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?
 

27 comments:

Mockingbird said...

First.

Use the new Riedel "Barrier Method" glass on those 'natural' wines.

Marcia Macomber said...

Second!

Jack Stems said...

" the romance of wine"

Working a season in the vineyard and in the cellar will cure you of that delusion better than any antipsychotic.

Just ask David White, of Indiana's News-Sentine.

Joe said...

3rd to last paragraph is the most insightful thing I've ever read, and that included Paris Hilton's autobiography...

Kathy said...

Finally, the real life equivalent to 100 points, thank you: "With more than 200 choices, how do they decide which channel to watch on TV?" (Probably not the debate tonight...it is tonight, right?).
And I agree with Joe. That is a most insightful graph... and column.
I wonder what Eric wanted to call the book?

Bill Geofferys said...

Few embody the snobbish label drinker as wholly as Eric Asimov. For him stories are the most important aspect of a wine, not the pleasure it brings to the senses.

SUAMW said...

Wow, Bill G.

For years I tried to figure out what Asimov's deal is. I tried to understand the guy. I looked past his self-contradictory stances and major recommendation gaffes (Le Tourment Vert, anyone?) and missed what you just nailed:

It IS, blindly, about the story, not the wine. This is either because he refuses to recognize that the reason people make and use tasting notes because these represents traits inherent to the wine, not the taster - OR - he lacks these basic skills himself and thus relies on the story.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Marcia,
It's beneath you to take the coward's way out of commenting. Though beneath you isn't a bad place to be...

Jack Stems,
Well, I suppose I should point out that romance is work too, though different than cleaning barrels and sorting fruit. David will gain some perspective. Finally.

Joe, SubHumanWino,
Sorry, I'm indisposed on Mondays a lot, so I never get to respond in a timely manner. Just a simple question, Do you have to qualify as an actual human to write an autobiography? Also, I'm not surprised you read Paris' autobio--I'm more surprised you read me.

Kathy,
I thought the same thing about the title. Eric was kind enough to Tweet about this post (I received a LOT of extra hits), so I wonder if he'd answer your question. My thought is, "I, Robot Wine" was taken.

Bill,
Well, that's his job. He's a journalist. I get your point, and I'm glad you voiced it, but a critic has to know labels and trends or he's an ineffective critic. Spending a column every week on the pleasure wine brings to the senses would get old really fast. That's not his assignment, anyway, and shouldn't be.

gabe said...

after a 12 hour day of cleaning barrels and sorting fruit, a little romance is worth a lot. maybe it's not worth anything to a person buying a wine they've never heard of from a place they've never been, but it's worth a lot to the poor schmo that's been scrubbing fermenters and sorting fruit all day. take it from a poor schmo.

work one year at a winery, and the romance is gone. work two years at a winery, and you might think you know what you're doing. work five years at four wineries, and a little bit of romance is worth more than ninety-something points from the wine something-or-other.

wax poetics for the value of romance aside, i agree that a book called "how to love wine" is as useful as "how to love blowjobs", and equally embarassing to be caught reading. love it or don't, just don't overthink it. but i do dig Asimov, at least he'd rather enjoy a wine that give it a numerical value. maybe i'm a sucker for a story.

now somebody tell me which website got the most amount of points...with so many choices, i might turn off the internet and stare at my walls for an hour

SUAMW said...

The problem with the story is that, unless you have an independent, unrestrictted behind-the-scenes view, the story the writer is "telling" is the one the winery fed them....

Tell me about the vintage, tell me about the AVA, the site, the grape and how those come to make the wine - with some space given to the producer, then that might be interesting and perhaps informative.

But if the writer talks about how the podiatrist-turned-vintner buries cow horns in the vineyard, names and talks to their vines and kisses each cluster before it gets crushed by the bare, size 6-regular feet of strawberry blonde virgins, then the writer is being a mouthpiece.

SUAMW said...

The problem with the story is that, unless you have an independent, unrestrictted behind-the-scenes view, the story the writer is "telling" is the one the winery fed them....

Tell me about the vintage, tell me about the AVA, the site, the grape and how those come to make the wine - with some space given to the producer, then that might be interesting and perhaps informative.

But if the writer talks about how the podiatrist-turned-vintner buries cow horns in the vineyard, names and talks to their vines and kisses each cluster before it gets crushed by the bare, size 6-regular feet of strawberry blonde virgins, then the writer is being a mouthpiece.

Ed Wilson said...

Jesus, shut up and stop writing on wine blogs (SUASWOWB). Once was enough!

Ed

Thomas said...

