Sunday, December 06, 2009

The Book

I'm reading what is fast becoming one of the most interesting, compelling & ultimately challenging wine books I've ever read. Great art, & therefore great wine, is supposed to do just that. Challenge. Over my short career in wine my palate has transformed & developed. It has been influenced by countless different wines & a small handful of individuals (not counting the few winemakers I've had the pleasure of interacting with). However, books have always been a sort of refuge. A place to teleport myself, get excited, become someone else & be inspired. Jonathan Nossiter's "Liquid Memory" is something else entirely. While I find it intriguing & intelligently well written, I also find that its challenging some beliefs & mindsets of mine.

Nossiter is a firm believer in "terroir". For lack of a a detailed description this is the mindset that a wine (or any agricultural product really) is, or should be, a direct expression of its place. The climate, soil, sun exposure, mineral content, etc. is what makes a wine. I believe that too. In my experience, some of the best wines I've ever had are indicative of their origin. Nossiter rails against the New World for its "Botoxification" of its wines. Why manipulate a wine to turn it into something that its not? He sings the praises of Burgundy, Jura & especially a small group of French winemakers who carry the torch of terroir that was passed on from their ancestors. To me it almost seems as though he is implying that only a few regions throughout Europe should be producing wine because only these regions make wine thats worth drinking. I have a big problem with that. How many of us can afford to drink, much less have access to, the great Burgundies of Jean-Marc Roulot or Dominique Lafon? I wish that I could drink aged Brunellos, Barolos or Riojas on a regular basis but I don't have access to them & I most certainly can't afford them.

Are New World wines inherently bad or of poor quality? Are they not what wine is supposed to be according to Nossiter? I credit many inexpensive New World wines from Spain, Argentina, Chile & (god forbid) even Australia for helping me get excited & interested in wine. I'm thankful for quite a few of them because having them in my arsenal has helped me excite many customers & has helped me lead them on a path to many different wine experiences.

Throughout the book some of the highlights are when the author is with a winemaker who is sharing an older vintage of their wine. He writes in a very experiential style that transports you to the whatever wine cave he is in. Its quite exciting. But they are mostly drinking wines that most of us will never have the pleasure of drinking or even laying our eyes on. Yes I feel like I'm missing out by not being able to explore Burgundy the way I would like to but I also feel like that isn't the end all be all of what wine is.

Many wine nuts out there don't have deep cellars or deep pockets. We scrape together whats leftover from our paychecks to buy bottles we feel passionately about & if we are lucky we have someplace in our home to put them. We wait patiently for the moment that seems right to open them & we drink them in. More often than not we share them with friends & fellow wine lovers because that to me is utmost expression of wine can be. Sharing can make a mediocre wine taste incredible. Sharing can make a great wine transcendent.


Samantha Dugan said...


I have been reading a lot about this book, have to say mostly negative stuff but I have seen a few reviews from people that like it. I think I'm going to have to pass on reading it, shit...feels almost like I have read it with all the reviews I've seen.

I am a natural wine lover, a person with great passion for wines of place. They are what I drink, what I enjoy and what light my fire if you will but....I rather hate those smug jerkwads, (these are MY people mind you) that act as if they are the only good wines, the only wines people should be drinking, and the only real wines. This topic is too subjective for that kind of pomposity, there are too many factors, a few of which you site here in this post; money, access but lets not forget about taste, some people hate those earthy, mineral driven, high acid wines...period. Are they wrong? Hell no, they know what they like and that's all that matters.

I have been seriously lucky, I've been in Lafon's cellar, tasted from barrels at Domaine de Montille and Roulot..hell, even spat in the cellars of Roumier, Jobard and Rougeard, (okay not Burgundy but same kind of terroir driven producer) but I know most people have not. And who's to say that if they had they would like the wines?!

While I like that people are talking about these producers and wines I adore, I have to say I do not always like they WAY in which they do it. I just want people to drink wine and I fear that these long winded, soapbox jerkwards are going to scare more people off, make them feel as if they don't "get it" and sadly, they slap that snobbery, (had to after my Grande Dame post) back on a product that is scary enough, (for many) already.

I adored your review, it was very balanced and I love the way you saw things from both sides. Like I said, twins you and I.

Michael Hughes said...


Yet again you have made excellent commentary on what I was trying to say. Hell, I think you said it much better than I did! I did enjoy this book for many different reasons than I usually do a book. Being challenged is something that I don't have enough of & I think this can only be a good thing. Twins indeed!

Samantha Dugan said...

Awe shucks Puddin'...I thought I went too far, too geeky, thanks for letting me get that off my chest!

Benito said...

Looks interesting... Never a bad idea to have your wine notions challenged.

Michael Hughes said...

Ben-exactly. I'm looking forward to many more challenges!