Blind Book Review--Jon Bonné's "The New California Wine"
Crap. (No, that’s not the review.)
I’m so disgusted with myself. What a moron! I just finished not reading the review copy I didn’t receive of Jon Bonné’s The New California Wine and, of all the smelly piles of natural wine, it turns out my entire wine cellar is filled with Old California Wine. Now what am I going to do? I live in wine country, I can’t drink this embarrassing swill in public! Goddamit, I might as well just give away my old vintages of Spottswoode Cabernet to the homeless sommeliers hanging around freeway off-ramps with signs reading, “Will Condescend for Food—When Paired with Appropriate Wine.” I never should have bought that garbage in the first place. Napa Valley Cabernet! Jackass. I knew I should have invested in Trousseau Noir. It’s humiliating.
Luckily for us all, Jon Bonné has written “A Guide to the Producers and Wines Behind a Revolution in Taste.” Somehow a link between “revolting” and “taste” makes perfect sense as the book’s subtitle. I haven’t read the book, but actually reading it isn’t necessary to book reviewing. I prefer to review new wine books blind, in the same manner major wine critics claim to review wines. I’m behind the Revolution in New Book Reviewing. And, besides, just read the blurbs for The New California Wine. It’s a grand tradition in book publishing to solicit quotes from famous authors praising a new book. It’s a highly suspect practice. Often it’s obvious they haven’t read the book, but, wordsmiths that they are, they don’t need to. Here are a trio of actual blurbs for The New California Wine that I borrowed from Amazon.
“The New California Wine delivers some of the most insightful wine writing you’ll read anywhere. This is the real skinny on cutting-edge California wine from somebody who’s on the ground, knows his stuff, and could care less about offending the Establishment.”
—MATT KRAMER, author and columnist for Wine Spectator
“There are few greater authorities on California wine than Jon Bonné. Dispassionate but engaged, enthused but objective, Bonné brings a forensic rigor to his work. But The New California Wine is no textbook, in spite of its comprehensive scope. Instead, Bonné’s narrative moves at a rattling pace, delving into California’s colorful past and vividly describing its future. A must-read for anyone who is serious about the state’s wine.”
—GUY WOODWARD, former editor at Decanter
“A gutsy, inspiring book driven by the same ideals as the movement it has so gracefully defined. Not only has Bonné delivered one of the most important and relevant books on California wine ever written, he’s also redefined our notions of the wine book. The New California Wine is at once a manifesto, a guidebook, and a narrative peek inside the motives and methods of California’s new avant-garde.”
—TALIA BAIOCCHI, editor-in-chief, Punch
I love this kind of baloney.
Matt Kramer is clearly confused, and thought the publishers asked that he write a blurb about himself—they just changed “Matt Kramer” to “The New California Wine.” And even then it’s nonsense. What “Establishment” is he unafraid of? The San Francisco Chronicle? Wine Spectator? Richard Milhous Nixon? Guy Woodward displays why he’s a “former editor” with his use of the classic and shopworn huckster’s label “must-read.” Unless he means you should read it while fermenting must. Tacking on, “…for anyone who is serious about the state’s wine” is unsettling. You know what I’m thinking…Woodward is the damned Establishment Kramer warned us about!
But leave it to Talia Baiocchi, Millennial wine visionary and Bonné Buddy, to reach new heights of dizzying drivel with“…he’s also redefined our notions of the wine book.” Let’s see, I’d define a wine book as a well-written, useful, informative collection of paragraphs printed on quality paper and professionally bound. I can’t wait to see how Bonné tosses all that aside. But, then, after all, the book “…is at once a manifesto, a guidebook, and a narrative peek…” Hell, it’s Mein Kampf.
The greater truth, I’d guess, is that Talia has thrown down the gauntlet to Jon to write an even more outrageously preposterous blurb for her forthcoming book on Sherry--a book, you’ll be amazed to learn, from the same publisher!
“Baiocchi has not just written a book about Sherry, she’s delivered the wine book of the year—indeed, of any year since Gutenberg invented the printing press. She has a consummate palate, and a bigger vocabulary than William F. Buckley, who one hopes is now covered with a lovely flor. There will never be the need for another book on Sherry, so if you’re writing one, well, you are so screwed.”
--JON BONNÉ, author, manifesto maven, forensic wine editor of the San Francisco Chronicle
It must be said that I love the book’s cover. For me, it conjures up the image of Grant Wood’s famous painting American Gothic, only the farmer has bludgeoned his harridan of a wife and just finished burying her in the vineyard. Either that, or Buster Posey makes wine.
The New California Wine pays tribute to the new breed of California winemakers, winemakers unafraid to work in appellations where land and grapes are cheaper even if their resulting wine prices aren’t. Winemakers who shun California’s outdated traditions of using the best in modern winemaking techniques to make clean, expressive, delicious wines in favor of the winemaking ways of our ancestors, rolling the viticultural dice and not caring if it comes up Craps. Winemakers who courageously follow their own vision of what wine should taste like with no regard for public opinion and general standards of taste, knowing that there are dozens of gullible sommeliers around the country happy to champion their wines in order to appear hip and part of the New California Wine movement. Bonné chronicles these visionaries in the grand tradition of Sonoma County’s most famous journalist, Robert Ripley.
The New California Wine is about expressing the unique terroir (I always wonder, can terroir not be unique?) of California. And what better way is there to express terroir than extended skin contact for white wine, putting it into a traditional plastic egg to ferment, using only indigenous yeast (their papers are rigidly checked at the border to be certain they are not illegal alien yeast), and then bottled without sulfites, which only serve to protect wine in the same unquestioning manner of Syrian thugs protecting Assad, in anti-technology Stelvin closures? This is the real future of California wine, and Bonné provides insightful commentary on why this is a good thing. Simply put, the new California wine takes elitism and wine babble to an entirely new level, putting California in the forefront of the worldwide explosion of wine oneupsmanship. California can produce novelty wines on a par with any country in the world.
Here are a few excerpts from The New California Wine that I made up:
“For too long, the California wine industry has manipulated their wines like a rabid baboon handling his little primate peepee—out of habit, and right in front of a perplexed public. But that’s changing, and now all the masturbating goes on behind winery doors where it’s more private, and where it's also easier to jerk off the public.”
“For years wines have been tailor-made for the palates of Robert Parker and James Laube. Palates, it’s safe to say, that are more worn out than the Hundred Point Scale, and just as worthless. The best new California wines are for finer, more sophisticated, palates. Palates like mine, and Alice Feiring’s. So they’re not as dogmatic.”
“Balance is the key to defining great wines, as long as you understand that great wines are also the key to defining balance. Ask any Highway Patrol officer. The new California wines epitomize balance and integrity. If you just want something good to drink, well, California’s new breed of winemakers is leaving you behind.”
I don’t know about you, but I feel grateful that I have Eric Asimov to teach me how to love wine, Matt Kramer to make sense of wine, and Jon Bonné to prove when it comes to California wine, making sense of it and loving it are a colossal waste of time.
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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