Book Review: Wine Reads: A Literary Anthology of Wine Writing, edited by Jay McInerney

Posted by | Posted in Book Reviews | Posted on 04-23-2019

Book CoverI read so many books about wine, but few I’d call “literary.” With Wine Reads, Jay McInerney has skillfully brought together selections from some of the finest pieces of wine writing, both fiction and nonfiction, many of which I’ve never even heard of.

After reading cover to cover, I certainly agree that each of the selected works possesses something—“superior or lasting artistic merit,” according to Google—that elevates it into the realm of the literary.

As you’d expect, McInerney includes classics like Kermit Lynch’s Adventures on the Wine Route and George Taber’s Judgment of Paris. It’s great to revisit these foundational pieces of wine literature, but what I most enjoyed were the lesser-knowns, like Roald Dahl’s fun short story “Taste” and especially a 2015 essay that appeared in The Yale Review called “My Father and The Wine,” by scholar and writer Irina Dumitrescu.

Dumitrescu relates her memories of growing up in a Romanian immigrant family, making wine and so much else from scratch. Interspersed are honest moments capturing her family dynamic, and glimpses of what I want my relationship with my own children to be one day. I like this bit the best: “They will want to suck at the siphon hose and taste whatever you taste. They will laugh and smack their lips and assure you that the wine is very good. When you leave the cellar they will insist on carrying the bottle to the dinner table.”

I adored journalist A.J. Liebling’s “Just Enough Money,” where he argues that poverty lends itself to a special appreciation of food, and thus great food writing. The wealthy, on the other hand, tend to indulge and oversaturate because money allows. It’s “the crippling handicap of affluence.” There’s also a five-page piece from author, poet, and bon vivant Jim Harrison called “Wine.” It’s utterly bizarre, but I devoured it.

On the fiction side of things, there’s of course a chapter from Rex Pickett’s Sideways, as well as something from Michael Dibdin’s A Long Finish, a novel in the Aurelio Zen crime series.

Wine Reads contains twenty-seven selections in all, running the gamut of topics: the Mondavi spat, Nazi-occupied Champagne, and vine sabotage at La Romanée-Conti, to name a few more. It’s a book you can read piecemeal or cover-to-cover; although I prefer the latter, because it allows you to see what great diversity of thought and talent there is in the world of wine writing.

My Recommendation
I’ve ditched my Wine Spectator subscription. This is the kind of wine writing I want to read, the kind with literary flair. Wine Reads is for those of us who tend to find themselves with a glass in one hand and Henry James in the other.

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