viewed around Westeros as the finest wine in the world. Most references to it are in the context of how fine it is or what a luxury it is.
Dany to Xaro:
“The Arbor makes the best wine in the world,” Dany declared. “Come with me to the Arbor, Xaro, and you’ll have the finest vintages you ever tasted.”
Arbor wine is served at King Joffrey’s wedding feast:
“Let the cups be filled!” Joffrey proclaimed, when the gods had been given their due. His cupbearer poured a whole flagon of dark Arbor red into the golden wedding chalice that Lord Tyrell had given him that morning.
Tyrion Lannister to Sansa Stark:
“There is a flagon of good Arbor gold on the sideboard, Sansa. Will you be so kind as to pour me a cup?”
[Sansa] sat on the edge of the great curtained bed and drained half her cup in three long swallows. No doubt it was very fine wine, but she was too nervous to taste it.
Sansa, again, at House Baelish with Littlefinger:
The wine was very fine; an Arbor vintage, she thought. It tasted of oak and fruit and hot summer nights, the flavors blossoming in her mouth like flowers opening to the sun. [She's a 13-14 year old girl, so forgive her florid language. - VINEgeek]
Regarding wine at Chataya’s brothel in King’s Landing:
The wine was poor stuff compared to the vintages from the Arbor the house normally served. “You must forgive us, my lord.” Chataya said. “I cannot find good wine at any price of late.”
Anguy, lamenting how he’d lost the fortune he’d won in an archery tournament:
I won a fair fortune myself, but then I met Dancy, Jayde and Alayaya. They taught me what roast swan tastes like, and how to bathe in Arbor wine.
We shall serve him lies and Arbor gold, and he’ll drink them down and ask for more.
Jaime Lannister, offered a choice of wines:
[Orton Merryweather]: We have Dornish red and Arbor gold, and a fine sweet hippocras from Highgarden.
[Jaime Lannister]: The gold, I think. I find Dornish wines as sour as the Dornish.
Cersei beckoned to her page for another cup of wine, a golden vintage from the Arbor, fruity and rich.
“Arbor gold” is the most often mentioned type, but there are also references to Arbor reds, so I assume that “gold” is an indicator of the color (a rich white wine), rather than just a reference to quality, which was my initial impression.
Real World Analog
Based on the unquestioned status of the wine, I want to think of it as Burgundy. But given the descriptions of the wine itself — “fruity and rich”, “oak and fruit” — and the fertile region it’s from, I imagine Arbor wine as definitely on the California/New World end of the style spectrum.
Dorne is an arid, mountainous region, also at the southern end of the continent of Westeros. References to crops such as citrus, olives, pomegranates suggest a climate similar to our Mediterranean.
In contrast to wines from the Arbor, Dornish wines are strong and less rich/sweet, thus less universally appreciated.
Tyrion Lannister, drinking Dornish wine with Janos Slynt:
Quite the find. Dornish wines are not often so rich.
Prince Oberyn of Dorne to Tyrion Lannister reflecting on a past visit to Casterly Rock, seat of House Lannister in the Westerlands:
“Your skies were too grey, your wines too sweet, your women too chaste, your food too bland…”
Another conversation between Prince Oberyn and Tyrion:
Is it Dornish wine you’re drinking?”
“From the Arbor.”
Oberyn made a face. “Red water.”
I think I may drink some of Lord Redwyne’s grape juice after all.”
“As you like.” Tyrion served him a cup.
The man took a sip, sloshed it about in his mouth, and swallowed. “It will serve, for the moment. I will send you up some strong Dornish wine on the morrow.”
Dornish wine plays a role in a legend about the Rat Cook:
The Rat Cook had cooked the son of the Andal king in a big pie with onions, carrots, mushrooms, lots of pepper and salt, a rasher of bacon, and a dark red Dornish wine.
Dorne makes some sweet wine as well; there is a “sweet, heavy strongwine” beloved by Prince Doran of Dorne.
Real World Analog
In my head, Dorne is like Spain, particularly the Jumilla/Yecla/Alicante areas. And that would mean Dornish red is probably Monastrell! Not sure the descriptions themselves fit the modern wine from this region, but the mental image of the landscape is biasing me. What do you think fits?
Well, that’s it for now. I have many more post ideas ahead, covering other wine types, wine-drinking culture, medicinal uses, food and wine pairing, a master list of who in the books has drunk wine and probably a special post just for my homeboy Tyrion Lannister and all his adventures (and turns of phrase) with wine.
I know many of you may not give a Rat Cook’s ass about this kind of post, but it makes me happy. And what’s the point of having a blog if you can’t indulge your peculiar interests. Hope some of you enjoy.