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Reflections of a Wine Merchant Hardcover – April 29, 2008

4.0 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews

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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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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: 6.2 x 1 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 0.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,511,526 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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Format: Paperback
If you are looking for another Kermit Lynch, you will be disappointed. If you liked Alice Feiring, then this is for you. I am, like the author, a lover of Burgundy (& Piedmont), a disliker of modern over-fabricated fruit & alcohol bomb wines,and I take Parker and all with a pinch of salt. So I started the book with great hope thinking I had found another Kermit soul-brother. And though I often agree with his more moderate opinions, he has a serious problem with attitude. He takes side swipes at just about everyone (inc Kermit) and sometimes comes across either as a mild lunatic (dont tell me that your wine smells of the skin of the hares that frolic around the fields, I mean, come on...) or an arrogant, opinionated and rather unpleasant individual. But then the next chapter will be evocative and spot on. A real roller coaster of a read. I suspect I rather agree with the basics of his belief in real wines of place, but his personality keeps getting in the way. Also I wonder at his palate. Romanee-Conti and Domaine Leroy are expensive (though DRC could double its price overnight and still sell out, the retail price is about three times the ex-cellars and that's not DRC's fault) but they are also almost universally considered the pinnacle. His evident dislike of Mme Bize-Leroy is out of place and pretty stupid as she is one of the finest wine producers in the world. Oddly for someone who is so into natural wine and place, he also slags off another superstar of biodynamic wine, Chapoutier, yet his single vineyard white and red Hermitages are lauded the world over (and not just by US wine critics). Inverse snobbery or is there some sort of anarchic dislike of the most succesful (who are bound to sell, alas, at a price)?Read more ›
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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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