Thursday, March 26, 2009

March Book Club: Adventuring on the Wine Route

This month two fellow wine bloggers joined me in taking a wine adventure in France led by wine merchant extraordinaire Kermit Lynch.

This March, the Wine Book Club read Lynch's Adventures on the Wine Route: A Wine Buyer's Tour of France. It's a classic of the genre, combining an insider's perspective on wine with a traveler's tale of people, places, and things that Lynch encountered while en route seeking out great bottles to bring back for his customers in the United States.

Frank at Drink What You Like is taken with Lynch's fancy for "natural wines," but finds them difficult to find in his neck of the woods in Southern Virginia. He stocks up on them when he's in San Francisco, and liked the way Lynch was able to transmit his "excitement and passion" for wine throughout his book. Frank noted that Lynch was a pioneer in shipping wine in refrigerated containers, and that he has strong opinions about the problems associated with evaluating wine based on blind-tastings without food. A road-warrior himself, Frank celebrated his first full week at home this year with a Lynch-inspired menu of oysters and a nice bottle of Chablis!

Kori at The Wine Peeps also mentioned Lynch's innovative methods of shipping wine and his feelings about blind tastings. Kori and her dad, John, are proponents of blind tasting (though they do taste with food). This was a re-read for Kori, who first picked the book up when she went to Bordeaux in 2003, and would "still recommend it today, even though it is a bit dated." She found her favorite quote from the book on a dog-eared page: “One cannot do justice to a great bottle alone. Someone with whom to ooh and aah is indispensable, someone with whom to share the intellectual and aesthetic stimulation that a great bottle inspires.” Isn't that one of the great joys of picking up a book that you've read before? To see what struck you the first time? Finally, she especially recommends the book "if you ever plan to visit the wine regions of France."

For me, one of the most powerful aspects of the book came at the very beginning where Lynch contrasted the American approach to wine, "with our New World innocence and democratic sensibilities," which tends to make us feel that "all wines are created equal," with the French apporach. "The French," Lynch writes, "with they aristocratic heritage, their experience and tradition," have their "grand crus, premiers crus, and there is even an official niche for the commoners, the vins de table." This contrast worked on me throughout the book, and I felt like it announced at the outset that what Lynch experienced in France was a completely different world of wine that he was eager to explain and share with those of us still living in "New World innocence." I'm not sure we're still that innocent, but I agree that we approach wine very differently from Europeans and Lynch helped to clarify that for me.

Thanks to Frank and Kori for once more joining me in reading a great book about wine. I'll be announcing next month's title next week--and hope that you will consider joining us for the April Wine Book Club.

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