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Reflections of a Wine Merchant: On a Lifetime in the Vineyards and Cellars of France and Italy [Paperback]

Neal I. Rosenthal

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Book Description

2 Jun 2009
In the late 1970s, Neal I. Rosenthal set out to learn everything he could about wine. Today, he is one of the most successful importers of traditionally made wines produced by small family owned estates in France and Italy. Rosenthal has immersed himself in the culture of Old World wine production, working closely with his growers for two and sometimes three generations. He is one of the leading exponents of the concept of 'terroir' - the notion that a particular vineyward site imparts distinct qualities of bouquet, flavour, and colour to a wine. In "Reflections of a Wine Merchant", Rosenthal brings us into the cellars, vineyards, and homes of these vignerons, and his delightful stories about his encounters, relationships, and explorations - and what he has learned along the way - give us an unequalled perspective on winemaking tradition and what threatens it today. Rosenthal was featured in the documentary film "Mondovino" and is one of the more outspoken figures against globalization, homogenization, and the 'critic-ization' of the wine business. He was also a major subject in Lawrence Osborne's "The Accidental Connoisseur". Rosenthal's is an important voice in defense of the individual and the artisanal, and their contribution to our quality of life.

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More About the Author

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"Neal Rosenthal is a source of the kind of wines that I have always looked for, wines that speak to me not of marketing trends, but of the places where they were grown and the people who made them. Whether rustic or elegant, Neal's wines are wines of character, of taste. His lively book, which displays the spunky personality of the author, shines light on how character and taste may be bred into wine." --Victor Hazan
"There have been many books about wine, but rarely one as absorbing and as wise as this one. Rosenthal tells of his travels in France and Italy, of his friendships with wine growers, and of his own growing understanding of this ancient business that combines both art and commerce. He writes so well, one can taste the wines he loves." --Charles Simic

About the Author

Neal I. Rosenthal was born in New York City in 1945 and was educated at Rutgers, Columbia, and New York University. He lives on a fifty-seven-acre farmstead in Pine Plains, New York, which produces organic eggs, buckwheat honey, fruit, and vegetables.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.8 out of 5 stars  16 reviews
35 of 39 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Thud 7 May 2008
By A reader - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
If there was ever any doubt about the matter we now know that the skill set needed to discover wines of real character and the one that results in great prose are entirely distinct. Though I was looking forward to this book, from the outset I was sorely disappointed. The author spends much of the first several chapters settling scores with individuals who have disappointed him in the past. Before we join him on his first solo visit to the vineyards of Europe he already sounds embittered. Once we join him on his rounds, we do meet some lovely people for whom Rosenthal has genuine affection--and who seem inordinately cursed by personal tragedy. While the dust jacket promises that 'we will learn how they unveil the subtleties of their individual terroirs,' I don't believe we do. I was expecting something on the exalted level of 'Adventures on the Wine Route,' but this isn't it.
15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Contrasting View 9 Jun 2008
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I don't get the vitriol of the first three reviewers. Concerning their complaints that this book is full of Neal's opinions and rants: yes, it is. If they were looking for nothing but raw facts perhaps they should have selected a book that wasn't autobiographical. As for the quality of the writing: while Neal does tend to be a little over-the-top with his comparisons, his use of the English language is quite good albeit old-fashioned.

Personally, I really enjoyed this book. It's a quick, fun read as long as you take it for what it is: a collection of recollections and musings on wine and personal history by Neal. I found him to be relatively even-handed in his treatment of most subjects and it was refreshing to hear from someone in the world of wine who doesn't worship at the temple of numerical scores.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Voice That Needs to be Heard 20 July 2008
By Leslie M. Ficcaglia - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I must have read a different book than the one reviewed so unfavorably here, although the title and the author are the same. "Reflections of a Wine Merchant" was exactly what I had hoped it would be when I bought the book for my husband, the winemaker in the family. He found the book opinionated but dead-on right, and he felt that it was about time that someone wrote to decry the industrialization of wine and the homogenization of taste. When we have finally lost the ability to appreciate terroir or even the opportunity to experience it, we will be all the poorer for it, and we can only hope that through the efforts of people like Rosenthal that never happens.

There are huge philosophical differences among vintners and wine merchants about what constitutes good wine; my husband and I have read quite a few books on the subject. My husband's methods are of the old school which lets the grape speak for itself and turn into whatever it will become, whereas the newer school, represented more by California, Chile, and Australia, wants a product that will be the same across batches and regardless of the provenance of the grapes, and so they use embellishments to enhance the wine in order to be able to sell it young and standardize the product. What one prefers is a personal choice but it's important to recognize that there is a difference.

Rosenthal's descriptions of his interactions with vintners, positive and negative, were fascinating and offered insights into both the sociology and the techniques of the ancient craft of winemaking. I found his writing to be adept, descriptive, and on point. My granddaughter is about to enter the sixth grade, and were she to express herself a third as well as Neal Rosenthal does here, her teachers would be amazed and ecstatic. Please don't let the previous reviewers discourage you from buying and reading this book, especially if you have an interest in understanding the possibilities and potential of wine.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a light read, fairly interesting... 3.5/5 20 Aug 2008
By S. Flask - Published on
i enjoyed reflections... but i certianly don't think it's going to go down as one of the greatest wine books ever written, and i don't think it makes as much of a statement as it could have.

the book is essentially a collection of stories about people rosenthal has encountered over the years, and how their story fits - or doesn't fit - into rosenthal's importing business and view of what the wine world should be. for instance, the story of a family/producer in piedmont embodies everything he loves about wine, while a relationship with a producer in burgundy crumbles as they insist on making changes he doesn't feel are for the best. the stories are generally interesting, however i don't feel they'll appeal to those who aren't truly interested in the subject matter. (however if you've made it to this page, you probably ARE interested in the subject matter.)

i echo the sentiment that rosenthal spends a bit of time ranking on people by name. it's not really vengeful stuff as some other reviews have implied, but the problem is that it's not really done with a lot of finesse or class either. it doesn't portray the author in the best light, and makes you question his own personality to some extent. this doesn't destroy the book, but it does detract from the experience a bit.

finally, i feel the book doesn't have a ton of focus. there's not a really strong thread running through it. i know it's a collection of stories, but considering the experiences rosenthal has had over the course of the last 30 years, in addition to his very strong feelings about what wine should be, i think the book could have driven home more of a message. maybe rosenthal didn't want this to be too agenda driven, but i thought the result made it a little light.

all this said, this is worth reading, especially if you're a fan of rosenthal's views on what wines should be. come to think of it, you should probably read it if you *don't* share rosenthal's views on what wines should be.
13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Thin and bitter... 23 May 2008
By Chambolle - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Perhaps this is an exercise in piling on, but it must be said... this book is a tremendous disappointment. Mr. Rosenthal vents his spleen on a variety of topics and people, with little in the way of real insight to offer. The prose is sometimes comically stilted and reads like bad legal writing. Often a single sentence rambles on for a good part of a page, bearing the weight three or four sentences should carry.

His heart is in the right place: wines with character and sense of place, made for keeping. But between the small minded jabs at a pantheon of enemies, the rotten writing and the sheer superficiality of it all... No. Don't bother. Instant bargain bin material.
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