Monday, June 26, 2017
Blind Book Review: Alice Feiring's "The Dirty Guide to Wine"
I’m not sure what happened, but, apparently, my review copy of Reverend Alice Feiring’s latest sermon was misdelivered. I have no idea how this happened. I am certain that the publishers want my opinion of the book and must have sent me a copy. I can’t find it. But that’s not a problem. I’ll simply write my book review blind. Much as Feiring can predict the nature of a wine by the soil from which it originated without having to actually taste it, I can review one of her books without having actually read it. It's probably the same old schist. I can truthfully say that I have never enjoyed not having read a book as much as I thoroughly enjoyed not reading “The Dirty Guide to Wine.” If I were you, I would rush to my nearest book store and pick up a copy! Then put it down, and leave.
Can Feiring write a book without a stupid title? “The Dirty Guide to Wine” is about soil. I was sure from the title it was going to be about exposure. That’s dirtier, especially near a playground. She saved the world from Parkerization with her first book, and then wrote a book called “Naked Wine,” and now we have “The Dirty Guide to Wine.” What’s next? “Orgasm in a Glass”? “WILF Hunter”? Does the publisher really think the title will sell more books? It’s not clever, it’s stupid. And, hey, who knows more about that than I? For maximum sales, I would have entitled it, “The Dirty Guide to Wine for Idiots.” Though, honestly, maybe just carrying this book around implies the idiot part.
Feiring is proposing a “new” way to think about wine. Her way. The way where you have to subscribe to her newsletter to know what to drink because she’s out there grilling natural wine producers on your behalf. She’s a truth teller, she’ll have you know, and, you, well, you’re sort of a sucker. You believe it when a winemaker says he makes natural wine, and, spoiler alert, he might be lying! People lie to you in the outside world. They’ll tell you what you want to hear. They’ll corrupt you. You can only trust one truth-teller. And you should subscribe to her site and buy her book! There is but one truth, and it’s the redheaded one who speaks it. This is how cults work. Is the natural wine movement a cult? Have you ever met anyone who managed to escape? But, I guess, better the redheaded cult than the orangeheaded cult. It’s only wine. At least the natural wine cult is benign. The orangeheaded cult is malignant.
“The Dirty Guide to Wine,” which I’m looking forward to not reading a second time, is, at its heart, about terroir. “Terroir” is French for “I haven’t any fucking idea how to explain why this wine tastes like that.” But “The Terroiry Guide to Wine” is too hard to say without sounding like you have a speech impediment. When someone tells me I can taste terroir in a wine, I immediately wonder if they can sense my aura turning red. Feiring focuses on soil in this book, which is one of the elements of terroir. Which is like being one of the cards in the Tarot deck. Isn’t it meaningless without all the other cards around it? Or is it more like a book about biodynamics that is 250 pages about cow shit? I’m so confused.
Wine confounds us much as our reason for existing confounds us. So we turn to a sort of spiritualism, a religion of wine. We assign all sorts of emotional power to wine. We go into mystical rants about our favorite wines, we dance around in ecstasy and speak in bungs. Feiring finds that natural wines, unlike the wines she’s disqualified as high priestess of natural wine, speak to us on an emotional level. Which is just peachy, though what if one is emotionally crippled? Lot of that in the new world of sommeliers and wine experts online, as I can attest. Isn’t that part of how wine speaks to you, through your own emotional demons? Does wine elevate our souls, or just drown our sorrows? Must there be more to wine than the simple fact of its ability to alter our consciousness? Yes. I guess there must. People can’t stop writing dumb books about it.
Is wine from a chalky soil more alive? Does wine from a granite soil have a different energy? Don’t you find these questions embarrassing? Wine might make us feel more alive as we consume a great bottle of it, but the wine’s not alive. Wine is made from a living organism, true, but so is cotton, and I don’t think my shirt is alive. It’s loud, but I can’t hear it. As for emotion, we bring the emotion to the wine, not the other way around. To say that a natural wine, however you define it (and it’s mostly defined by the writer, who demands your trust), is one that is not only better but also speaks to you on a more emotional level is profoundly fatuous. The wine isn’t doing that. YOU are doing that. You see the label and you get emotional. You bring your emotional baggage to the glass just as surely as you bring your palate. The wine speaks to you of your values, perhaps, or of your visit to the winery, which changed your vinous life. It speaks to your human weakness, too. You so want to be right and so want to be admired that when you know it’s natural wine it tastes alive to you, and when you know it’s not a natural wine, you immediately sense the evil that lurks within. The fervor with which natural wine proponents write and speak about wine is eerily reminiscent of people who have found Jesus. And I don’t mean that in a good way.
Different soils affect grapevines in different manners resulting in different flavors in the wine made from those vines. Skilled tasters can detect those differences. They can taste the differences in oak barrels, too. I’m pretty sure the oak forests used to make barrels aren’t organically farmed, but somehow that doesn’t enter into the definition of natural wine. Hey, screw that habitat. It’s also obvious that the health of the soil is of utmost importance to the vines and the wine. I dislike manufactured wine as much as the next wine expert, though it probably represents the vast majority of the wine produced in the world. And I love many wines considered natural. But the natural wine world, represented so famously by Feiring, is the new face of wine snobbery. It’s an attractive face because it leans on environmentalism and spiritual, feel-good, mumbo-jumbo. But it’s still snobbery, and it’s unpleasant to read and be around.
Snobbery was once 100 point wines. Natural wine lovers would have you believe that only wines farmed organically or biodynamically and made with minimal intervention are the true reflections of beauty and greatness in wine. The points they award are for doing what they tell you is the right way to make wine. It’s snobbery, plain and simple. There are shit wines that received 100 points, and there are shit wines that are natural. Feeling better about yourself because you drink 100 point wines or feeling better about yourself because you think the wines you drink aren’t ruining the earth is about the same thing. It’s not about the wine, it’s about feeling better about yourself. Either way, it’s about wine speaking to the emotionally crippled. I just want to drink interesting wine, I don’t want to ascend to natural wine nirvana.
It’s lovely to think that Alice Feiring and Pascaline Lepeltier MS (Run!) are crusaders for a better wine world. It was lovely to think that Robert Parker was our wine advocate, too. Pick your guru, worship at the church of your choice. Now I just want to know who’s going to save the world from Feiringization.