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Wine Myths and Reality Hardcover – 7 Aug 2010
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The most riveting, richest wine book of the year --Jancis Robinson
This is a very fine wine book one of the best I ve read --Wine Economist
Loads of provocative and very useful information... this follows his excellent What Price Bordeaux?... this is highly recommended reading --Robert Parker
About the Author
Distinguished cell biologist and scientific publisher, Benjamin Lewin is also a Master of Wine
Top customer reviews
The structure of the book is fairly conventional with a brief historical section followed by sections on viticulture and wine making methods that take up the first third of the book. A section on trends and developments in the international wine trade is then followed by selective commentaries on the state of wines in the principal wine growing countries, occupying the remainder of the book.
What is unusual about the book is Lewin's very searching approach to the subject: he looks at all aspects of the wine business with an objective and often critical eye and is not afraid to condemn dubious practices or plain superstition. Notable is a section on the fashionable practice of biodynamic viticulture that schedules activities to the phases of the moon and includes practices that seem more akin to rituals than agriculture; Lewin, while acknowledging the high quality of many wines coming from biodynamic vineyards expresses a view that the success of the wines is likely based on the good organic viticulture practices that are part of the biodynamic movement rather than the more esoteric practices. Similarly a very interesting article on terroir and the extent to which it influences the taste of wines is also sceptical about the more extreme claims made for it and also points out (with several examples) the extent to which vineyard owners have themselves modified aspects of the terroir of vineyards in order to improve the local conditions for optimum viticulture.
The book is clearly based on very extensive research (with sources detailed in a long list of notes at the end of the book); this research presents interesting historical information on the origin of practices like chaptalisation but also reveals some dubious modern practices that will not be familiar to many wine drinkers - for example the addition of concentrated red grape extract to many Californian wines to improve their colour and the use of reverse osmosis devices in France to increase or decrease the alcohol content of wines. A chapter entitled `Fraud and Scandal' is an interesting account of the adulteration of wines from Roman times to the 20th century and stories of more recent fraudulent practices up to the 1980s (perhaps the libel laws inhibited Lewin from telling us what is going on today).
The lengthy survey of the world's different wines regions is full of interesting statistics, well illustrated with many coloured diagrams and maps (as is the book throughout). It particularly focuses on the different `appellation' systems and how they influence the wine and how it is made and traded. Extensive space is devoted to the classic French areas of Bordeaux and Burgundy.
This is a heavy book (both metaphorically and literally) and, packed with information as it is, could easily have been a heavy read. However Lewin has a very engaging writing style, light and anecdotal with flashes of humour that keeps the reader's attention.
I can strongly recommend this book to anyone with a serious interest in wine
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
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.