“Like everything else that I’ve been through, it opened up my eyes…”

by Katie Pizzuto on August 19, 2010

in book review,Terroir,wine importers

Any man who quotes Anaïs Nin in a book about wine automatically gets bonus Gonzo points from me, and if in same said book he’s got wordplay with Blue Öyster Cult lyrics, well I develop a crush that tends to sway me to overlook the fact that I needed to keep a dictionary handy while reading his book, despite being a wordsmith myself, because I’ve simply never had cause to use words like ecumenical or pusillanimous. Terry Theise, iconic importer and rock star wannabe, will be the first to tell you that “there’s a lot of lousy prose and shallow thinking out there” in the world of wine writing, but his is as far removed from that sad description as wine writing can possibly get, and I’m thankful for it.

My bookshelves are burdened down with tomes about wine. They’re bowed with the weight of books given biblical status for their wealth of information and books that serve as little more than romantic memoirs about wine-soaked lives. But there are very few—in fact only one other I can think of besides this, Nossiter’s Liquid Memory—that exist as visceral dissertations on what wine does…move us. Theise’s new book, Reading Between the Wines, speaks of wine having the capability of being a portal to the mystic, and his conviction to this end is utterly seductive. There were points when I found myself reading his proselytizing out on my deck well past twilight, sometimes laughing out loud, sometimes nodding in passionate agreement, and other times lost in his candor. It’s no small coincidence that Terry describes taking wine-tasting notes as often being obtrusive when you are engaged in what you’ve just experienced, because I felt the same about trying to take notes while reading this book—“it’s like ignoring a rainbow so you can balance your checkbook.”

Theise’s argument for terroir is impeccable, and one that I imagine would convince even the most hardened New Worlders to bend with the breeze, if only because his argument is sound…logical…clear. He manages to straddle the murky fault line between spirit and substance—between ethos, pathos and logos—and he manages to do it while jibing you about Chateau Bluebols at the same time. I imagine Terry to be the kind of guy that makes you feel like a complete dickhead for being lulled into complacency by the gears of the wine industry, and then consoles you as you lick your wounds by offering you a glass of the most delicate, mind-blowing riesling you’ve ever let pass your lips. For the limited amount of time we have in our lives to imbibe, it begs the question, why drink what doesn’t move you? Why drink the enological equivalent of white noise? His rhetoric is both compelling and convincing.

I have but one gripe with Reading Between the Wines and that is its forced linearity for a style of writing that is otherwise so intrinsically organic. It’s like taking an e.e. cummings poem, dissecting it and cramming that dissection into an eighth-grade lit class outline. At times, Terry’s views were broken down into a sort of laundry list, and that sacrificed some of the book’s “naturalness” in my opinion, but that’s probably also partly me being a pain in the ass after one too many glasses of nowhere wine. In all honesty, when I read his description of a red Burgundy, “If truffles had orgasms, they might emit this fragrance” I’m nearly certain my schoolgirl crush kicked in, and I probably just started looking for any reason to find flaw with Theise so that the spell would be broken. Reading Between the Wines is easily the most passionate, poetic, and necessary book on wine I’ve ever read, and it ended all way too soon.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Galen Struwe August 19, 2010

“if truffles had orgasms, they might emit this fragrance”….I’m getting this. I always find this kind of stuff when I come to your blog. Thanks!

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2 Katie Pizzuto August 19, 2010

My pleasure….enjoy the read!

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3 Don August 19, 2010

So in other words, Life is too short to drink shitty Wine. I have a friend that says this about Whiskey all the time, and it applies to beer too, and just about any aspect of life you can consider. We’re here and gone in a blink, enjoy it while you can…and that’s good advice for anyone, not just the wine elite.

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4 Katie Pizzuto August 19, 2010

Precisely…if you ever saw the movie Ratatouille, in it Anton Ego says “I don’t like food, I love food. If I don’t love it, I don’t swallow.” Rather simplistic but so true….why drink or eat what you don’t love?

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5 Mark Cochard August 19, 2010

Katie, Have you ever been to his tastings? I take notes on the shit he says not on the wines.
For instance – on a TBA – this is like having hits of blotter acid dropped on your tongue with an eye dropper. I have had tears strreaming tasting a gruner in one his tastings a few years back.

It seems like you like the book.

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6 Katie Pizzuto August 19, 2010

Unfortunately no, Mark, though I’ve had a couple of opportunities and just couldn’t, but then I’d probably act like a love-struck groupie or such, hanging on his every damned word, LOL. And I completely believe you’d spend the entire time taking notes on what he says and I try to mirror the same type of mentality when I taste wines, but it can get you in trouble when you’re in a tasting room and say the wine has the body of a limp dick. And yes, adored the book.

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7 Jeff August 19, 2010

Katie,

Great review on a great book. I suspect our shared cognition on Theise is just the tip of the iceberg in catapulting him out of keen awareness from a very specific set of educated consumers into a little bit of a broader role.

In other words, I think Alice Feiring now has company in carrying a pure, terroir-based spirit based on larger mindshare.

Jeff

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8 Katie Pizzuto August 19, 2010

Part of me wishes he would remain an obscurity of sorts for the “average consumer” lest his selections get harder and harder to find 🙂

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