Posts Filed Under book reviews
Before I offer my thoughts on Evan Dawson’s recently-released Summer in a Glass: The Coming of Age of Winemaking in the Finger Lakes, I need to make sure that you thoroughly understand that this is NOT a book review.
It’s not really a book review because as a personal friend of Evan, and a fan of his writing in general, and a member of the Palate Press ad network (which is currently running ads for Summer in a Glass, some of which appear right here on this site), I am very likely incapable of producing an unbiased review of his first book.
In fact, I’m quoted in the book as well, and, now that I think about it, about the only way I could be more firmly lodged like a NYC prostitute onto the tip of this book would be if I were somehow receiving a percentage of the advance (I’m not). So let’s just say that when I tell you that Summer in a Glass is not really a wine book, but is a humanist take on a local industry finally finding its mature footing, and just happens to be set in a wine region – and that it’s a total joy to read – I’m at least being subconsciously influenced into seeing the more positive gleams from the sheen coming off of its glossy cover.
What I can tell you without appearing like a total shill is that Summer in a Glass seems to be hitting the shelves at exactly the right time. I’ve written in the not-so-distant past that the NY Finger Lakes wine region seems to have hit its best stride ever in recent years, with the levels of experience, industry camaraderie and wine quality all headed up a steep curve simultaneously. If you want to settle into your fave reading chair with a book like Evan’s, there’s never been a better time than now to pour yourself a glass of Finger Lakes wine to accompany it – and that is NOT just Riesling, mind you; I include Finger Lakes reds in that group, as they are producing increasing amounts of high-quality reds like Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir (let’s not forget that the 2008 Red Tail Ridge Pinot Noir made my list of 2010 Top 10 Most Interesting Wines, people)…
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Occasionally in the wine media world one gets asked to contribute to articles, news stories, wine lists and wine picks. I’ve done this several times (recently for Sommelier Journal, for example) because I like to help people out if I can, and when it comes to Going Pro it doesn’t hurt to have your name in the public eye and mind of the wine world (more on the pros/cons of that approach in a future Going Pro article).
Those contributions are almost always uncompensated, as was the case in my latest – a two-page blurb that I gave to London-based sommelier and consultant Tara Devon O’Leary (at her request) for her newly-released book, Every Wine Tells A Story. Well, uncompensated unless you count the copy of the book that she gave to me.
Like another wine book recently reviewed on these virtual pages (A Feast At The Beach), Every Wine Tells A Story is a series of short, vignette-style pieces, though the focus is squarely on wine and the vignettes are supplied by twenty-nine wine personalities that include sommeliers, print journalists, bloggers, winemakers and wine merchants. Each story details something interesting about a particular wine recommendation and why (and how) it touched the author in some way. There are some great moments in this little book, and greater still are the wine recommendations, many of which are readily available (though some, like the 1971 Domaine Romanee-Conti picked by Judgment-of-Paris legend Steven Spurrier, are well beyond the reach of all but the richest among us).
I’m mentioning this book today because my contribution is a love-letter to the same wine that I recommended to Sommelier Journal’s 2010 wine list article (the 2007 Quinta do Vesuvio Vintage Port), and so it seemed appropriate for Valentine’s Day. Plus, having recently returned from Portugal, I’ve got Port on my mind (and, no doubt, a serious amount of cholesterol in my blood from three square meals of insanely tasty meat dishes each day).
Anyway, Every Wine Tells A Story is worth a look, and like A Feast At The Beach offers a nice break from the overly-weighty, serious tomes in the wine book lexicon (it also offers similar “bathroom reading” potential; yes, I did go there… again). Around $13.
It’s been months since the most recent “official” book review on the virtual pages of 1WineDude.com. This hasn’t been due to a paucity of book samples coming my way – I’ve just sadly had little time to devote to them, because my time management skills are on par with Chad Ochocinco’s ability to stay out of the public eye.
Fortunately for me – and, I think, for many of you – William Widmaier’s A Feast At The Beach hit my mailbox. It clocks in at less than 150 pages, with most chapters – vignettes of Widmaier’s late `60s childhood in Provence, centered around wine, food, and the family kitchen – short enough to be enjoyed while taking care of quick business (on the toilet… c’mon, you know you were thinking it). The book is interspersed with recipes that look simple and delicious (but I wouldn’t recommend combining them with the toilet-reading).
Anyway, delving into A Feast At The Beach has the feel of exploring the back-catalog of posts from a supremely well-written blog. The first few sentences of just about every chapter draw you in, connect you with Widmaier’s Provencal childhood memories, but in their disarming terseness remain blessedly free of any hint of cloying, saccharine wistfulness. Exhibit A – his take on pesto (when comparing it to the French pistou):
“I am addicted to fresh homemade pesto. Forget the manufactured, preserved concoctions in jars. They compare to fresh homemade pesto like motor oil compares to Normandy butter.”
You’ve just gotta love that. And as a wine lover, you’ve got to admire Widmaier’s take on the wines of Provence, which are prevalent throughout the book and often show that he knows of what he vinously speaks: “A huge part of the joy of wine, at least in my view, is having a sense of place that goes with the wine. Wine is more than the taste on the palate; it is place, memories, history and art. This is why with wine, taste is such a personal thing – it includes one’s romantic notions.” Bingo, dude.
Personally, I’m pleased to have stumbled upon a memoir that is well-written enough to be romantically reflective without losing its edginess. Which makes A Feast At The Beach such a rare book – it’s one that can be equally at home on your grandmother’s beach house coffee table as well as your own nightstand. $14.95-ish (cheaper at Amazon.com).
Robin Goldstein, who shook the wine world’s foundations in 2008 when he won Wine Spectator’s restaurant Award of Excellence after creating a fictitious restaurant whose wine list included some of their lowest-scoring Italian wines in the past two decades (triggering one of the most heated public debates of the year in the wine world), is back.
With a vengeance.
Not that Robin’s disappeared since my last interview with him (which long-time 1WD readers will recall generated some very compelling debate – some of which, you will come to learn, influenced his latest project): he blogs regularly at BlindTaste.com, helped follow up the 2010 edition of The Wine Trials with The Beer Trials (a similar take on blind tasting ratings, applied to commercial beers), and has co-authored the new release The Wine Trials 2011.
Once again, I greedily devoured the results in my review copy of The Wine Trials, and just as in the 2010 versions, I found the them nothing short of compelling.
For starters, the consumers’ choices (for the most part) are very good bargain wines: take Dona Paula, Aveleda, Hugel, Nobilo, and Sebeka for examples.
Additionally, the blind tasting regimen for the trials (which once again pitted inexpensive wines against similar but much pricier brands) was enhanced with a bit more of the science behind them explained, and the results were similar to those in 2010: non-experts prefer less expensive wines, by a significant statistical margin.
Finally, Robin and his co-authors seem to take an even harder line in The 2011 Wine Trials against the use of point scores by leading wine publications, including taking Wine Spectator to task for how they handled the Award of Excellence kerfuffle in 2008. Whether or not you agree with their stance and their findings, the Wine Trials team at Fearless Critic Media are clearly not interested in backing down anytime soon.
Robin (once again) kindly agreed to talk to me about his controversial new release, and (once again) he has a lot to say about Wine Spectator, the 100 point wine scoring system, and how wine consumers can enhance their own perceptions (and use their own preferences to rally against snobbery in the wine world). Oh, yeah, and he talks RUSH!
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