Words and Wine – Book Review
If you like wine, but squirm at words churned out to describe it, here’s a book for you.
How to Love Wine: A Memoir and Manifesto by Eric Asimov tells how it’s okay to disregard looking for a quill of three thousand nouns and adjectives to describe wine. (How many Americans have even tasted a gooseberry? And just what is ‘tapenade and lavender’?)
Chapters alternate between stories about appreciating wine and wine regions, with the story of Eric’s own career. As a long time wine writer for The New York Times, Asimov explains how a few strong descriptors – instead of detailed minutiae of tasting notes – are usually adequate to describe a wine. He also questions whether it’s necessary to describe a wine. As long as we’re smiling, who needs it?
In a chapter titled The Tyranny of the Tasting Note, Asimov writes:
“…I’ve found that people who have no idea how one is supposed to talk about wine are far more creative and clear in discussing it than those who have read some books or undergone some training in wine classes.”
“…the flowery litany of aromas and flavors does little to capture the experience of a fine glass of wine.”
“…exaggerated language makes it far more difficult for people to enjoy wine without fearing that they somehow don’t understand what they are tasting…”
In a chapter titled Drinking by Numbers, Asimov elaborates in simple terms how scoring wines, and purchasing wines according to scores, can suck mystery and beauty out of appreciating wine. He offers the importance of considering context.
“Considering context requires asking crucial questions. Where will you be drinking this wine? With whom will you be drinking it? What will you eat? What’s the weather, the mood?”
Whereas the 100 point scoring system has merit, Asimov tells how it fails to consider context. That cheap but wonderful wine you drank with your beloved on a sunny evening on a beach that provides golden memories? Context. That overpriced red that you winced at while drinking with overcooked beef and annoying company? Context.
Asimov’s words reflect those of my friend Les Kellen, who, speaking of wine, tells friends:
“Wine can taste different at different times depending on what you’re eating, the temperature, even who you are with.”
Asimov is an experienced traveler, and has been privileged to taste a great range of diverse wines – at all price points. His writing also shows that he’s a normal guy who worked hard to gain his experience. He appreciates the benefits of discovering the magic and mystery of wines without depending on words or scores to point in any direction.
Perhaps he best sums up wine’s beauty in the second chapter:
“As much as we learn about it, as much as we know, it is at its heart a mystery.”
This book tells how exploring that mystery can provide joy.
If you love wine, but are still mystified as to why, you’ll appreciate this book even more.
Nice one Mr. Asimov.