This summer found us in Italy for our honeymoon, and I read this book in fits and starts in hotel rooms while my husband was getting ready for the day. It was a confusing read at first–I’m so used to wine books being educational, and this is more of an opinion piece.
But it says right on the cover, “a memoir and manifesto.” Which is exactly what it is.
Asimov is the wine critic for the New York Times, and is known for his engaging and friendly style. In this book, he presents his passionate view that wine is not a thing to be analyzed and dissected like a chemical sample, but a thing to be enjoyed with friends and family, preferably over a meal.
The meal part is important–it was through sipping wine with dinner that Asimov fell in love with wine and came to be a critic. Unlike me, who fell in love with it the opposite way–through realizing I could detect subtle smells and flavors in it, and dissecting it exactly the way Asimov says not to. Being vegetarian, it never seemed important to pair wines with meals, so many known pairings are with meat. So wines for me have mostly been enjoyed as independent entities, revealing to me what they will, and only occasionally finding a lucky pairing in a meatless meal.
But we were in Italy, and my way of enjoying wine was being challenged. Italian wines are made to be drunk with food, and indeed, we were having more fun when we’d sit down with a half liter of house wine and pasta rather than try to analyze what was in our glass at an enoteca (an Italian version of a tasting room). In the beginning of our trip, I tried to schedule as many enoteche as possible, and take as many notes as possible at those tasting rooms, but it wasn’t working as well as it did in California.
For one, many of the places were closed–the Internet was unreliable in giving us the real information. For another, it just didn’t feel the right way to enjoy these wines. I’ve read that Europeans don’t break down wines the way Americans do, they just tend to relax and experience it.
So somewhere (luckily) early on in our journey, I got the message of the book, and began being spontaneous with our wine journey, enjoying a spritz Campari with pistachios here and there (an Italian cocktail made with Prosecco) or a mysterious house red with pasta–no need to figure out exactly what it was. I let go of many of the original wineries we had scheduled in favor of long afternoons and evenings sitting at outdoor trattorias, people watching and marveling at old architecture.
I began reading that book hungry for more information I could add to my inner filing cabinet about wine, but left with exactly what the title entails–a mindset to enjoy wine without analyzing it. Also, an appreciation of wine enjoyed with meals.
And what am I drinking?
Today I am drinking a German trocken riesling, Weingut Dr. Randolf Kauer. It is biodynamic, and tastes half like sauvingnon blanc, because of a pronounced, hay-like quality. Other than that it is average acidity, with a slight effervescence and golden apple flavor. In the picture, I mixed it with grapefruit juice on a whim, which tasted like a wine geek version of a mimosa.
In the spirit of the book, I set out to enjoy this riesling with a meal. For lunch, I sauteed some crimini mushrooms with leftover veggies and a little parsley, white pepper and garlic, and also sliced up some organic radishes to dip in honey mustard dressing on the side. Fresh crisp flavors for a fresh, crisp wine. It was a biodynamic, vegetarian feast.
Until next time, this is Carol, signing out and trying desperately to enjoy wine without breaking it down. A new adventure.