I do enjoy those books that inspire me to think of getting up and actually doing something, even if it affects nothing more cerebral than the stomach. For instance, I was reading The Chez Panisse Menu Book, by Alice Waters, when an urge struck. Not only did I want to eat the goat cheese souffle, I wanted to make it. That's a laugh. I haven't been known to crack an egg, except by accident, in years.
On Wine by Gerald Asher had a similar effect. Asher insists that he is a man of the wine trade, not a man of letters, but despite protestations about the agonies of research and writing, his smooth style of wine-writing is a joy to read.
On Wine is a collection of expanded and refreshed essays from the past 10 years of contributions to Gourmet magazine. It's a book with which to curl up, or stretch out, with glass of wine and just read. The information--and the essays are packed with useful details--is wrapped in anecdotal, entertaining, readable prose. No rating scales, no long lists and, praise upon praise, no more than the elementary technical data of interest to general readers.
Wine becomes the adventure it is, and, for me, good wine-writing is better armchair travel than any guidebook or airline timetable. A half-hour of Hugh Johnson or Asher and the mouth is watering and the feet itching. I want to go to Sancerre and taste wines from the "caillotes," or chalk soils, and wines from the "terres blanches," or marl. What difference do those layers of earth and stone make? And I want to taste them with a crottin of fresh chevre and a warm crust of bread.
All of which leads me, in the meandering way of armchair travel, to mention a couple of recently enjoyed sauvignon blancs, the grape of Sancerre. The first was a sancerre, the '81 Domaine des Villots, $9. It was crisp, pleasantly dry (perhaps a high percentage of grapes were from the chalky soil?) and filled out with a few minutes of air. The second was a pouilly- fum,e, from Sancerre's neighbor, Pouilly-sur-Loire. The '81 Domaine des Chailloux, $9, is fuller, rounder than the sancerre, but again is in a fresh, fruity style, rather than the grassy, smoky or herbal styles that are, in varying degrees, the characteristics of the sauvignon blanc.
Books on wine, even those officially in print, are hard to find in general bookstores. And if you want an Andr,e Simon or George Saintsbury, you'll have to go to a specialist. In that case, try Barbara Feret. She recently bought out Elizabeth Woodburn's stock of wine books and her mailing list, thereby adding wine to a cookbook mail-order business. A new catalogue will be available at the end of this month. If there's a title not listed, Feret will make a search and, if successful, quote the price for your approval. Her address is 136 Crescent Street, Northampton, Mass 01060.