Eric Asimov, the acclaimed chief wine critic for the New York Times, has written a beautiful and thought-provoking combination memoir and manifesto, How to Love Wine.
With charm, wit, and intelligence, Asimov tells how he went from writing beer reviews for his high school newspaper on Long Island to the most coveted job in the industry. He evaluates the current wine culture, discussing trends both interesting and alarming, and celebrates the extraordinary pleasures of wine while, at the same time, questioning the conventional wisdom about wine.
Whether you’re a connoisseur or a novice, already love wine or want to know it better, How to Love Wine: A Memoir and Manifesto is the book for you.
So about 15 years ago, a friend got me into wine and it has been downhill ever since. I mean, I love the stuff!! So I bought an intro book on it, cuz I mean I’m a left-wing academic (History), so what else would I do? I mean, I didn’t want to embarrass myself and appear a philistine. “Windows on the World Complete Wine Course” by Kevin Zraly was a great place to start, as I discovered, and the book gave me a pretty good intro to wine. I also bought 2 “reference” books that have served me well: “The World Atlas of Wine” by Hugh Johnson and Janicis Robinson; and “Wine Label Language” by Peter Saunders. I got about another 10 books, but these three have served me especially well. I am currently reading Eric Asimov’s “How to Love Wine: A Memoir and Manifesto.” Asimov, as most know, is the wine critic for the New York Times. I have been reading his weekly column for years. I started the book a while back but put it down while I was writing a new course. The book makes me recall a recent experience I had. My wife and I were at a wine tasting and two bourgie right-wing dogs started talking to us. But they wanted to like wine, and well that is a topic that can make me talk to folks I ordinarily can’t stand. It was interesting, because they weren’t obnoxious about wine and admitted they were not very knowledgeable. So much so that I told them–because they didn’t know–that different grapes in France were used in different regions and that northern cooler climates resulted in weaker more lighter-bodied wines than in more southern warmer climates and different grapes were used depending on the climate, soil, etc. And so, I informed them that red wines from Burgundy used pinot noir grapes and generally had a lower alcoholic content than wines from Bordeaux that used (mostly) cabernet sauvignon and merlot grapes. This was a complete revelation to them, and since they didn’t like strong tasting wines, were now committed to buying French Burgundys and Oregon Pinot Noirs (did I mention they have lots of money?). So anyway, the reason I bring this up, is that Asimov is wonderful. He absolutely obliterates the idea of the “blind taste test” and is even wonderfully critical of the tasting tests that are not blind, such as we do in our local wine shops. I mean Asimov enjoys them as much as I do, and has made a career by conducting blind taste tests every Weds in the NYT (and which is the only thing left in that paper that is still worth buying it for, I might add). But it turns out that Eric is (something I always suspected) a French Jacobin and egalitarian when it comes to wine. This is quite nice. When I started tasting wine, I thought there was an inadequacy in my tasting abilities and smelling abilities. I mean what the hell is hints of “pear” in wine anyway? I just couldn’t discern things that others seemed to do with ease. After several years, I figured out my taste buds were fine. I mean I discovered it wasn’t just me, and that tastings–blind or otherwise–were not always the best ways to evaluate wine and that such tastings could be both revealing and deceptive. The number of times I thought I liked a wine in a tasting and then bought multiple bottles of it, only to discover it was “too fruity” and didn’t go with the food I wanted it for, is a large number. And so I pulled back a little and would buy a single bottle and take it home and then decide if I liked it enough to buy more. Don’t get me wrong, I have had the experience of tasting a wine and recognizing immediately that the stuff was the nectar of the gods and to buy as much of it as I could. But this has not always been the case. And slowly after talking with folks who objectively knew a lot more about wine than I did, I discovered wine is indeed a mysterious thing and cannot be “mastered” in a swirl and a sip. I still recall being at my local wine shop –a very bourgie shop–at Christmas and they invited me into the back room as they were closing for the holidays. The owner was having a blind taste test for fun and as a reward for his employees and he invited me to partake of the tasting. I happily obliged. A few of his young employees had passed their first round of the exam for sommeliers and a couple of others were studying for it. And the wine was just frigging amazing. I actually got one right, a French Bordeaux. I mean I got that part of it right. What I missed was its vintage, a frigging 