This book is an English Professor’s application of literary analysis to wine. Now that topic may not immediately quicken the pulse, but this book is interesting, thoughtful, and stimulating. I highly recommend it.
I have read many wine books from the technical (e.g., The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode) to the historical (Divine Vintage by Joel Butler and Randall Heskett) and too many books on the grapes, wines and wine regions of the world. However, before cracking open Michael Sinowitz’s recently published book Finding Meaning in Wine, I had never read a book that applies literary analysis to the world of wine. As a former professor of economics, I’ve certainly used economic analysis to better understand wine markets, and I’ve even dabbled in synesthesia to better understand how our environment affects perceptions of taste (with music professor and harpsichordist Joe Gascho). That’s probably as close as I’ve gotten to thinking about wine as art, the theme explored by Sinowitz. On the other hand, I’ve had discussions, including with many of the winemakers Sinowitz interviewed for his book, about the art of winemaking.
In short, Michael Sinowitz’s approach to understanding wine writing, wine tasting, and the art and culture of wine is unique and helpful to those of us who do the tasting and writing. For those like me not intimately familiar with some of the literature and authors referenced in the book, it is not an easy read. But it’s very much worth the effort, and Sinowitz’s humor makes it a lot easier. If he ever decides to pursue a more lucrative career than teaching English, he should write for the Stephen Colbert show.
I’ve not met some of the wine actors he writes about, but I have confidence in what he writes about them and what they say. Having done the same vineyard visits as the author with Tegan Passalacqua, it’s easy to picture him saying the quotations in the book. And having visited and tasted Chateau Montelena over the years, Sinowitz’s descriptors of the winery and its wines are spot on.
The topics covered in the book are not new, but the approach is, and the interviews with winemakers and others are enlightening. Is blind tasting really “blind”? If wine is art, does it make sense to give it a score? What should a good tasting note convey, and what in the world is “balance” (or “minerality” for that matter)? Why are winemakers so reluctant to acknowledge their creativity in making wine? (At one point, the author makes the observation that winemakers almost always claim they do almost nothing—the vineyard makes the wine, and the winemaking is non-interventionist.) Does anyone (aside from Alice Feiring) know what “natural” wine is? (An aside: A couple of years ago I attended a tasting of Georgian qvevri (natural) wines moderated by Feiring. She and a sommelier lauded the wines, many of which were seriously flawed, in my opinion. This past summer I did an extensive tasting of qvevri wines at Georgian wineries and didn’t find a single wine I would judge as flawed. Different from European wines, yes, but flawed, no.) What about biodynamic methods, and why do scientifically trained winemakers adopt them?
The final chapter in the book is titled “The Noble Grapes” motivated by Robert Parker’s claim that the great grape varieties are all of French origin. Or at least all the great wines are French, and they’re made from French varieties. This is the beginning point for Sinowitz to explore what is a great wine anyway? Is it one that can age? He draws the parallel with the “great books” that were once the core curriculum in American universities until students themselves became more diverse. In a wine world with 400+ grape varieties in each of Portugal, Italy and Greece, some of which may better survive climate change than the “noble” varieties, the future grape stars of the wine world may be quite different.
I highly recommend this book to any serious wine lover, especially English majors and wine critics. The book is published by Routledge.
Donald Winkler, Editor and Co-Publisher, International Wine Review
Source : https://i-winereview.com/blog/index.php/2023/10/19/finding-meaning-in-wine-by-michael-sinowitz-book-review/