Monday, February 15, 2010

Recommended Reading: The Battle for Wine and Love

I wasn’t sure that I would like Alice Feiring’s book, The Battle for Wine and Love. Was this some sort of Drink, Pray, Love? The alternate title brought me onboard: How I Saved the World from Parkerization. As Alice writes, “…from about the late 1980s onward, the Parker palate has largely dictated how wine is made worldwide.” Ah yes, the demon Robert Parker, the man who stands accused (by many) for converting millions of winedrinkers, and winemakers, into fans of over-oaked, high alcohol, fruit bombs. Gotta like her ambition!

Although Robert Parker is the spectre that haunts Alice’s thoughts, this book fortunately has much more going for it. Let me first confess a bias. Alice is a big advocate of typicity: wines that reflect the traditional characteristics of the varietals that it’s made from, the region (or terroir) it comes from, or its vintage. So am I. So when Alice rails against the homogenization of wine, I’m right there with her.

Where we disagree is who’s responsible for this homogenization. Feiring lays the blame on Parker, The Wine Spectator, wine consultants, and the UC-Davis Department of Viticulture & Enology. The first two take the blame for their simplistic 100-point scoring systems for wine, leading masses of consumers to buy wine based not on what they like, but on what these critics, with numerical scores, tell them they should like. Feiring censures wine consultants and UC-Davis for enabling winemakers to manipulate wines through chemistry to match the Parker palate. Me? I blame lazy consumers who blindly buy wine as trophies, simply based on what critics tell them is good. (And then wonder what all the fuss is about when they taste the wine.) I blame winemakers who turn their back on decades or centuries of winemaking tradition to make wines that appeal to the mass-market taste preference. Alice justly singles out Rioja for, as she puts it, losing its Spanish accent. And I would add Alsace, which is turning out overly sweet Rieslings.

Late in the book, Alice recounts a story from her childhood, making a very profound point about how childhood memories influence personal preferences, which I wrote about in an earlier post. It’s as if she’s pleading with us to understand why she likes what she likes. But she doesn’t extend that courtesy to Parker, who I’m convinced scores wines based on what he likes, as any critic should.

She makes her points (polemic, not numerical) while taking us along on fascinating tours of Piedmont, Loire, California, Rhone Valley, Rioja, Champagne, and Burgundy, introducing us to the saints and sinners of authentic wine, wine that reflects its terroir. The chapter on searching for the Barolo producer who made the first wine that she fell in love with has the suspense of a good mystery. Her descriptions of all the manipulative tricks that many winemakers get up to will cure anyone of the notion that wine is a natural beverage. Less satisfying are references to former lovers and the difficulties of her love life generally, which seemed tacked on to the main narrative.

Alice’s passion for authentic wines is undoubted. If there’s one point to take away from the book, it’s this: think for yourself, taste for yourself. I couldn’t agree more. If you care about wine as it should be and could be, read it.

Subscribing to this blog through RSS or email is easy! Just click on the subscribe link to the left ←

1 comment: