By Dave McIntyre
Wednesday, December 16, 2009; E05
Wine nerds have three priorities in life: drinking wine, talking about wine and reading about wine. So don't forget to visit the bookstore when you're hunting for wine-lover gifts this holiday season. Here are my literary picks:
-- "Been Doon So Long," by Randall Grahm (University of California Press, $35). This "vinthology" collects the scribblings of the mad man of California wine, the Dr. Gonzo of grapes, the original Rhone Ranger and President for Life of Bonny Doon Vineyard in Santa Cruz, Calif. Grahm is well versed in literature's classics and afflicted with an ability to see three sides of a coin; he does not shy away from poking fun at himself even as he lampoons the wine industry and those of us who take it so seriously.
This is not a book for casual wine drinkers. This is for fans of Bonny Doon (and I am one of them). There is no escaping Grahm's point of view that winemaking in California is more of an industry than an art and that wine critics are idiots. But if you follow the wine industry and you like satire and parody that encompasses Freud, Dylan and Elvis, you will enjoy this book.
There is classic Dooneana such as "Da Vino Commedia: The Vinferno," Grahm's parody of "The Divine Comedy" in which the wine lover descends into the hell of a wine world dominated by Robert Parker and other wine critics. And there's a beatnik takeoff of Allen Ginsberg's "Howl," called "Howlbariño":
I saw the best palates of my generation deranged by short-chain tannins, recoiling, embittered in astringent rictus,
who exposed themselves to dangerously high levels of new oak,
. . . who dragged themselves through heavily charred Pinot Noir streets, searching for Burgundian character,
and so on.
Grahm told me in an interview three years ago, when he sold his popular Big House brand and turned to biodynamic farming, that he was growing up. "It's time for me to shut up and make wine," he said. "I think it's time for me to stop complaining."
He has always made good wine. "Been Doon So Long" is the collected whines of his extended oenological adolescence and a welcome antidote to the self-absorbed puffery that so often accompanies wine appreciation.
-- "The Concise World Atlas of Wine," by Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson (Mitchell Beazley, $30). With all 200-plus maps and the full text of the sixth edition of the landmark "World Atlas of Wine' by the same authors, this smaller, lighter, though not exactly slim, version is aimed at wine lovers on the go. The maps are positively thirst-inducing, and the text by Britain's two most eminent wine writers is authoritative. Every serious student of wine needs the Wine Atlas: either version or both.
-- "Liquid Memory: Why Wine Matters," by Jonathan Nossiter (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26). This is a controversial book, if only because Nossiter ruffled a lot of oenological feathers with his 2004 film, "Mondovino." He's still railing against globalization of wine and the tendency for wines to be made according to some international ideal rather than allowing them to speak authentically of the place where they were grown. Nossiter equates wine with New York City, which he portrays as a vibrant if imperfect cauldron of artistic expression until former mayor Rudy Giuliani cleaned it up and turned it into a safe but soulless tourist trap. Nossiter would have us take risks with wine rather than play it safe. He asks some good questions, such as what makes a wine authentic or natural. But even as he rails against critics who, he says, impose their taste on consumers and the industry, he can't escape falling into the critic's trap, which is that "authentic" or "natural" wines are whatever he likes.
-- "Angels, Thieves, and Winemakers," by Joseph Mills (Press 53, $12). This slim volume of wine poems was published last year, and it is a must-have for all wine lovers. No ideology here, just perspective. Mills has a keen sense for why wine is so improbably important to so many of us, and on page after page, the wine lover will say, "Oh yes, that's me."