"Irreverence is easy--what's hard is wit."--Tom Lehrer
Thursday, January 17, 2013
Blind Book Review--"Inventing Wine"
I thought I’d break from my usual practice and actually read Paul Lukacs’ new book Inventing Wine before I reviewed it. Well, not read it very thoroughly and over a long period of time. What sense does that make? I planned to spend about five minutes skimming it, digesting it, and then I’d review it. This is how wine is reviewed, after all. Smell it, take a taste, spit it out, review it. I like to review wine books the same way, only you don’t need to smell them. One can assume they smell. Reviewing wine books in this manner certainly makes as much sense as reviewing wines that way, and has equal worth. But, somehow, once again, the HoseMaster’s review copy was lost in the mail. By the way, you can tell a review copy because it’s stamped along the edge, “Review Copy, Not for Resale.” I buy them all the time from yard sales at wine bloggers’ houses. This is called “monetizing your blog.” Of course, you don’t know for sure they’re a wine blogger until you actually go into the house and run into their parents.
The subtitle of Inventing Wine is “A New History of One of the World’s Most Ancient Pleasures.” Wine has been around about 8000 years. I wonder what the other world’s most ancient pleasures are. My first thought is lap dancing, which historians tell us goes all the way back to the discovery of the lap. Few people know that the Aztecs used lap dancing the same way we now use a mortar and pestle. Makes my pestle happy just thinking about it. Then there’s eating meat; I’m guessing that goes back at least 8000 years. I’ve had jerky at least that old. So wine, the title implies, is at least as pleasurable as lap dances and meat. Of course, wine is not as ancient a pleasure as the ones that go back to man’s discovery of fire—lighting farts comes to mind.
Also, for how long is this a “New History?” When it’s stacked up on remainder tables at Barnes and Noble, is it still a “New History?” Can’t it just be a history? New history is, by definition, history about ten minutes later. And what about “World’s Most Ancient Pleasures?” Shouldn’t it be “Man’s Most Ancient Pleasures?” The world’s most ancient pleasure would be, oh, I don’t know, gravity? Maybe rotating on its axis for several billion years. Try getting the world to do that if wine were one of its ancient pleasures. It would spin around a few times and fall right on its axis. So I didn’t read the book, but I sure as hell read the subtitle closely.
Wine, as we know it today, is certainly a modern invention, much different than it would have been even two hundred years ago, like the Internet. The wines everyone raved about in the 19th Century were the equivalent of dialup—mostly faulty, and left a bad taste in your mouth. The wines we obsess about today, the wines we endlessly compare and rate, the wines we try to pair with our genetically engineered foods, are the result of 20th Century technology and would be unrecognizable to a wine connoisseur from the 1860’s. To him, they’d taste like Chicken McNuggets taste to a coyote.
I haven’t read Inventing Wine, so I hope it doesn’t turn out to be about spinning cones, reverse osmosis and Vinturis (it always seems to me that using an aerator before drinking a wine is like using a vibrator before sex—sure, you’ve opened it up and released the bouquet, but what’s the fucking hurry?). From the brilliantly written subtitle, I’m assuming Lukacs examines how wine has evolved over the last 8000 years. And I think there’s a fantastic book in there somewhere. Judging from the blurbs on the back cover of Inventing Wine, scripted by some of the biggest names in wine, most of whom haven’t read it either, as is the custom with blurb writing in publishing, this is that book! Is there higher praise?
For hundreds, if not thousands, of years, wine was seen as a gift from God, like children, or Sofia Vergara. There were times when wine was a substitute for potable water, a tradition carried on today with Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio, which is indistinguishable from it. But those were wines that would be unidentifiable to modern man as wine. They would have been bacterial broths, spoiled, foul, and vinegary, like the Soup of the Day at Chili’s. The chemistry of wine was little understood until the time of Louis Pasteur, who proved once and for all that living organisms spoiled wine, thus foreseeing the rise of the wine critics and sommeliers who’ve spoiled it for everyone.
And who are the people responsible for Inventing Wine? Jeez, I hope Lukacs talks about them. Why else write a book called Inventing Wine? You couldn’t write a book called Inventing Fried Chicken and not talk about Colonel Sanders or Popeye. So I liked the section of the book, had I read it, where Lukacs talks about the Cistercian monks, who were the first to recognize that wine reflected the place where it was grown. So not only can we blame the church for its subjugation of women, serial child molestation and homophobia, we can add terroir to the list. Bastards. Leave it to the church to take the fun out of everything it touches. And then there’s Dom Perignon, the Abner Doubleday of Champagne, yet another mucking funk. Pierre Perignon didn’t invent Champagne, he wasn’t blind, and he didn’t say, “I’m tasting stars.” That was Louis B. Mayer on the casting couch. Dom Perignon may have been responsible for figuring out the closure for a bottle of Champagne. I’m sure you’ve all heard of the monk seal. To this day, the most overrated monk of all time is commemorated by the most overrated Champagne of all time.
Oh, I’ve left out so much of what’s in the book, I think, I’ll find out if I ever read it. Man has a long history with wine, but for much of that history wine sucked. Man crushed a bunch of grapes, left the juice to ferment however it wished to ferment, incapable of controlling the temperature, or what bacteria or yeast was doing the fermentation, content to just let it finish, slap it into a holding vessel, hope it didn’t spoil too quickly, and then drink it to forget his worries and find some kind of joy in his altered state of consciousness. So, Natural Wine. Sure, they sucked, but Alice Feiring would have loved them. She had the bad luck to be born two hundred years too late.
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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