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The Dirty Guide to Wine: Following Flavor from Ground to Glass Flexibound – June 13, 2017
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“In her newest book, Alice Feiring homes in on how an understanding of soil types can point to through-lines in wines from very different parts of the world. Rather than relying on tasting notes, Feiring attempts to ascertain the ways soil actually transcends a grape, pointing to tangible details like how a specific soil type can lend acidity or power, no matter the region. Limestone, for example: “It is associated with elegance. Limestone is something that you first sense up front in the mouth, on the tip of the tongue, and it betokens a long finish with a linear structure.” Feiring’s sense of humor (as seen in her description of Brettanomyces as smelling like “a small closet stuffed with live sheep”) and cheeky descriptions (“in a wet climate well-drained granite soil saves Albarino’s ass”) are met with a real enthusiasm for the energy that earth can imbue in a wine. What emerges through Feiring’s travels and tastings with her frequent co-conspirator, sommelier Pascaline Lepeltier, is that there’s a way to evaluate wine that goes simply beyond taste.”
- Punch Magazine
About the Author
Alice Feiring is a journalist, essayist and the author of Naked Wine. She is the winner of both the James Beard and Louis Roederer Wine Writing Awards. In 2013, she was named Imbibe Magazine’s wine person of the year. Her blog, The Feiring Line (Alicefeiring.com) has been published since 2004. She lives in New York City.
Master Sommelier Pascaline Lepeltier is one of the world’s top wine pros, on the floor or in the lecture room. From Anjou, France, she champions its Chenin Blanc. Beyond wine, she refreshes with Cantillon beer and beats the drum for the liqueur Chartreuse. It is her deep belief that the word terroir is not to be taken in vain.
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Top customer reviews
Well! I have a new favorite! Alice Feiring (with Pascal Lepeltier) has given us a perfect delight of a book. It takes wine out of the realm of intimidating, pointless rituals with over-priced grape juice, into a world of people, dirt and (though she demurs) science. In less than 250 pages it explains most of the words and concepts necessary for undestanding wine and how it is made. More important, though, it provides framework, much broader than just grape names, for exploring wine and figuring out what you like. If you've ever heard Alice speak, you will recognize her smart, charming laugh, in the prose
I remember, with some embarrassment, visiting the wineries of Chateauneuf du Pape, with my nose buried in a copy of of Robert Parker's "Wine Advocate". I so hope I have the opportunity to visit again, holding a copy of "The Dirty Guide to Wine". First of all, I will follow it's advice to get my nose out of a book and into the dirt. Second, though, I'd be proud to let the winemakers know that we are paying attention to Natural Wines.
I work in the wine biz, and even I learned something from this gem of a book. Soil matters, even if we don't fully understand why. This book helps fill in some gaps. And now my list of "wines to try" is even longer!
We read Alice's books for her facile writing style, her quirky observations and opinions, and her true religion (i.e. natural wine). None of Feiring’s work has embraced science. Now, she and Pascaline Lepeltier have written a book which should have been based on empirical facts. But it isn’t, and that is a great mistake.
The Dirty Guide to Wine tries something new. Instead of using geography or grape variety as an organizing principle, Feiring wants to classify wine regions and vineyards by “dirt.” But what exactly does she mean by “dirt”? The various chapters are organized not by soil types (“dirt”), but by different types of stone — limestone, granite, shale stone, and so on.
Fearing argues that the “type of soil the vine grows in has a profound effect on the resulting wine’s taste." She doesn’t explain how this happens, nor does she consult experts for their thoughts. It is simply asserted. Could it be that microorganisms, climate, genetic adaptation, or even centuries of ingrained farming or winemaking practices are responsible instead? Perhaps soil is a mere bystander, or maybe just an accomplice? These alternative thoughts are never considered.
Feiring and Lepeltier's argument that soil has a profound effect on flavor is weak, and the authors do not help themselves with grandiose generalizations or with many instances of hearsay (“marl is said to produce more feminine wines”). And even if Feiring is correct, what use is this book to the student of wine? It has no pictures, no maps, no charts, not even wines the reader might taste together to get an idea of how soil affects flavors.
It is certainly possible (likely, even) that "dirt" affects wine flavors. But for Feiring and Lepeltier dirt is a kind of religion, requiring no hard work to prove. A worthwhile book based on this premise would take untold hours of work to produce. But why spend the time, when faith is all you need?