Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A Hedonist in the Cellar: Book Review


I don't read House & Garden. I have nothing against the magazine, I'm just not a "House & Garden" type. I am a very happy apartment dweller who thinks a garden box with herbs might be nice. But as a result it turns out I have been missing the wonderful wine essays from novelist Jay McInerney who, it turns out, also wrote a book called Bacchus and Me a few years back.

Who would have thought the author of Bright Lights, Big City that classic book of the 1980's, is also a wine enthusiast? Well I guess since Tama Janowitz is now writing about food perhaps it's just what writers of that era do. McInerney's latest book is A Hedonist in the Cellar and what makes his writing so wonderful is that instead of writing like a wine snob, he decided to write, as he says "as a passionate amateur, and to employ a metaphoric language; I was more comfortable comparing wines to actresses, rock bands, pop songs, painters or automobiles than I was with literal parsing of scents and tastes a la "bouquet of American Beauty roses".

It doesn't hurt that McInerney knows his stuff. He's not afraid to talk about everything from Soave to Chartreuse. I loved his two essays in the chapter "How to Impress a Sommelier" on Rieslings and his piece on Haut-Brion and the way he describes it as "the first-growth of poets and lovers as opposed to CEO's and trophy collectors". He is often funny, and pokes fun at stuffiness and in this book he introduces us to many wine experts and winemakers. He takes readers to Chile, France, South Africa, Berkeley, and to restaurants ranging from Le Bernadin to Canton, in New York's Chinatown. But it is his infectious enthusiasm that really shines through making you thirst for more. He makes wine a lively and entertaining subject in essays that are short and quaff-able, perfect for reading in sips.

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Over at Bay Area Bites is my take on the current crop of wine books.