1972, are you kidding me?? And yes, the owner is a really, really nice guy to serve this to his employees and me on Xmas Eve. But what I discovered is I did ok, I mean to say that the somms were often just as off the mark as me. But no one cared, cuz we were all having a great time and we were all in a spirit of egalitarianism in the face of something we all just loved. I mean I can sort of discern–not always –“herbal” from “floral.” I’ll admit to once going outside to my wife’s herb garden and sniffing and licking herbs to see if I could discern “herbs” in wine. It was not a helpful thing. I have since learned that some traits of wine are described as “herbal” in comparison to other general traits that people discern as “floral” and I can sort of do it now, but honestly I can’t say I really discern the flowers. But I do love wine and have gotten more discerning over the years, and can talk a pretty good game. And that pretty much makes me a “fellow traveler” with Asimov and why I like him and his skewering of “wine culture.” Since he has the best job in the world, every year he partakes in a tasting of wine from the Burgundy producer, “Domaine de la Romanée-Contí, who Asimov describes as “the most exalted producer in Burgundy” and the bottles cost thousands of dollars, with the event usually held at the Carlyle Hotel or the Metropolitan Club, I mean it can’t get any bourgier. Everyone has their attention on Aubert de Villaine, who is the director of the Domaine. Here is a wonderful passage from Asimov: “Here at this tasting, all the elements that people seem to fear about wine come together. The tiny pours underline the exclusive nature of this particular beverage. The furious note taking as people swirl and taste exaggerates the notion that a hidden language is being spoken, used to describe aromas and flavors that only a trained expert can detect. The stiff, elbow-to-elbow arrangement seems to amplify the danger of making a mistake, of saying the wrong thing or–catastrophe!–knocking over a few glasses. Even de Villaine looks uncomfortable buttoned up in his tie and checked sport coat, as if he would far prefer to be among the vines in Vosnes-Romanée or almost anywhere outdoors rather than here in the stilted Manhattan splendor. In the vast spectrum of opinion that encompasses the community of people who love wine, few would deny the greatness of D.R.C The wines can cost thousands of dollars a bottle, and, sadly, outside of wealthy collectors or the privileged few who are invited to the tastings, most people will never have the opportunity to drink them. Even sadder, I think, is that people will not hear de Villaine as he speaks about the wines. What he has to say might encourage people who feel anxious about wine to reconsider their fears. ‘These wines are quite elusive,’ he says. ‘You grasp and lose, grasp and lose.’ Then, ever the Frenchman, he adds, ‘They are like women.’ So often we look at wines as if they are the sum of definite qualities. They smell like raspberries and taste like cherries, we say. This wine goes with fish sautéed in butter and topped with herbs. That wine is just the thing for scallops and cream in puff pastry shells. Drink this wine within the next year. Don’t drink that one for ten years Amid all the confidant authority with which we assert our opinions about wine, perhaps only one thing is actually certain: Wine is ambiguous. Indeed, as de Villaine says, wine is elusive. The minute we think we have grasped the essence of a certain bottle, the wine changes. No sooner are those aromas and flavors set down on paper, in the unmistakably florid lingo of the tasting note, than they are not there anymore, if they ever really were.” This is a thoroughly enjoyable book if you love wine, and a great one to give a friend who thinks he/she might be interested in learning about it but feels insecure about it. Cuz when the revolution comes, all of us are gonna drink and savor the wines of Domaine de la Romanée-Contí, no?
I expected to have to plow through some pomposity and name dropping, like I did through three of Jay McInerney’s books, the payoff being the knowledge that the NY Times wine critic has to impart. This guy is so humble and down to earth it’s shocking. This truly is a book by someone who loves wine for people who want to know more about it/learn how to love it. It is a quick and great read.
This author has an interesting and somewhat different, then the wine critics, perspective on wine and the appreciation of wine. I found the book refreshing and by following the authors point of view, makes wine much less intimidating for the novice wine drinker. I recommend this book for the person who wants to enjoy wine and not get all wound up in the nuances of the ‘ Enlightened Wine Critics’.
- Title: How to Love Wine: A Memoir and Manifesto
- Autor: Eric Asimov
- Publisher (Publication Date): William Morrow Paperbacks; Reprint edition (July 1, 2014)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0061802522 | 0061802530
- ISBN-13: 978-0061802522 | 978-0061802539
- Download File Format: EPUB, PDF