Pinot and Prose is a monthly column exploring great books and the drinks to enjoy them with. Why should food get all the fun?
Jonathan Abel’s Guibert: Father of Napoleon’s Grande Armée is a solid piece of scholarship. Abel deftly weaves together a biography of one the French military Enlightenments’ most important—but least understood—figures in a manner that helps you appreciate Guibert as a man of his time, and not just a military theorist.
As a soldier under De Saxe, and a man of letters who hobnobbed with Voltaire, Guibert presents a challenging subject for a biographer. As Abel points out, most previous biographies separated the two aspects of Guibert’s life. Indeed, while reading Abel’s book, one can appreciate why a student of military history would be bored with the scenes depicting Guibert as a mover and shaker in the Parisian salon scene; at the same time, you can see an intellectual historian getting tired of Abel’s dissection of Guibertian infantry tactics. But that’s who Guibert was: soldier by day, philosopher by night. Reading Abel’s book, I couldn’t help but think Guibert would have agreed with Cervante’s Don Quixote when the eponymous knight errant quips that “the lance was never blunted by the pen, not the quill impeded by the lance.”
As the subtitle suggests, Abel believes that Guibert laid the doctrinal foundations for the post-Revolutionary French Army’s success in the Napoleonic Wars. I’m not going to pretend to weigh in on that aspect. However, I will say that I am intrigued by how Guibert’s work might have influenced—either officially or unofficially—the French Army’s operations in the American War of Independence. And for that matter, if it influenced the the Continental Army in the war’s later years.
More to follow as I dig into some primary sources.
So, as you might have guessed from the title of this series, I love pinot noir, and Gevrey-Chambertin produces some exceptional pinot noir. The Louis Latour village level Gevrey-Chambertin is a not insanely priced example of just how good the villagers there are at raising their grapes. If Guibertian tactics are the ultimate example of what could be achieved with the flintlock musket, Gevrey-Chambertin is similarly the pinnacle of the pinot noir grape for me.
The wine is aromatic like a pinot noir should be, and smells of raspberry and cranberry. It has a velvety soft mouth feel that bursts with the taste of red fruit. Besides Abel’s book, this wine also goes great with a simply prepared roasted chicken and some duck fat roasted potatoes. It is classic France, just like Guibert!