Hugh Johnson's marvelous book in a partial answer to a question that few of us have had the sense to ask. While many of us will spend valuable hours wondering: `which wine?' we rarely ask `why wine?'
What's the big deal? Why so many books, why such intense feeling? Wine is just the fermented juice of grapes. Yes, and music is just organized noise and sex is merely one of the ways in which organisms ensure perpetuation of their type.
The reason for the passion isn't to be found in alcohol alone. Almost any sugary solution will support fermentation, and it seems that just about every possible sweet liquid has been fermented from time to time. An amateur winemakers' guide in my library lists recipes for the production of wines from almonds, apples, bananas, barley, beetroot, birch sap, cloves, clover, eggplant, guava, lemons, oak leaves, orange juice, parsley, parsnips, peapods, squash, tea, tomatoes, wallflowers, yarrow and yes, to complete the alphabet, zinnias.
These 'wines'are all possible, but none of them exist. In fact, we restrict our winemaking to just a few varieties of grape. Why?
Aside from the many economic advantages, the fermented juice of grapes is delicious. At its most common, it's a fresh and fruity drink that quenches the thirst and gladdens the heart. At its most exalted, the basic flavors of the grape are transformed by fermentation and aging into a symphony of aromas and tastes and lingering associations. Both the bountiful nature of grape vines and the enormous appeal of their fermented fruit's juice has led civilized man to attach a lot of meaning to wine.
Johnson's book, a slimmed down version of the earlier Vintage , not only reminds us that the question of wine's importance needs to be asked, it goes a long way to providing an answer. His range of reference is impressive and his writing-witting and incisive-is impeccable. When you're ready to try to understand how wine attained its place in the modern world, there's no better place to start than this book.
Lynn Hoffman, author of The New Short Course in Wine