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“If I was anywhere but rural Italy, I’d feel like a total scumbag” (Guest Post by Matthew Gavin Frank)

Vinted on April 13, 2010 binned in guest posts, Italian Wine, wine books

Following is a guest post from Chicago-born poet and food-and-travel writer Matthew Gavin Frank, who is, by the account of any reasonably sane person, a very interesting guy.

Frank has, at turns, held the following jobs:

  • proprietor of an Alaskan breakfast joint
  • menu designer for Julia Roberts’s private parties in Taos
  • sommelier for Chefs Rick Tramonto and Gale Gand in Chicago
  • instructor of creative writing to undergraduates in Phoenixa
  • poetry teacher to soldiers and their families near Fort Drum in upstate New York.

I told you he was an interesting character.

If that doesn’t totally sell you, this probably will:

Frank has just released the book Barolo (The University of Nebraska Press, 2010), which, as he described it to me, is “about my illegal work in the Piemontese Italian food and wine industry,” during which he spent six months “living out of a tent in the garden of the local Pittatore farmhouse.”

Frank’s guest post is excerpted (with permission) from Barolo (around $17 at Amazon.com), and describes his first meeting with Piemontese vintner Luciano Sandrone, who sounds like the Italian version of Wolverine.  I think you’ll enjoy it as much as I did, though I suppose that we’re going to have to get the book to find out how what happens next in this intriguing tale…

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Uncorking “Corked: A Memoir” (The Kathryn Borel Interview)

Vinted on March 8, 2010 binned in book reviews, interviews, wine books

Reading Corked: A Memoir, you may find that you don’t much like author Kathryn Borel.  And it will probably have nothing to do with her being a Canadian (sorry, Canada… just poking fun at you because you won all of those Olympic hockey gold medals…).

She is, by her own fearless admission, not the best of traveling companions. Neither is her father, with whom she travels to some of France’s most famous wine regions in an attempt to connect more deeply with him while they still have time together on this planet.  Even a healthy proportion of the storied French wine producers that the Borel clan visit in Corked are portrayed as, to put it mildly, difficult.

Corked isn’t about wine appreciation, but it touches on the topic frequently and views it obliquely, as if through a funky, tilted lens; it circles the topic as if both wine and Kathryn were old cats in some new territory – familiar, but with a sense of fight-or-flight caution.  Let’s put it this way: Kathryn describes her new book (also her first) as being about “wine, France, my father, existential dread, and death.”  So you know the viewpoint on wine is going to be different.

As it turns out, wine plays a minor, but important, role in Kathryn’s sometimes hilarious, sometimes quirky, sometimes painful recounting of her journey through French wine country – at turns a vehicle for connectivity, and an insurmountable and intimidating barrier.

And it’s exactly because of that unique viewpoint that I was so stoked to read Corked and to interview its author (if you need further convincing of Kathryn’s unique view on life, just check out how she introduces Corked on video, or visit her craftily quirky – or is that quirkily crafty? – blog).

If Corked reveals a truth about the human condition, it’s that coming to a shared understanding as adults – to a place where we can truly appreciate one another – isn’t always as simple as sharing a glass of excellent vino; sometimes it takes a gut-wrenching rite of passage.  That probably mirrors the relationship some of us have with wine at one point or another in our lives.

Read on for the interview, which is mostly full of wine-related topics but, thanks to Kathryn, is totally full of awesome – just prepare to be entertained, a little moved, and a lot impressed by his woman…

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The Best Wine $1 You’ll Ever Spend

Vinted on February 18, 2010 binned in book reviews, wine books

This blog probably doesn’t attract as many newbie wine lovers these days as it does ‘intermediate’ wine lovers, other wine bloggers, and wine industry folk. 

Well, this is a post for those intrepid wine newbies, and the people who love them (or, the people who feel obligated to buy them wine-related gifts, anyway).

Because I own a house and have a young family, I spend approximately 25% of my waking hours (and just as much of my monthly net income) at the local Target store. And it was there that I discovered the best $1 investment that a wine newbie could make, piled up in a bin located in the “everything for a buck” section near the store entrance.  You know, the section right by the big red plastic shopping carts in which my toddler daughter spends 25% of her waking hours.

That $1 investment?  Wine For Dummies – Pocket Edition.

Yes, I’m serious.  Yes, at Target.

The book is 6” x 4” x 05.cm, and weighs a couple of ounces (or, approximately 0.015% the weight of the average mighty hardback wine tome).  It could literally fit into your back pocket and you might not notice it until the next time that you sat down after putting it there.

Many folks know the full-blown version of Wine For Dummies, written by wine education legends Ed McCarthy and Mary Ewing-Mulligan.  The Pocket Edition boils down the Wine For Dummies content into about 50 pages of the essentials, omitting mostly the content on wine storage, collecting, and buying wine at the wine shop. What’s left is the same fun, accessible, and lucidly written prose found in the book’s bigger brother, with especially helpful info. on how wine is made, how to taste it, what’s behind the most popular varieties, and (especially useful) a short section that is the best and most concise corkscrew overview that you will ever read.

Interestingly, a good portion of that $1 content is also available for free on-line, in a slightly-less-handy-than-the-book-unless-you-own-a-smart-phone format.  The on-line articles don’t contain all of the text of the Pocket Edition but are handy in a pinch (here’s a sample of that corkscrew overview).

Anyway, it’s something to keep in mind the next time you’re trying to plan your escape-vector from Target (which, for me, begins the moment that I am pulling our car into the parking lot) – but it probably won’t help you get out of the place without spending $200.

Cheers!

Making Sense of Elliot Essman’s “Use Wine To Make Sense Of The World”

Vinted on February 11, 2010 binned in book reviews, wine books

I think I’m beginning to understand what draws me to certain things, whether they be people, works of art, musical pieces, bands, sports teams, or wines.  Yeah, it took me over 30 years, but I have made some progress.

And it’s not easy to describe, because there is no single word in the English language that really encapsulates it – at least, not one that I’ve found.

It’s a sense of being genuine.

I don’t mean transparent, or honest, or without fault.  I mean, something clearly being… itself.  What appeals to me most is when someone or something has a spark of originality that is obvious to its very core, because he/she/it simply doesn’t know how to be any other way.

Which is why I enjoyed Elliot Essman’s Use Wine To Make Sense Of The World (the author sent me a review copy).

In an odd way, Essman’s writing made me think about that, because at first I could not figure out why I liked his book, which at times felt a bit tedious (there are sections devoted to following his bouts with Internet dating, as told via the wine selections of each date that, while not nearly as cringe-inducing as it sounds, made me scratch my head and wonder what the hell I was reading).

But it all came together for me in the next-to-last chapter (“Use Wine To Make Sense Of Your Brain”).  Essman was playing me the whole time…

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