"Panoramic in its scope" and "explodes the world of wine" -- so says the amazon product description. This book does indeed attempt to cover the entire panorama of wine, but in doing so, it creates a bit of an explosion in a mattress factory, with shards of information seemingly scattered hither and yon. In the course of about 550 pages, Lewin tries to do it all, which leaves us with some fascinating insights and wonderful exposition on some topics, and some absurdly truncated presentation on others. Washington and Oregon wine garners about a page and a half, for example. He blows through the Loire in about two or three pages. On the other hand, Australia for some reason gets a very extended discussion. There is very informative and readable information on basic winemaking principles and wine chemistry. Lewin, like many other authors, presents his own twist on the 1855 Bordeaux classification and his own alternative for the 21st century. An essay on cork and alternative closures. Plenty of this and that on Robert Parker and "international style" winemaking.
Having devoted considerable time and effort to plowing through this massive volume, I'm left with the sense Lewin never really decided what this book should be. It's not a survey or basic reference on the order of Johnson's "World Atlas," although it does include a "touch 'em all" review of just about every wine producing region in the world. It isn't a screed along the lines of Nossiter's "Liquid Memory," although Lewin does sprinkle the book with observations about the esthetics of wine, the role of wine criticism and related topics. It isn't an expose like Brook's "Bordeaux - People, Power and Politics," yet Lewin does go out of his way to debunk what he views as "wine myths" and to stir up some controversy. He touches on just about everything -- what is terroir, or does it even exist? What about organic and biodynamic wine? Is any wine really "natural"? Is it really possible to be a "non-interventionist" winemaker? Why rely on natural yeasts instead of inoculating with "industrial" varieties? Noteworthy wine scandals and the adulteration of wine. The sad state of most Beaujolais today. Name just about any hot button topic in the modern wine universe, and Lewin will at least give it a nod in this volume. And scientist that he is, Lewin will give you plenty of empirical data as he goes along.
So, what is this book? My title calls the book a "roller coaster," and that is truly how it feels to take the whole ride from cover to cover. The book covers an enormous amount of territory yet it never seems to know where it's headed. It's like going on an extended hitchhiking trip with a very savvy traveling companion. You'll have good times and not so good, you'll be bored some of the time and thrilled some of the time. You'll pick up a lot of insight along the way, but you may not know what your destination is or get there if you do know. When it's all over you'll be glad you did it, but you may not want to do it again.