Thursday, June 4, 2020

Book 236: How To Love Wine

"It bears repeating: The primary purpose of wine is to provide pleasure and refreshments. It can do much more than that, but it should never do less."

Dates read: May 23-27, 2018

Rating: 5/10

Like many college students, when it was time to do some underage drinking, I usually went with either whatever cheap beer the party was handing out, or just went for the liquor drinks. But I started to get into wine when I went to Italy for the first time, and by the time I got to law school I was a wine drinker. There's something about being in your early 20s that makes wine really feels like a step up in adulting from taking shots or beer pong. Even if it's the cheap stuff from the bottom shelf of the supermarket.

Even if you enjoy drinking wine, though, there's a feeling of uncertainty, a compulsive need to clarify that you're not really a "wine person". A "wine person" can stick their nose into a glass and identify smells like pepper and starfruit, or take a sip and taste dried leather or mushroom. Eric Asimov's How To Love Wine seeks to push back against that perception. As the Chief Wine Critic of the New York Times, Asimov uses his book to try to de-mystify and remove barriers to the enjoyment of wine by advocating a simple, straightforward message: the best way to enjoy wine is with good food and good friends.

In fact, this message is so simple and straightforward that the book ultimately feels padded. Even as he takes on various aspects of the wine-industrial complex, like tasting notes that seem to pride themselves on evoking obscure flavors usually based on just a few sips of the wine in question, often influenced by the tasting of several other wines at the same time, he returns again and again to his central thesis: the way to love wine is to drink it with people you love while sharing a meal. There are certain basic characteristics like acidity and tannins that, if you're willing to experiment and try a bunch of varieties, you'll eventually be able to pick up on, and the only ones that matter are the ones you discover for yourself actually impact your enjoyment of the wine in question. People often feel like they "have to" like wines with high scores from magazines and insiders, that if that wine doesn't work for them that they're the ones who are wrong, but not everyone likes the same flavors. Feeling this kind of pressure, to like the types of wines that are in fashion at any given moment, to like highly-rated wines, is one of the reasons people are afraid to really embrace wine.

There's a reason that Asimov has spent much of his career writing for one of the foremost newspapers in the country: he's a talented writer. That the book doesn't feel painfully repetitive (though the padding is impossible to miss) is a testament to his skills. He really loves the way drinking wine feels, and his enthusiasm about trying to make it easier for everyone to have that same kind of enjoyment is contagious. I've mostly become a craft beer drinker these days, but by the time I ended this book I found myself wanting to pop open a bottle of red and make some pasta and hang out eating and drinking with my husband...which was exactly the intention of the book. If you're curious about wine but have found yourself frightened off by snooty wine culture, this is a solid book to read. If you're not really that into it, though, it's skippable.

One year ago, I was reading: Good Riddance (review to come)

Two years ago, I was reading: Boy, Snow, Bird

Three years ago, I was reading: In the Skin of a Lion

Four years ago, I was reading: Spinster

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