Sunday, April 7, 2013
Purple Prose and Vinous Literature
The amount of words put to paper, so to speak in this digital age, about wine is absolutely mind boggling. If one were to search the book section of Amazon for ‘wine’ there would be over 90,000 options from which to make a decision. That number doesn’t even take into consideration regular magazines, newsletters, columns or articles in newspapers, and the absurd amount of output (some well thought out, some not so) from the blogosphere.
I find it somewhat curious that a number of the books have a subtitle alluding to one upping your friends or gaming the sommelier. Apparently there is often a combative nature to wine know-how.
So how does one go about seeking knowledge on wine? One route I have found to successful wine literature is seeking out that which was read before me. If there are friends, co-workers, or superiors whose palates and opinion I respect I will often seek advice on what they have read. In the early stages of learning about wine the amount of information to take in can be overwhelming, but one thought to keep in mind that makes wine learning more manageable is the fact that you can’t possibly learn it all.
Accepting the fact that there is just simply too much to know, and every vintage in every region brings more to learn, takes a lot of pressure off.
The first thing to do would be to buy a map. If you’re reading about a winery or a region, knowing where it is and what surrounds it adds another layer of depth to the knowledge. Did the region gain prominence due to an advantageous location along a navigable river like Rheingau? Is a mountain range the reason to grape growing success like Alsace? Just a little extra geography goes a long way and the map I would recommend is The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson & Jancis Robinson; there’s a concise one too if you want to save a few bucks. This book geographically covers the wine world very well indeed, and both of the editors are well established and very knowledgeable.
If you happen to be of the analytic and historical mindset, Paul Lukacs’ book Inventing Wine: A History of One of the World’s Most Ancient Pleasures does a very good job of explaining the evolution of wine and it’s role in human culture for the last few thousand years.
If you prefer something a little more casual, then I would recommend Educating Peter by Lettie Teague, frequent columnist for the Wallstreet Journal. In this book Ms. Teague embarks on a goal to educate Rolling Stone film critic Peter Travers on the world of wine. She challenges herself to create an expert out of a man whose favorite wine is ‘fatty chardonnay.’
And for the book that best put into words my fledgling philosophy of wine, I would refer you to Kermit Lynch’s Adventures on the Wine Route. Kermit Lynch is a wine importer who started importing natural wine before there was need for a phrase like “natural wine.” As his friend Alice Waters was to food with her restaurant Chez Panisse, he has been to wine for the last thirty plus years.
The wine books that line my shelves seem to be taking up an ever increasing amount of space, so I could go on, but I think these books are a good place to start. And as a final piece of advice, I curiously find myself thirsty while reading these vinuous tomes, so have a glass of wine handy before you begin.