Posts Filed Under book reviews

The Most Beautiful Wine Cellars In The World

Vinted on April 29, 2010 binned in book reviews

In the music industry, we call it G.A.S.  As in, Gear Acquisition Syndrome – a desire to acquire more basses, guitars, whatever, usually brought on by exposure to an awesome instrument pick up made by an acquaintance.  In my “spare time” I run a social network for bass guitarists, so I have a lot of opportunity for G.A.S.-inducing exposure.  I mean, if you’re a bass player and you don’t instantly get G.A.S. looking at photos like this, then you probably don’t really have a pulse.

Envy or jealousy do not accurately describe G.A.S.; they have far too negative connotations, and G.A.S. isn’t negative – if anything, you’re happy for your friend who has picked up that awesome new instrument – it’s more like a form of addiction that plagues those who find themselves simultaneously straddling the roles of collector and experiencer.

Which is, of course, a scenario which wine lovers can easily appreciate, especially when visiting one of those enormous, kick-ass wine cellars full of potentially-amazing juice.

Which is why you probably shouldn’t even so much as look at the upcoming book The Most Beautiful Wine Cellars In The World by Astrid Fobelets, Jurgen Lijcops (about $60 from VdH Books, available in May 2010 – I received a preview copy).  It will very likely give you a serious case of wine G.A.S. …

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In Plain Sight (Uncovering Wes Walker’s “Hidden Napa Valley”)

Vinted on April 21, 2010 binned in book reviews

The first thing that you think (if you’re me, anyway) about the late Wes Walker’s Hidden Napa Valley ($19.95 from Welcome Books, I received an advanced sample copy of the newly updated edition) is how unexpectedly small it is.

At 7 and 1/4 inches square, you almost want to greet it with a cliche; “Oh, I’m sorry, it’s just that… well, I expected you to be taller”).

The second thing that you might think when seeing Hidden Napa Valley for the first time is that it’s just another book of beautiful photographs from the equally beautiful Napa Valley, the kind that tourists pick up from winery gift shops so they can take them home and later lament at how unbeautiful their hometowns are in comparison; another stone to hang around their heavy hearts as they sink into the miasmic depths of the discontent that only those who chase after the capitalist notion of the wine lifestyle can truly appreciate.

Or something like that, anyway.

Writing off Hidden Napa Valley can only ever be a temporary mistake for anyone who really knows the Valley, however; once you flip through its gorgeous pages you will, eventually, come across a photo that speaks to you, as if Walker had somehow, without ever knowing you, captured a private moment – some time when you let your guard down, willingly got sucked into the gorgeousness of it all, and that you thought was only known by you and Napa.

Walker probably knew that just about everybody that spends more than one vacation stop in Napa has had that moment…

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What Price Bordeaux: Bordeaux’s Loss of Identity By The Numbers

Vinted on March 29, 2010 binned in book reviews, commentary

Master of Wine and scientist Benjamin Lewin’s non-fiction book What Price Bordeaux has a title that, unlike many non-fictional works, is meant to convey a series of meanings or themes that are touched on at some point in the body of the work itself.

In this case, What Price Bordeaux refers, at turns, to

  • The skyrocketing prices of wines from Bordeaux’s top chateau, while its minor AOCs are in such crisis that they are forced to sell their wines for distillation in order to avoid bankruptcy.
  • The maddening opacity of Bordeaux’s wine business, which Lewin investigated intensely in the writing of his book, and where simple data points, such as the average price of a bottle of red Bordeaux in 2007, were hidden from him by the area’s professional organizations.
  • The 1855 Classification of Bordeaux’s top producers, which organized the “best” wines by price in the Medoc (Lewin boldly offers an updated, new classification in What Price Bordeaux, which contains some shockers in terms of who now ranks above whom in current Bordeaux market prices).
  • The loss of Bordeaux wines’ identities in favor of an “International” red wine style currently more popular with consumers and influential wine critics – resulting in skyrocketing price increases and occasional price crashes for high-end Bordeaux wines.

What Price Bordeaux contains enough fodder for a month’s worth of wine blog posts, but that would deny you the pleasures (and shock) of reading it (which I recommend that you do).  Instead, it’s the last point above that I want to talk about, concentrating on Chapter 10 (“The New Bordeaux”), which alone is worth the price of the book.

After reading Chapter 10 in Lewin’s book, I’ve grown increasingly convinced that Bordeaux wines are becoming more and more like those of the Napa Valley not just because they are chasing the elevated scores that wine critics give to that style of red wine, but also because they may have no other choice…

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Tastes of Things Before My Eyes: The Beauty of Wine, Under A Microscope

Vinted on March 25, 2010 binned in book reviews

Just when you thought that wine has been analyzed form pretty much every angle possible, along comes Philadelphia native, biochemist PhD and former medical research scientist Sondra Barrett.

Sondra’s journey to wine seems spiraling and circuitous: Originally a researcher on human leukemias, she was asked to photograph a patient’s leukemia cells, which lead to her presenting slide shows of normal and abnormal cell comparisons at oncology clinics.  After attending a photographic exhibit of chemicals of the brain, Sondra saw parallels in her leukemia work and, noticing an artistic quality in the brain chemical photos, decided to try similar photographic techniques on molecular structures in nature.

Structures like wine.

Sondra is now the author of a recently released collection of those photographs, titled Wine’s Hidden Beauty.

And the images in this book (Sondra sent me a review copy) are, simply put, extraordinary.

According to Sondra:

“My first discovery was at Sterling Vineyards when I was artist-in-residence documenting winemaking from the inside out. The winemakers gave me barrel samples and wines from all over Napa Valley. This extraordinary experience led me to uncovering distinct patterns and beauty in a glass of wine. Early on, a Napa grape grower, Rachel Balyeat, provided some financial support for me to delve further into the life of wine. She hosted a special dinner with acclaimed wine maestro André Tchelistcheff to discuss what these pictures could mean. Andréʼs first reaction – ‘They are the jewels in wine. Put them on silk scarves.’”

I think Andre was on to something (though I don’t wear silk scarves so I’ll stick to admiring the photos in printed form)…

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