It's Tuesday, the night before my blog is to be posted. And although there is always scintillating things to talk about regarding the wine world, I have to share some thoughts about wine writing. T.S. Eliot wrote while reviewing a playwright and his work, “immature poets imitate, mature poets steal.” So, I steal a few words from some writers I have read these past two weeks since my last post.
First, I was reading Eric Asimov's blog, The Pour, regarding his attendance and participation in a wine writers conference in Napa Valley last week. I was shocked with a snippet that Eric related from a writing coach who said; [in today's media environment] you need to ‘chunkify.' After re-reading the post and being a self-confessed internet illiterate when it comes to the Twitter nation, I made a negative assumption of what that means. (I still don't know what it means.) But then, in my comments, and even today, I still feel that wine writing needs to be one part savage, two parts verve. So, I quoted, in my comment, the advice from the late, great Auberon Waugh,
“Wine writing should be camped up. The Writer should never like a wine, he should be in love with it; never find a wine disappointing but identify it as a mortal enemy, an attempt to poison him. Bizarre and improbable side tastes should be proclaimed: mushrooms, rotting wood, black treacle, burned pencils, condensed milk, sewage, the smell of French railway stations or ladies' underwear.”
When I started out pursuing wine as a hobby, I found such that in the texts (er, books) of Jay McInerney.
Jay's wine writing gets better with age and/or more drinking. Jay's wine doesn't have the ubiquitous “‘je ne sais quoi' this wine reminds me of,” it has the poetic praise of wine. Frequently comparing wine to everyday vices like tobacco, coffee, truffles, Viagra, chocolate and leather; and to everyday, omnipresent music and movies; and to the odd references of tuning forks and samurai swords. Jay's books, ‘Bacchus and Me' and ‘Hedonist in the Cellar‘ are must-reads for the wine educated and the amateur drinker. Hopefully it will engage you and excite you, like it did me, to look at your glass of grape juice in a new ‘Bright Light.'
Another book I have on the bed side night stand is ‘Everyday Drinking' by Kingsley ‘Lucky Jim' Amis. I do recommend this book, a collection of essays Amis wrote that were compiled and are now out of print. There are many classic quotations on every page as Amis leads you through the world of drinking. He dedicates a fair amount of space to being a proper host of a drinking party. Reading the work, although dated, it is a term paper for throwing a raging good party on a budget (especially important during these economic times). Most of his insights are the cynical noshings on “the field of booze, with all its snobbery and true and false expertise.” There are one or two pages (153 and 154 in the hardcover, First Edition) that left me laughing my way to sleep. Amis “borrowed” some advice from Stephen Potter who wrote about wine one-upmanship or what he called “winesmanship.”
Lifting from Potter, Amis rallied off advice on how to enliven your tablemates with the power of suggestion,
“It's partly what you do – pretend to fetch the bottle from your cellar, take forever uncorking it, keep staring at it before you pour – and partly what you say – “Over the top now, of course, but still with a hint of former glories. Keep it in your mouth a moment… see what I mean?” At this, the other fellow will start thinking that the flavor of carbolic he thought he'd noticed is actually rather interesting or even pleasant.”
And then how to shutter even the most arrogant,
“As soon as he mentions tannin or chalky soil or the ‘79s coming on fast – or slowly – shush everyone else and say: “Listen chaps, here's a chance for us all to learn something. Carry on, Percy” – the equivalent of dropping him on his head…. When he is finished, which should be pretty soon, ask a lot of questions, the more elementary the better, like: “Does that make it good or bad?” Then having wrung him dry, say: “Fascinating!”
Another fascinatingly fun read. Go on, log on, buy it, pour a glass of your particular brand of vodka and read it.
Dan Petroski is Assistant Winemaker at Larkmead Vineyards in Napa Valley. Dan has an MBA from New York University and worked as an Ad Exec in New York for several years, before switching it up and trading his suit for a move out west.