I know, you’re looking at the title of this book and thinking, “Got this one down already!” If so, this book is still for you. Or possibly, you don’t think of yourself as someone who loves wine. Maybe you’re the type of person who only drinks sweet white or blush wines and is intimidated at fancy wine lists and people droning on about the crisp but heady hint of gooseberry in a sauvignon blanc. Or maybe you know you like the fuller-bodied reds, but beyond that, you’re stumped.
Asimov is the wine critic at the New York Times, but he’s an iconoclast when it comes to making a bigger deal out of the mystery of wine than is necessary. He decries the current culture of wine, which is viewed as a “lifestyle” and a way of making oneself seem sophisticated, which gives great power to a few critics who shape the world of wine for the consumer.
However, Asimov isn’t interested in making wine “easy.” He says that wine is elusive, a mystery. He goes far beyond the simple “Drink what you like” and encourages his readers to learn about wine, to learn why they like what they like. He isn’t interested in making wine just another drink, pointing out that a bottle of wine changes not only over time, but that much depends on the circumstances and the specific meal with which it is consumed. Context can change things, and a great bottle of wine can enhance a gathering of friends and family and food, taking it to another level entirely.
He’s particularly harsh with wine tastings. He’s gone to his share of them, and knows whereof he speaks. Sure, it’s a way to be introduced to a lot of different wines in a short time, but, he argues, how can a single swallow really tell you about a complex wine? Wine changes not only from year to year, but from glass to glass–a glass drunk early in the evening shortly after opening a bottle will be different from a glass drunk late in the evening from the end of the bottle. He is particularly harsh about critics’ claims to smell all sorts of scents from various wines, writing notes such as “still tightly wound, with a brooding core of mulled currant, warm fig sauce, and maduro tobacco.” (p. 82) (I don’t even know what maduro tobacco is, although mulled currant and warm fig sauce sound nice to me. ) Asimov wonders if anyone knows what maduro tobacco is, and states
How to Love Wine is part instruction, part memoir. Asimov traces his own dawning knowledge that he was someone who appreciated good food and drink, through his childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood, and at the same time explores how he was drawn to journalism and media. Interspersed throughout these reminisces are stories of wines, of terroirs, of winemakers who clung to the old ways and winemakers who experimented with something new.
In a chapter entitled “The Home Wine School,” Asimov basically gives instructions on developing a sense of wine and learning more about your personal taste through some guided purchases. In another chapter, “The Greatest Time to Love Wine,” he points out that we live in a time of unprecedented access to great wines from all over the world, often available at reasonable prices.
How to Love Wine rambles a bit, but you’ll end with a greater knowledge of wine as well as some philosophical musings. If you’re like me, you’ll end up discontent (all over again) with the sparsity of your own wine budget. I know what I like, but I usually can’t afford it. But last night, instead of getting our usual Friday-night cheap bottle, I splurged a bit, got a decent red from a local winemaker who knows a bit about the terroir, and raised a glass to Asimov.
Elizabeth must admit to wishing she could get to know expensive full-bodied reds a bit better. She adores red wine. She also loves to read tasting notes, because they crack her up. Learn more at her blog Planet Nomad.