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Reflections of a Wine Merchant Hardcover – April 29, 2008

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition edition (April 29, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374248567
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374248567
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.2 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 0.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #511,533 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. The 2008 vintage qualities remain undetermined, but with this title by New York City wine importer Rosenthal, the still-young year yields one of the outstanding wine books of recent memory. From long experience, the author writes that wine should be first understood as an expression of soil through fermented grape juice and begins his memoir of a tradesman's life with a short manifesto on that expressive quality called terroir. Then, Rosenthal takes us on an autobiography of his life as a wine merchant, starting with the opening of his Manhattan shop in 1978, from early misadventures and small-scale successes to the ferreting of significant discoveries far off the paths habitually beaten through France and Italy in particular. His and his wife, Kerry, had a knack for finding the hitherto unknown, and he narrates these discoveries with physical and social details that bring moments to vivid, sensory life. The period he chronicles was one of enormous developments in wine, from California through globalization, and he writes intelligently of the problems that came with progress. Yet neither the trade nor this title is romantic: Rosenthal makes clear the hard, often unpleasant work of winemaking and its trade and the setbacks that are part of the process. Through his business, he has had and been responsible for countless wine-related experiences of exceptional quality; he has now provided a literary one. B&w photos. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


“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


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Customer Reviews

That and the story of his career made for an enjoyable read.
Olivier Magny
And though I often agree with his more moderate opinions, he has a serious problem with attitude.
A. Michael Latimer
Restaurant goers will discover these wines and begin to look for retail stores that carry them.
Amazon Customer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 39 people found the following review helpful By A reader on May 7, 2008
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.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on June 9, 2008
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.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Leslie M. Ficcaglia on July 20, 2008
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.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By S. Flask on August 20, 2008
Format: Hardcover
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.
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