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A Hedonist in the Cellar: Adventures in Wine Hardcover – Deckle Edge, October 24, 2006
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Those who find most wine writing hopelessly recondite will eagerly quaff novelist Jay McInerney's A Hedonist in the Cellar, a collection of his essays originally published in House & Garden. Whether talking about a California chardonnay ("like a Ginsu blade concealed in a peach"); the wines of the Cote Rotie ("like Fitzgerald, [its] reputation was almost moribund at mid-century"); or the super Valpolicellas of Italian vintner Giuseppe Quintarelli ("his [wines] should be opened only in the presence of gods and stinky cheeses"), McInerney brings a novelist's gift and idiosyncratic wit to his personal investigations, which touch on the Rieslings from the Finger Lakes, the "forgotten whites" of Bordeaux, new developments in the wines of Chile and Argentina, spirits like Armagnac and artisinal champagnes, and much more. McInerney is a stimulating appreciator, so readers poring through his essays happily absorb viniculture and modus operandi, among other technical matters. In essays like "Translating German Labels" and "How to Impress Your Sommelier," theyre also prepped in buying and ordering. A wide-ranging tour of the wine world in sum, Hedonist is for all wine lovers, who will find in it much of what's been missing from so much other wine and food writing: the wit to do it well. --Arthur Boehm
From Publishers Weekly
Those who've ever thought wine writing was a bit sniffy will find McInerney's cheeky and informative squibs on wine a generous, almost ham-handed pleasure. In this collection of short essays, reproduced from his monthly column in House & Garden, the increasingly avid reader is enveloped in the various wines he tastes. It's sexy. But it's not just wine that's sexy here, it's also the people who have "caught the wine bug" and dedicate themselves to making their own labels. McInerney (Bright Lights, Big City; The Good Life) ferrets out the small winemakers, investigates their ethos and tastes their efforts with the same glee and tireless interest he dedicates to the big bottlers. This sense of discovery permeates each essay as he links the wine to its history, where the grapes come from and the culture that goes into its making. Readers will learn more than even the most dedicated oenephile can use, but everyone can be inspired to find the next bottle of something special for any occasion. (Oct.)
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As all essay anthologies should, HEDONIST begins with an informative introduction, written in McInerney's comfortable, laid-back style --- much like an evening's first glass of wine. He writes of his formative years at his job as a wine clerk at a rinky-dink "boozeteria" in Syracuse, New York, called the Westcott Cordial Shop. It was there that he heard about the acceptance of his first novel by Random House, while studying under Raymond Carver and Tobias Wolff in the Graduate Writing Program at Syracuse University. It was also there that he laid the groundwork for what later would be a career as a wine connoisseur, by reading the shop's books on wine and occasionally lifting a bottle or two to taste.
Ten years or so later, he was offered the wine column gig, despite his minimal training. "I'd never taken a class, or attended a wine tasting, or spit into a bucket..." Yet he managed to pull it off, purely for the love of learning about it and the enjoyment factor. "It's an inexhaustible subject, a nexus of subjects ... Ideally, the appreciation of wine is balanced between consumption on the one hand and contemplation and analysis on the other." These humble beginnings, combined with a desire to share his burgeoning knowledge with others, make these essays quite refreshing to read --- without the haughty hangover.
From Chile to New Zealand, German Riesling to Absinthe, McInerney --- a "pilgrim of the palate [and] devout hedonist in search of the next ecstatic revelation" --- has developed a rich appreciation of and refined palate for all varieties of wine. His essays reflect a passion that is both respectable and contagious. Even amateur wine tasters will be entertained by his natural ability to draw them in with stories of celebrity beverage preferences, intrepid oenophile adventures for the "perfect" bottle, and sommelier snafus. Conversely, snooty sippers might easily tire of his overly casual tone, but these wine buffs will likely be too busy writing their own tasting tomes rather than reading about others' observations.
Best kept on the shelf as a flip-through reference rather than a straight-through read, HEDONIST is also ideal for chuckle-worthy truisms such as: "Let's be honest: there's only one activity more satisfying than drinking good wine with good food; and if you're drinking good wine in the right company, the one pleasure, more often than not, will lead to the other."
--- Reviewed by Alexis Burling
cover to order
Reviewed by Joyce Sparrow
Onophiles and grocery store wine shoppers will do well breaking out an atlas to follow the world-wide wine adventures of fiction writer and House and Garden wine columnist Jay McInerney as he travels from California to France and many European stops to learn more about the enjoyment of wine. Readers will want a note pad and pencil at their sides to jot down McInerney's many wine suggestions.
These 52 essays show the knowledge McInerney has gained since his early years in Syracuse, New York where, as a graduate student in writing, he spent many hours as a clerk at the local cordial shop, which he refers to as a boozeteria, two miles from Syracuse University. In between frequent customers and a few armed robberies, McInerney spent many of his shifts reading the shop owner's viticulture books. Later in his career as a novelist, he was given a chance to write the House and Garden wine column, which led to his opportunity to learn the details behind how some of the best wines and wineries came to be. His column continues today.
Foremost, McInerney is a storyteller who entertains readers with tales about his wine discoveries. Many of the essays take the confusion out of wine pairing. "Odd Couples" explains how Champagne goes well with most Japanese food. In "What to Drink with Chocolate" McInerney finds the best wine to pair with chocolate. "Fish Stories from Le Bernadin" proves eight out of ten sea creatures prefer white wine to red. McInerney captures the culture of the vineyards and relays the history of wines from the Catholic monks to present day viticulturists.
Much to his credit, McInerney downplays his growing expertise to reach the common wine drinker. He offers advice on how to impress the restaurant sommelier and even offers guidance on the correct pronunciation of the word: some-el-yay.
Overall, this collection provides a fun education for the average person who enjoys an occasional glass of really good wine.
Armchair Interviews says: Recommended for the novice and expert wine drinker alike.