Tuesday, February 05, 2008

The Wine Book Club Spins the Bottle: Wine and Philosophy

How's everyone doing with their Wine Book Club book, Vino Italiano?

We thought that might happen.

To keep you inspired, the Wine Book Club is bringing you a book review just when your enthusiasm for this idea might be flagging, and your New Year's resolutions are being cast by the wayside.

Dr. Vino dubbed these invited reviews "Spin the Bottle" and we liked the name, so we kept it! Every other month, we'll spin the bottle and pick a blogger to review a book in her or his area of expertise. Stick with us to the end of this post, and enter a contest to guess who the next reviewer will be based on the subject matter of the book. The first correct answer will win a copy of both the March/April Wine Book Club Selection, and the next Spin the Bottle selection.

For our first Spin the Bottle, the book up for review was Fritz Allhoff's Wine and Philosophy: A Symposium on Thinking and Drinking (Blackwell Publishing, $19.95). When the bottle stopped spinning, it pointed to not one but two intrepid individuals interested in the more esoteric side of wine enjoyment: Tim Elliott of Winecast, and me. Keep your eyes out for Tim's review of this book in the next day or so, and meanwhile here are my thoughts.

Allhoff is a professor of philosophy at Western Michigan University, and he drew together nineteen philosophers, historians, and writers all of whom were dedicated to the idea that wine is worthy of philosophical study, and that you can enjoy wine even more if you are prepared to think about it. So, if you are interested in the cerebral side of wine enjoyment, and the big questions that wine drinkers, makers, and writers face while they do what they do, then this is a book that you will want to have on your shelf.

The book is organized into six sections. The first three are based on the following assumptions: societies make wine; people drink wine; and people talk about wine. The subsequent three sections cover topics related to the philosophies of language, aesthetics, perception, metaphysics and political philosophy. The sections that I found most engaging were (not surprisingly) those dedicated to wine criticism and wine language, metaphysics, and the politics and economics of wine. Familiar names like blogger Jamie Goode, winemaker Randall Grahm, critic Matt Kramer, and author George Taber appear in these sections, and their empassioned discussions of terroir, history, and why critics mess up (some of the time) gave me a lot to think about. In particular, I found Jamie Goode's question, "whether as wine taster we all share the same (or at least an approximately similar) taste world" particularly interesting as someone who is keenly interested in how and why we know what we think we know about wine.

While it is a remarkably accessible book of philosophy it still IS philosophy so be prepared for something that is provocative in some places, and slow going in others. At the end, however, I was certainly glad that I had read the book, and can imagine dipping back into it in future.

The next "Spin the Bottle" book will be Daphne Larkin's Wine Across America: A Photographic Road Trip. Can you guess which blogger we've asked to review the book? Remember, we ask someone based on their wine blogging area of expertise. If you think you know, put your answer in the comments below. Folks involved in setting up the Wine Book Club are not eligible since they know the answer! The first person with the correct answer will win a copy of both the March/April Wine book Club Selection (to be announced on March 4) AND Larkin's Wine Across America. Foreign entries are welcome, provided your customs regulations allow me to ship the books to you. This contest will stay open until we get the right answer.


winedeb said...

Nice review Deb of a book that I do not have. Not sure if I would purchase it now or even before your review, but glad to hear your good review of it. Even though I spend more time on the "net" now than I do with my face in a book, I still love books. Something very comforting in them - cannot take the laptop to the beach, etc. Your book review segment is a great idea! Always looking for a good informative read!

Richard A. said...

I read this book a few months ago as I love both wine and philosophy. There has been a surge lately in philosophy books dealing with popular culture. Most of them are quite fascinating books.

I agree that Allhoff's book is fairly accessible. It is a much easier read than the other wine & philosophy book, "Questions of Taste."

I liked the chapters "Wine in Ancient Greece" and "On and Off The Wagon: Wine and the American Character." They provided some interesting info on the historical place of wine.

The chapters "What the Wine Critic Tells Us" and "Experiencing Wine: Why Critics Mess Up (Some of the Time)"(which is the Jaime Goode chapter) are both intriguing. They discuss, in part, whether wine criticism is subjective or objective.

"The Soul of Wine" discusses terroir and wines that possess "soul." It is an intriguing look and a poetic chapter.

I think a blogger could find many topics to post about in this book. The chapters raise many questions which any of us could address. It is well worth checking out.

john witherspoon said...

Hi Dr Debs
Thanks for the "spin" and to Tim for the review. It sounds like a great book that I may have to add to the growing stack next to my bed.

see ya

Kara said...

Hi Dr Debs -

Thanks for the review, I look forward to reading the book. It reminds me of the philosophy of the Simpsons, Seinfeld, etc. books. Glad to see it was put together by a fellow Michigander.

If I had to guess based on the theme of the book, Id say that Dr Vino will be reviewing "Wine Across America," but maybe that would be too obvious.


Richard A. said...

The Allhoff book is published by Blackwell which did the Simpsons and Seinfeld books too.

MonkuWino said...

Hi Deb, as usual a good and interesting column! I will throw my guess into the ring: Tim over at Winecast.

Kori said...

Hi Dr. Debs,

Great post, as usual! I look forward to checking out this book.

My guess on the next "Spin the Bottle" book review: Andrew Barrow of Spittoon.

Taster B said...

Sounds like a fascinating read. I'm going to guess Jeff at GoodGrape.

el jefe said...

Great post! I like the idea.

Guess: Since it is por... I mean photographic, I'd have to go with BAS over at Ch. Petrogasm.

SB Wine Advocate said...

Hmm I'm going to guess, Winehiker Russ Beebe since he's loves hiking among the vines..
can I guess again if I'm wrong? kidding.. well here's my back up guess anyway. wine scamp!

Orion Slayer said...

I wonder if this is where you got your idea for the great post you did on wine jargon? This sounds like a cool book, I'm especially interested to read the chapter on American wine attitudes.

I'm going to guess alder at vinography.

Dr. Debs said...

We have a winner! Amy the SB Wine Advocate Guessed correctly that the next Spin the Bottle pointed to Russ Beebe the Winehiker, who knows more about the beautiful scenery of wine country than anyone we know--but the rest of you had some mighty good ideas we never thought of!

Orion Slayer, that post's inspiration was Twitter exchanges, and I answered the question a little differently than they did, but if you are interested in the issues, there are some provocative articles in the collection!