Book review: How to Love Wine: A Memoir and Manifesto, by Eric Asimov
How to Love Wine: A Memoir and Manifesto
by Eric Asimov
Eric Asimov is wine critic for The New York Times, and his latest book is described as a memoir and a manifesto.
But some autobiographical episodes neither illuminate his personality nor have much relevance to his views on wine. The book becomes more interesting when he gives us his take on modern wine culture. He is a romantic. He believes an instinctive personal response to wine is more revealing than one that's clouded by specious knowledge. The reason people are so awkward around wine, he argues, is because they feel confused by its language and arcane rituals.
Strip wine of these trappings and then it becomes pleasurable.
The targets for Asimov's attack are the three pillars of modern wine criticism: blind tastings, scores and tasting notes. By extension, though his name does not come up much, he is attacking the world's most influential wine writer, Robert Parker. I agree with Asimov on the silliness of trying to fix something as changeable and personal as wine with a score out of 100. Wine cannot be taken out of context and judged objectively. Blind tastings tend to reward power over subtlety.
Surely the problem with many wine writers is not that they write tasting notes, but that they aren't very good writers. Critics good and bad are trying to do something very difficult, to put tastes, smells and even emotions into words.
Asimov's view that "wine is an expression of culture and cannot be fully understood and appreciated outside of that context" contradicts his belief in "letting the wine in the glass do the talking". Learning the history, geography and language of wine is part of the fun. With wine the sensual and the intellectual are inextricably entwined, and Asimov does not always have a firm grasp of his subject's history.
Asimov is on much surer ground as a journalist. What shines out of this book is his endless curiosity. As a guide, he's modest, likeable and not afraid to admit he's often wrong.
Guardian News & Media