"Irreverence is easy--what's hard is wit."--Tom Lehrer
Monday, October 22, 2012
Blind Book Review--"How to Love Wine"
Somehow my copy of Eric Asimov’s new book “How to Love Wine” was lost in the mail, or was mistakenly shipped to one of the usual sycophantic wine bloggers, you know who they are, guaranteed to give it a rave review. Really, you’re recommending the new book by the wine critic of the newspaper of record (sorry, Newspaper of Record) when your claim to fame is your insightful post about how tasting rooms should have stools? Wow, that’s quite a stretch. I just loved your previous post where you showed a pretty picture of a pear and reminded us how you could taste pears in some wines. So insightful, and easy for us morons to understand. I’m sending you a photo of a gerbil, hoping he’ll find a home somewhere in your anatomy. I simply must rush out and buy Asimov’s new book, based on the surprisingly positive wine blogger reviews. I haven’t heard so much gushing since the last BP oil spill.
I haven’t read “How to Love Wine.” I probably will. Eric Asimov is a nice guy, thoughtful and funny and articulate. Wait, that’s me. But I’m going to write about his new book without having read it. I think reading it is a crutch, and predisposes you to like it. Think of this as a blind book review. I’m reviewing the book and haven’t even seen the cover! Takes all the bias out of it. This is how professionals do it. Would those kiss-ass wine bloggers (it’s discouraging how few have any sort of voice or backbone—if I’m an inveterate misanthrope, at least inveterate is better than invertebrate) have given such glowing reviews if they had no idea who the author is? Makes you think, doesn’t it?
First of all, why do I need a book about “How to Love Wine?” Who the hell needs to know how to love wine? If you’re buying the damn book, you already love wine. I don’t need a book called “How to Love Blowjobs.” Oh, wait, is that giving or receiving? Bad example. I might buy a book entitled, “How to Love Brain Tumors.” Those are hard to love. “How to Love Rat Poison” has a certain ring to it. I’m pretty sure there’s a series in here, like those piece of crap “Idiot’s Guides.” “How to Love Flatulence” is a book every man would buy his wife for Christmas. “How to Love Pedophiles” might be a niche book, but at least you’d be learning to love something, someone, utterly disgusting who you wouldn’t know how to love otherwise.. “How to Love Wine” is the worst title for a wine book I’ve ever heard. OK, “Naked Wine” is right up there. Though I’ve pre-ordered the sequel, “Naked and Shaved Wine.”
Asimov’s premise, I guess (hey, this is a blind book review, I’m guessing, not dealing with facts—you know, like wine reviews on blogs), is that there are a large number of people intimidated by wine, who believe that they have to know a lot of trivial knowledge about a wine, have to know the scores it received, have to have spent a bunch of money on it, in order to enjoy it fully. Who are these cretins? Really. I’ve never met people this blatantly stupid. And if I had, I certainly wouldn’t write a book for them. These people probably get confused by the menu at Red Lobster. I feel sorry for these doorknobs. With more than 200 choices, how do they decide which channel to watch on TV? It’s so intimidating! How do I love TV? Especially when people make fun of me for watching The Crochet Network, even though that’s what I really like. (“I’m voting for Knit Romney.”) Life must be miserable for those idiots. At least now, thanks to Eric Asimov, they’ll know how to love wine.
For as long as I can remember, there’s been talk about all the people who might come to love wine, but are turned off by wine snobs, and so give up, and never pursue the obvious joys of wine. To their everlasting sorrow. On their death beds, their only regret is, “Gosh, I know I’ve been a failure as a father, and I wish I hadn’t slept with the babysitter without wearing a condom, but, honestly, I just wish I’d tasted more natural wines.” In 35 years, I’ve never met one of these pansies. They are the Undecided Voters of wine journalism. Everyone tries to win them over, but, hell, first you have to find them. And they’re not hiding, they just don’t give a crap. How many damn wine books begin with the premise that the author won’t talk down to you, but, rather, try to turn you on to the pleasures of wine? Oh, I don’t know, a thousand? The authors all talk about the myriad of wine snobs in the universe, most of them regular commenters on Robert Parker’s chat room (Bob’s buttboys) or holding forth on Wine Berserkers, but who reads that garbage? Not people who don’t know about wine. Those wine boards are the equivalent of locker room grabass. All in good fun, but mostly about aggression, dominance, and repressed homosexuality.
Is it particularly insightful to urge people to ignore scores, forget about the insanely stupid descriptions, and just enjoy the sensual experience of wine? How many times have the words “Just drink what you like” been written or expressed? Throw all the philosophy you like at it, it’s about as simpleminded a statement as there is in the wine business. Tasting a newly released wine and saying, “It needs some age,” is just about as simpleminded, but not quite. Oh, and, “It really needs food.”
I also don’t care if someone buys wine based on a numerical score. Who cares? Numerical scores run our lives, from IQ’s, to SAT scores, to cholesterol tests, to body weight, we love to assign numbers. And then we eventually wise up and move on from them to lead our lives. If you spend your entire wine life buying bottles because of scores, you’re a sucker. Wine shops and wineries love suckers. You’ll always be welcome if you buy wine by scores—the whole industry will adore you. But the love of wine is in the history of it, the romance of it, the sharing of it. There isn’t a solitary ounce of love in the scores. Almost everyone figures that out after a few years, on their own, without reading a book.
What is condescending to beginning wine drinkers is the endless chatter about wine that makes it seem more mystical than it really is. When, truly, it’s the alcohol that makes us love it, crave it, build wooden shrines to it in our cellars. What offends people isn’t the fixation on scores; it really isn’t even the wine snobs. It’s all the blatant hooey. The waxing poetic about how wine changed your life, the mystical musing about the spiritual benefits of drinking natural wine, the endless tasting notes that teach us from the beginning that describing a wine is actually a test done as a requirement instead of as an enthusiasm—it’s that kind of emptyheaded philosophizing and name-dropping that turns normal people off to wine.
So I thoroughly enjoyed not receiving or reading Eric Asimov’s “How to Love Wine.” It gave me a lot to think about. I also look forward to blind reviewing many other wine books that will not be sent to me for review. And, really, isn’t that the best way to learn to love wine? Not read the best wine books?
After 19 years as a Sommelier in Los Angeles, twice named Sommelier of the Year by the Southern California Restaurant Writers' Association, I moved to Sonoma County to explore the other aspects of the wine business. I've spent, OK wasted, 35 years learning about and teaching about and swallowing wine. I am also a judge at the Sonoma Harvest Fair, San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition and the San Francisco International Wine Competition--so I can spit like a rabid llama. I know more about wine than David Sedaris and I'm funnier than James Laube. Stay tuned for an informed but jaded view of everything wine and everything else.
I'm living proof that alcohol kills brain cells.
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