Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Wine Book Club #4: Tasting Pleasure

Today I'm participating in the 4th edition of the Wine Book Club, hosted by Farley the Wine Poet from Wine Outlook.

The title she picked, Jancis Robinson's Tasting Pleasure, was one of those classic wine books that I always meant to read, but somehow never quite got around to opening. I'm so glad that Farley got this book of my shelf and into my hands. Robinson has a wonderful voice when she writes, and I was quickly caught up in the story of how she developed from a wine novice to a wine expert.

Robinson's wine roots go back to Italy, where she drank wine from the local co-op while working as a maid in a hotel, but her earnest study of wine happened at Oxford University. You may associate Oxford with rowing, rugby, and the debates at the Union (not necessarily in that order) but I can tell you from first-hand experience that the University may be the world's best wine-appreciation experience for those under 21. Colleges and other university institutions have had cellars since the medieval period, and students and dons in residence there take wine knowledge as seriously as they take Shakespeare's sonnets and particle physics.

It was not until Robinson left Oxford that she began her circuitous route (via working in the travel industry and working in a wine bar) towards becoming a wine writer. And it is where Robinson talks about writing about wine that she is at her absolute best in what is a marvelous all-around book. Throughout this memoir, the reader is struck again and again by her sensitivity to the individual palate, her concern that truly extraordinary and different wines don't become lost in a sea of homogeneous wines shaped by a mysterious collective palate that emerges in tasting panels, and her humility concerning what she still doesn't know about wine. At points, she almost apologizes for her hesitancy in making wine recommendations, but this (I think) is one of the reasons she is so very good at what she does: she believes that all she is qualified to tell you is whether she likes a wine or not, and why.

The subtitle of this book, Confessions of a Wine Lover, is really the best possible description for her chatty, informal, and tell-all story. Robinson does not tell us everything, perhaps, but she tells us an awful lot (including her childhood experiences battling anorexia) in a way that makes us laugh, gasp in admiration, and shake our heads in disbelief at the way the wine world works. By the end of the book, it is almost impossible not to like her enormously and respect her deeply for what she accomplished as one of the first women in the wine writing business.

A resounding thank you to Farley for picking this classic title. If you didn't read along with us these past two months, I hope that this review convinces you to put Tasting Pleasure on your list of must-reads in the future. Farley has promised us a round-up of posts next week, and I'll post the title we're reading for the 5th edition of the Wine Book Club on September 2. And if you'd like to participate in the Wine Book Club as a host or as a "Spin the Bottle" featured reviewer, please let me know in the comments or by dropping me an email.


Unknown said...

Now I guess I'll have to break down and buy the thing. Plus I feel disloyal to the Jancis for not having read it already.

Damn you, Dr. Debs!

Anonymous said...

Great review! Unfortunately, none of the libraries in our system had it (which really surprised me!). Might have to go on the Christmas list.

Anonymous said...

Glad you liked it as I did. I'm working on the round-up now and hope to have it posted in the am.