Full disclosure: Charlie Olken, the driving force behind The Connoisseurs’ Guide to California Wine, is my dad.
Not my biological father, mind you. In fact, he’s not related to me in any way; he’s not my adoptive father, either.
It happened back in February: I was sitting at one of the evening dinner events at the 2010 Professional Wine Writers Symposium, and was talking about how I thought Charlie was awesome and that I’d recently commented on another website that I wish Charlie was my dad. Then, someone pointed out that Charlie was sitting about two places to my right, and Charlie kindly agreed to pseudo-adopt me on the spot. Highlight of the trip for me, in a lot of ways.
Charlie has a new version of his Guidebook to California Wine (The New Connoisseurs’ Guidebook to California Wine and Wineries, of which I received a review copy), so we are (and by “we are” I mean “I am”) extending the theme of publication reviews this week by spinning some yarn about Charlie’s new book, co-written with Joseph Furstenthal (the book, that is, not this review).
The first thing I noticed about The New Connoisseurs’ Guidebook is that it’s mildly addictive.
What I mean is, it offers up thoughts on the history and products almost 500 California wineries, which invariably leads to the following sequence of events (for me, anyway):
“I wonder if they cover [insert winery name here]?”
“Hmmm. I never knew that about [insert winery name here]. Wonder what they think of [such-and-such-winery]’s more recent releases.”
You get the idea. The New Connoisseurs’ Guidebook is like searching the Internet on CA wineries, only in miniature (and in print) and guided by the expertise of people who have covered the winemaking in the state since most of us wine bloggers were eight year old kids drinking Coke from glass bottles…
Books (and magazines, for that matter) that are primarily made up of a sequence of expert commentary have a tendency to come off as pedantic or platitudinous; but that’s thankfully far from the case with The New Connoisseurs’ Guidebook. Papa decidedly does not preach.
This has everything to do with the fact that Charlie Olken is one of the few people on Earth who could lay legitimate claim to being the expert on the history and evolution of California wine production, having tasted just about all of the regions wine products since the 1970s.
I couldn’t figure out why Charlie and Joseph didn’t spend more page real estate discussing the process behind including the wineries that made it into The New Connoisseurs’ Guidebook, or establishing their credentials a bit more for those who might be interested in the book but aren’t familiar with Charlie’s Connoisseurs’ Guide to California Wine publication; this important aspect gets a treatment of exactly one sentence in the Introduction (page xviii), buried in a subsection titled “Wine Quality Ratings Explained”:
“The wineries in this book have been chosen, in large part, because of the quality of wines they produce, but also because you are more likely to find them or to hear of them.”
This might carry a bit more weight with the addition of “by the way, I’m a bad-ass and I taste and evaluate thousands and thousands of these wines every year, and have done that for decades.” A phrase-ending “beeeatches!” to close the statement is not necessary (it’s implied).
Rounding out the the winery treatments in The New Connoisseurs’ Guidebook to California Wine and Wineries is a concise but eminently readable and fascinating review of California’s winemaking history from the 1760s to the present, as well as the authors’ takes on worthwhile wine reads (both in print and on-line – this site itself getting a kind and favorable mention, though I didn’t know 1WineDude.com was being included until I was already into the notes of my book review; in any case, I leave it to you to decide if my take on The New Connoisseurs’ Guidebook has been too favorably colored as a result).
It’s not a book for everyone, and certainly too matter-of-fact and fact-oriented to function as a curl-up-in-bed read, but those planning a visit to CA wine country might just find it an indispensable and time-saving reference.