Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Wine Brats Book Review--Part 1

We are traveling at present, and internet access is spotty. Thank goodness for books. We have been enjoying the Wine Brats' Guide to Living, With Wine mentioned in an earlier post. Herewith our thoughts on the first half of the book.

The Wine Brats divided their book into four sections covering education, parties, winemaking, and knowledge (reference). Below, our thoughts on the first two parts of the book. Naturally, this post will be followed by a post on the latter half. Here goes:

* We love the Wine Brats. Their mission, clearly stated, is just about exactly what we have set out to do ourselves: Break down any barrier standing between anyone and their enjoyment of wine. Bravo to the Wine Brats for stepping up to the plate ten years ago with this book.

* The book is a glimpse into the early history of today's wine “elite.” Okay, they probably would not call themselves that, but most of the current generation of wine writers and educators had a chapter in this book. As Joel Quigley told us, the Wine Brats were thrilled to get bylines to talented writers such as Leslie Sbrocco, whose careers blossomed thereafter.

* Demystifying wine through writing about it is hard. As if we did not already know this ourselves! The biggest problem is the paradox—how many people intimidated by some aspect of the wine book are going to read a book (or a blog) to learn to get over it? And here's the big secret: all we and our compatriots are saying is, Don't be afraid. A good message, but a pretty short book. Heck, it's a pretty short blog post, even.

* The revolution(tm) should be inspired by ideas, not facts. Yes, it's hard to fill up a chapter, but is advice on proper serving temperature germane to a book dedicated to bringing wine to the people? We agree that too much red wine is served too warm and too much white wine too cold, but we'd much rather have people grabbing a glass of wine at any temperature than not grabbing the glass for fear that it might not be at the proper temperature, or worse, that they might not know what the proper temperature is.

* Tim Hanni, MW, might just be a genius. Hanni's chapter on pairing food and wine does what we hope the rest of the book does. It makes the reader thirsty, while telling them why all the received wisdom on food and wine pairing is bunkum (so you don't need to learn it), and gives a lot of ideas for how to pursue your own taste into happy food and wine pairing.

* Bob Blumer, aka The Surreal Gourmet, is another genius, and funny to boot! How did we miss this guy 10 years ago. We will certainly be investigating his current activities. His chapter on how to throw a dinner party should certainly help anyone doing so, whether it is their first or their thousandth party. Blumer's advice on keeping the party out of the kitchen is practical, e.g. keep wine bottles and snacks where you want the guests to be, and, well, practical, i.e., section off the kitchen with POLICE LINE tape.

* Tina Caputo's chapter on wine theme parties is brilliant, and we would happily run it verbatim on Wines for the People. We'll get on calling her agent for the reproduction rights. The parties she describes would be a great way to tackle a particular subject in depth, whether it is a particular variety or region, or a comparison of styles, while having a great time. Not every learning experience has to involve taking notes. Who said you can't have a party while broadening your wine horizons?

* Winemakers ourselves, we love S. Duda's description (p. 103): “You'll be amazed at how eccentric [winemakers] are (way more spaced-out than musicians; think inferior genetic bonding between a painter and a sugar-beet farmer).”

* Joe Naujokas has an interesting chapter about using wine in mixed drinks. Some simple substitutions, such as Pinot grigio in lieu of gin in a Martini, and other more ambitious drinks such as the Port Milkshake. Great ideas in their own right, these are still more uses for wine that might have disappointed (see earlier blog post).

* Despite these great contributions, the Party section still has a bit too much instruction. Tina Caputo's piece was great for the basic idea of a wine theme party and for her theme suggestions to get your imagination going. She did not condescend to tell you how to throw a party in the first place. We suppose that some readers might want the guidance found in chapters on delegating responsibilities for fundraisers, hosting large (100s+) events, or even conducting a blind tasting. Nevertheless the book might have been snappier and even less intimidating without these chapters.

We'll report on Parts 3 and 4 of this delightful book shortly. Stay tuned!

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