Monday, November 18, 2013
Blind Book Review--Adventures on the Wine Route
I didn’t read Kermit Lynch’s excellent book Adventures on the Wine Route when it was first published, and, now, remarkably, twenty-five years later, I have the opportunity to not read it again! A great book, like fine wine, improves over the years--but not if you open it. Once you open it, the exposure will slowly destroy it. They haven’t yet invented a Coravin for books, perhaps we need a Coralibre®, which is my favorite cocktail. Lynch’s book gets better and better, and, while I envy those of you who have read it over the years, I’m going to age my copy for another ten or fifteen years until it has reached its peak. Then I might read it.
It has fallen to me, the pioneering HoseMaster of Wine™, to review wine books the way they should be reviewed. Blind, without the influence of actually knowing anything about them, save the variety. This is the way real wine professionals judge things. Dear readers, I’d be skeptical of those who review books based on actually having read them. This can only skew their perspective. They may claim objectivity, but most are human, and they bring preconceived notions of Kermit Lynch to their reading, and that colors their reviews. I also review the books in a room with perfect lighting and white walls, though I am allowed fifteen minutes outside twice a day while they hose down the room.
Adventures on the Wine Route is all about Kermit Lynch’s experiences importing some of the great wines of France into the United States in an era where Imported Wines on a restaurant wine list meant Blue Nun, B & G Beaujolais, and Mouton Cadet. Just like your Uncle Bob, Kermit upped the Auntie. And this book is all about how he did it.
Kermit is a natural storyteller. For example, he tells a wonderful story of sitting in a barber shop in Tain l’Hermitage and, just by accident, meeting one of the region’s greatest winemakers. Before he leaves, he’s struck a deal to import his wines. It’s a wonderful chapter entitled, “Chave and a Haircut.”
Lynch also spends a chapter talking about Charles Joguet and his great estate in the Loire Valley. Lynch has always pursued winemakers who work with the land and their wines as naturally as possible. He speaks about Joguet’s dedication to authenticity, his belief in the old ways of farming, paying attention to things like the lunar calendar. It’s a beautiful chapter entitled “Chinon, Chinon, Harvest Moon.” The book is filled with stories like this. Children may have Mother Goose, but wine lovers have Kermit Lynch as Father Foie Gras. When he dies, his enormous liver will be worth a fortune!
No one can match Kermit Lynch’s ability to write about wine in an interesting, and illuminating fashion. His common sense approach to wine is refreshing and all too rare. Here are a few of his meatiest quotes:
“Wine is, first and foremost, about pleasure, and I’m the guy who decides what’s pleasurable.”
“Loving Banyuls is like sleeping with a farm animal—embarrassing to admit, but you’ll be surprised to see how many others there are just like you.”
“When you taste wine you’re not just ingesting alcohol. You’re tasting culture, the history of man’s folly, our incessant yearning to alter our consciousness, and your own personal bitterness and failure. It’s why you can’t get enough.”
“I was the first person to bring European wines to the United States in refrigerated containers. I brought the winemakers here the same way. Muted the smell.”
Kermit Lynch set the new standard for importers. There was one thing you always knew you’d get when you picked up a bottle of wine with his name on it—overcharged. Kermit went in search of wines that had been overlooked by American consumers, combed the countryside of France looking for wines with personality and history and he almost singlehandedly made the reputation of appellations like Bandol, Gigondas, and Côte-Rôtie. “When I first tried to sell Côte-Rôtie in the U.S.," Lynch writes, "no one had heard of it. Now at least people know they don’t buy it because it’s Syrah.”
No American has done more for France than Kermit Lynch. OK, maybe General Eisenhower and Jerry Lewis. And you could make a case for Lance Armstrong, but, like taking testosterone illegally, that would take some balls. Yet it was Kermit Lynch who opened Americans’ eyes to the artisan wine producers of France. “I cherry-picked,” he writes, “ and left all the lesser estates to those who followed. Now all the stuff I turned down has someone else’s import label on it. Drinking those wines is like being a woman’s second husband.” See, he does have a way with words.
It’s nice that the publishers have seen fit to reissue this classic of wine literature. As an added bonus, the 25th Anniversary Edition includes a list of Lynch’s 25 most memorable wines. Surprisingly, four of them are futures, which you can order for a limited time at 15% off.
Adventures on the Wine Route has been widely praised by nearly every important wine critic for the past twenty-five years, and Jay McInerney liked it too. It belongs on every wine lover’s bookshelf alongside the other classics of wine importing, Kacher in the Wry and Weygandt We All Just Get Along?.
I can hardly wait to read it.