"Irreverence is easy--what's hard is wit."--Tom Lehrer
Tuesday, November 13, 2012
Blind Book Review--"Wine Grapes"
I don’t know where my review copy of Jancis Robinson’s new tome, “Wine Grapes,” was sent. I never got it. I wrote a brief email to the publisher, ECCO (How smart can they be when they publish books and their damn name is a typo? Is it ECHO or ECO? Morons.), asking politely what happened to it. “It’s 175 dollars! Maybe your name should be GECCO, like Gordon in the cheeseball Michael Douglas movie. I can’t afford to buy a copy, and now you’ve gone and shipped mine to some inarticulate, marginally literate blogger who will get all hot that he got my free copy, touch himself, and then the damn pretty pages with the naked grapes on them will be stuck together.” I didn’t hear back.
But, honestly, is there a point to actually reading a wine book before reviewing it? None that I can think of. You already know when you see the author’s name what it’s going to say. If it’s Robert Parker, it’s regurgitated tasting notes remolded to create something new. Basically, a new Parker book is the equivalent of Spam. Almost meaty, but not quite. Not a wine book, but a wine book byproduct. Matt Kramer? He’ll “make sense” of something you didn’t even know you were confused about. He’s the guy at the party everybody hates because he’s constantly correcting everyone about things that couldn’t be less important to the conversation. (You get the feeling from the way he writes that if you met him his voice would remind you of Stephen Hawking.) You don’t have to read their books to review them. It would only prejudice you. Reviewing books without having read them is the most objective way to review them. Just like wine reviewing is done blind. The more you know, the more your intelligence can guide you, and that’s not particularly desirable in wine reviewing. This is the same philosophy behind Match.com as well.
Television hosts never read the books of the authors they interview on the air either. Yes, they pretend to have read them, and they have interesting questions, but they have people who read the books for them. Yeah, Charlie Rose reads all those books. Yup, and “Survivior” isn’t scripted. Listen, if it ain’t on a teleprompter, those talking heads can’t read it.
I haven’t read Jancis Robinson’s (and two other no-names who probably did 90% of the work but won’t get squat out of it) new book, “Wine Grapes.” So you can count on the HoseMaster’s review to be objective and honest. Can you say that about any other wine blogger who received a free copy for review, one of which had my name on it and the bastard still kept it? Those bozos who proudly review any crap wine they get for free, and never say anything bad? OK, yeah, trust them.
“Wine Grapes” is the long-awaited book about the DNA of grapes. Yawn. If you read the entire book you may need a DNR from whomever has your medical power of attorney. The book is massive. It’s seven pounds. Seven pounds of DNA. Sounds like a party at Silvio Berlusconi’s house. Everything you ever wanted to know about how grape varieties are related is in this book. Turns out, most of the grape varieties are more closely related than you think, sort of like your hill people relatives.
The book is pornography for wine geeks. I know this, and I haven’t even read it. They’ll start to look at it, promise themselves they’ll only flip through it for another ten minutes, I swear to God, just another ten minutes, but they won’t be able to stop. It’s kinky wine grape smut that, honestly, should be enjoyed behind closed doors, and only by consenting adults. “Wine Grapes” has dozens of big, lurid, full-color reproductions of paintings of the reproductive organs of your favorite variety. Just hanging there making you wish you could pop them in your mouth. Bunches of them, plump and juicy, dripping with moisture, staring right back at you from the page like the strumpets they are. God, I want this book.
Robinson and the two other authors, who don’t matter and will almost never get mentioned in reviews, and why should they, have written entries about all 1,368 wine grapes currently grown to make wine. It’s amazing to think that there are 1,358 grapes nobody gives a crap about, but they’re all here. And you’ll learn some amazing things about them. If I’d read the book, I could probably give you some examples of amazing things. Like Grüner Veltliner is a natural cross between Riesling and some sort of snot. Harsh, I know. But, hey, don’t blame me. It’s DNA. DNA is like the Internet, it’s always true, and if your girlfriend checks its history, you’re so screwed.
I read somewhere, or else I made it up, doesn’t matter, that “Wine Grapes” took four years to write. At least someone accomplished something the past four years, not like Congress.
Not having read “Wine Grapes,” I reluctantly want to point out some of the book’s shortcomings. No blurbs. Come on, ECCO, the big wine book of the season needs blurbs! The big damn book is in a slipcover, which looks just lovely propping up the 1968 Fiat in my front yard, but, honestly, you need blurbs. Here’s a few:
“Wine Grapes is just like what comes out of a wine press—a must!”—Randall Grahm
“Finally, a wine book that costs more than my Special Selection Cabernet!”—Caymus Vineyard
“I couldn’t put this book down. Because I couldn’t pick the damned thing up.”—Karen MacNeil
“I loved the recipes!”—Lettie Teague
Another shortcoming is the lack of a pronunciation guide. I’m fine with the grapes, but how the hell do you pronounce, “José Vouillamoz?” The closest I could get is “Chell-a-cheff.”
There’s no doubt in my mind after not reading “Wine Grapes” that it is a major accomplishment. In book binding, anyway.
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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