Ron,

This was a pinnacle post. You managed to make me simultaneously laugh and nod my head in serious agreement. For that reason, I have nothing pithy, nothing cut, nothing pun-like, nothing, really, to say except: right on.

Inside your inside humor lurks the kernel of insight.

Re, book title: having had to deal with publishers on my book titles, I can tell you that the author is the last person they listen to for title advice.

Thomas said...

cute, not cut...

Jimmy Schnipke said...

Ron

Thomas said it quite perfectly for me. So did Ed Wilson. Maybe Thomas can explain it to Arthur.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Gabe,
I would strongly urge you to turn off the internet in favor of walls every single time. But thanks for reading my foolishness, and for adding the perspective of someone who actually does something strenuous and difficult and nearly thankless just because he loves wine.

I am also a fan of Asimov's work, even the stuff I haven't read. My post was never intended as a criticism of Eric. I liked the stupid satiric idea of a blind book review, and after reading numerous truly useless reviews of his book on a few blogs, I just used it as a jumping off point to write yet another satiric rant. It's what I do.

Thomas,
Thanks for those kind words. To be honest, I almost didn't run this post because I wasn't sure I even liked it.

Yes, I'm sure the title had more to do with his publisher. I was careful in that paragraph not to tie the title directly to him, but simply to point out, I hope to the publisher, how stupid it is.

Jimmie,
Now that I'd like to see.

Charlie Olken said...

The reason why this is a seminal post, in my humble opinion, is that you knew without reading the book how full of self-love it was.

It is Theise all over again. Another guru tells us how we are supposed to love the tipple we already love.

Now, don't get me wrong. Both Theise and Asimov are brilliant wine people, but being brilliant does not equate to having to tell us how to go about our business.

Both have very specific, but also very narrow, points of view, and both talk as if they possessed some kind of special insight that the rest of lack.

By lampooning that aspect of the Eric's work, you have hit the nail on the head. Too bad that you don't really believe that there is far more here than just humor. There is truth, and you should embrace it.

That is why this post is so damn brilliant. It transcends the genre and uses humor to poke the pomposity while at the same time allowing the good parts of Asimov's offering to stand on their own.

Bloody brilliant.

gabe said...

Strenuous and difficult, yes. But I wouldn't quite call my job thankless. I have worked some thankless winemaking positions, and I guess that is why I like the stories and the romance. I'll take a winemaker who kisses each cluster over a team of seasonal employees in a warehouse any day.

I did appreciate the idea of a blind book review. Maybe for the next one, you just read one page of a book without knowing the author or the story, only the genre. It's the only fair way to review a book

Anyway, I did really like this post. Thanks for keeping me entertained, doing something mentally strenuous and mostly thankless, just because you love wine :-)

SUAMW said...

Ed, very cute.
My laptop seemed to freeze up so I hit "submit" again.
Ron knows how to delete redundant comments.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Charlie,
I'll take the praise humbly and just say Thank You. I always hope that there is truth and laughter in what I write--that's what satire is about. When I succeed, it does make all the failures seem worth it.

Gabe,
You're welcome. Making the work seem effortless is what I strive to do, but it is a lot of work and I appreciate being appreciated.

Thomas said...

Ron,

On publishers and titles. The publisher of my second book about the history of the wine trade didn't like my working title, which was: "The Oldest Profession:
The Wine Trade."

Told me it was risque, and that the sales people were afraid of it. I told them that I am concerned about the buyers responding to it and thus far everyone I told it to seemed to think it was catchy.

So they came up with the following grabber. "Wine: The 8,000 Year-Old Story of the Wine Trade."

Sales were so fantastic that I am writing this comment from my one room, roach-infested villa in a ghetto.

Lara Chapman said...

I think you've really got something with the "How to Love..." series. 'How to Love a Pedophile' will be a tough sell though, not going to lie.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Lara,
Oh, yeah, a very tough sell. Maybe if it were "How to Love Vampire Pedophiles" it might work.

Lara Chapman said...

Vampires, yes that may work. Funny how they always get a pass from society. True, they are blood suckers and yes, they do kill people. But they are so damn good-looking... makes it all okay!

Mike said...

Just wanted to jump in and say that I am one of the writers who did receive an advance copy of this book, and did read (most of) it, and that, despite not having read it, you pretty much nailed it. Impressive!

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Hey Mike,
Thanks. I did skim a few incredibly stupid and poorly written reviews on wine blogs, so I had a vague picture of what was in the book. Then I suddenly realized it would be funny to write a "blind" book review. Just like we did in high school, only without the Cliff Notes.

K said...

I guess a good starting point would be context. Wine feats naturaly in a good dinner table. Also having someone of experience in wine tasting to provide the best entry, the best wine suited for your taste is always apreciable.