Recent conversations with friend have put a nasty doubt in my mind. Am I a one trick pony? Is wine all I “do” in my free time? I mean, I learn about wine, I talk about wine, I write about wine, I drink wine. It doesn’t help that last week I also read about wine, finishing “Bacchus and me” by Jay McInerney. Basically it is a compilation of his essays on wine published in House & Garden Magazine in 2000.
McInerney is a bit of an unusual wine critic in the sense that he is first and foremost a novelist, a fiction writer who developed an interest in wine. His most famous novel is Bright Lights Big City and he is loosely associated with the New-York city writing scene (think Brett Easton Ellis and friends).
I must confess I only read Bacchus and me: Adventures in the Wine Cellar, none of his fiction works. The book is extremely interesting. It’s an easy read with short chapters dedicated to a grape, a region, a producer or even a wine in particular. Of course it’s filled with information for wine fans, but the interesting thing is that it’s information useful for beginners and connoisseurs both.
Wine novices will learn what are the varietals used in Burgundy and how and why they differ from the ones used in Bordeaux. More advanced drinkers can learn about advanced techniques or legendary year so there are interesting layers of knowledge for all wine lovers.
To me, a couple things stood out (other than the overall usefulness of the book). First of all, it is extremely well written, as could be expected from someone who is, well, a writer. The metaphors to describe certain grapes or certain wines use everything from rock bands to paintings and make for a very vivid impression. The book is thus very easy to enjoy (even when you read it while riding a busy Red Line train through Boston). The best, or at least the easiest to remember is the way the two main Bordeaux varietals are presented “Cabernet-Sauvignon was Lennon to Merlot’s McCartney”.
The second thing is that the book will make you thirsty. Descriptions of great and legendary wines will do that. It will make you wish you had more money or that you were a professional wine critic. What really made it for me is one of the last chapters detailing a series of New Year’s Eve dinners that McInerney had with Julian Barnes and Stephen Fry (among others). I would have wanted to be at that dinner even if they had served water. But they didn’t, the wine line up is nothing but serious : Krug, Lafite, Latour, Yquem, and a vertical of Hermitage La Chapelle from Jaboulet,… You know, nothing special really.
If you haven’t already I’d recommend reading this book. It’s easy, it’s interesting and it’s extremely well written. Oh and it’s funny too. That never hurts.