This is a very cool book for those wine lovers looking for something that is a bit different. The author tells stories of his quests to drink wine made from grapes that are not the same old standards. There are approximately 1,400 different grapes used to make wine, yet, in any given wine store, most of the wine sold comes from twenty and the vast majority from under 10. We all know Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir or Chardonnay, but what about the rest?
Just as in any number of human endeavors, many of us have a sort of mysticism that we think those in the past knew something we didn’t. We ascribe a certain knowledge to the ancients. I have no doubt that wine is better today than ever in history. If we were to taste wines made 200 or 1,000 years ago, they would be challenging to drink. We now have refrigeration, faster shipping, a better understanding of fermentation and so many other advantages. But, it would be the foolish to say we haven’t lost some things. In the quest to standardize, produce more and faster, there are some trade-offs. Under the pressures of finance, big business and marketing, we go for the easier grapes to grow, to make wine with and of course, to sell. That has resulted in many vineyards being ripped out, and grape varieties lost forever.
This book reads kind of like a Kermit Lynch’s Adventure’s on the Wine Route as the author travels around the world visiting wineries that make wine out of grapes that are not in the “top twenty”. While the casual wine drinker may have little concern for the propagation of many of these varietals, telling the story from the view of the people whose lives are intertwined with the grapes gives it a more personal touch. Even the non-wine-geek will enjoy reading the book. Moreover, the wine-geek will find a kindred spirit and perhaps a new quest – to track down and try wines made from these grapes.
My only real quibble is that he spends a bit too much time worrying about Robert Parker. Robert Parker dominated wine criticism because he was consistent and reliable. As he neared the end of his career more than a few authors tried to make their reputations (and money) by bashing his preference in wines. One even used his name in the title of her book. Of course he got upset about this and lashed out. He is gone from the scene now and enjoying his retirement. His service to the wine community is unparalleled. This book would have been even better without those few comments. But that is a minor complaint and does not detract from my recommendation.
This book is highly recommended.