The Battle for Wine and Love, by Alice Feiring

First, a caveat: I know the author. I’ve danced with her, and she is a lovely dancer. But I had no idea that she could write so well. I bought a copy of the book mostly to be supportive, thinking that I would probably not understand half of it since I know so little about wine. However, it’s a terrific read. Easy to follow. Plenty of stories to provide context for the names.

The backbone of the book is the author’s quest to find out why wines are all starting to taste the same, why it is becoming difficult to find the delicate, subtle wines that she loves. Feiring sets out to visit vineyards and interview winemakers and scientists and anyone else who can shed light on the problem. What she discovers is an array of artificial additives and mechanisms that winemakers have started to use in order to impose a uniform taste on their wine. The science is clearly presented as are her reasons for disagreeing with their use.

Many of the chapters deal with a particular kind of wine—Syrah, Champagne, etc.—and her efforts to track down the vineyards producing the most authentic wine in order to understand what makes it so good. She lets the winemakers who refuse to adulterate their wine make their own case and clarifies anything too esoteric, explaining concepts like terroir and biodynamics in ways even I can grasp. Best of all, Feiring tells not just about the wines themselves, but the stories behind the wines: the families, the vineyards, the importers, the festivals. There is wine gossip here, and plenty of vivid characters.

I wasn’t sure about the love part. Too many people seem to think that women should only be allowed to write love stories. My feeling is that the author knows about wine; let her write about wine. However, she kept the love part to a minimum, often couched in humor, and integrated it amazingly well with the rest of the story.

The real joy of the book for me lies in the vivid descriptions: of the wine, yes, but even more so of the vineyards in winter, the texture of the soil; of the winemakers, skills handed down within families; of their gatherings in interviews, at tastings, and over long, drawn-out meals full of laughter. Feiring makes me want to drink more wine—better wine—and to search out some of the wines she praises. This is a book that will appeal to wine connoisseurs as well as to novices like myself.

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