For February’s wine product sample roundup (in which I cast a critical eye on wine-related stuff that isn’t actually wine), we once again hit the book shelves, with some mixed but ultimately geekily fascinating results…
First up is a long-overdue mention of Maximillian Potter’s account of the train-wreck-style-too-crazy-to-look-away story behind the 2010 threat to poison the vines of Burgundy’s La Romanée-Conti, which produce some of the most sought-after and expensive Pinot Noir wines on the planet (interestingly, the vintage under threat was the same one that I reviewed and – SPOILER ALERT! – everything turned out okay). The book is titled Shadows in the Vineyard: The True Story of the Plot to Poison the World’s Greatest Wine (Twelve Books, 289 pages, about $10), and if that subtitle sounds a bit fawning, it’s also an accurate indication of the book’s only real flaw.
Potter’s an accomplished and experienced former staff writer, and he knows both how to spin a yarn and how to meticulously research his topic, both of which come together masterfully in Shadows in the Vineyard. Be forewarned, however, that Potter also falls into the same trap that has snared countless others who’ve mentioned this fabled Burgundian top-tier producer, which is to mention so often that its wines must be the world’s best that your facial muscles might get a bit tired from all of the ensuing eye-rolling. I mean, we get it already. But in terms of entertaining wine-related reads, this is a top-notch tale…
Next, we have the potentially controversial Wine and Place: A Terroir Reader, by Tim Patterson & John Buechsenstein, with a foreword by a long-time friend-of-1WD, the eloquent Patrick J. Comiskey (UC Davis Press, 329 pages, about $39). Wine and Place is meant to be an examination of the concept of terroir from several angles (scientific, folk, you-name-it) and using material from, well, all over the place (wine writers, critics, growers, winemakers, chemists…). You are unlikely to find a more current of thorough compendium of writing about terroir – both in support of and challenging its veracity – without the authors (or, more accurately in this case, editors) adding their own opinions on the matter.
It’s that last bit that is either the key to success or the fatal flaw of Wine and Place, depending on your preferred style of prose when it comes to controversial topics. At times, Patterson and Buechsenstein get seriously academic, which makes portions of this book a bit of a slog, but they seem so intelligent and involved that the reader (or this reader, anyway) can be left feeling a bit empty that they don’t take stronger stances on whether or not they view terroir as essential to the concept of fine wine, or as bunk. At this price, I’d wait for the paperback.
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