Decanter book reviews
The New York Times Book of Wine, Edited by Howard G Goldberg Sterling, $24.95
No collection of wine articles, from even the most distinguished of American newspapers, is designed to be read cover to cover, but dipped into.
Even so, 550 pages seems a bit self-indulgent. I could have done without the recipes, and the late, great Frank Prial’s comments on appropriate wine glasses for Champagne, while pertinent, were written more than 30 years ago. Nor do recollections of memorable wine dinners seem worthy of indefinite preservation.
Enduring relevance has to be determined by style as well as content, and the personalities of the major writers do come through. I enjoyed the street-smart contributions of Prial, the reminiscences of trencherman AJ Liebling (died 1963) and the hedonistic Johnny Apple.
The lion’s share of contributions comes from the newspaper’s current columnist, Eric Asimov, who writes in a readably conversational style with laid-back clarity. His scope is immense, as confident in elucidating Ribeira Sacra in Galicia as in banging the drum for the more refined end of the California Pinot Noir spectrum. A spirited defence of French wines is supplemented by intelligent reports. His chronicling of the mixed fortunes of US Syrah, and how they reflect American wine fashions, is a fine piece of reporting. He can show a light touch too, as when likening an ageing rosé to a ‘poolside flirtation, pleasant but inconsequential’.
There’s an endearing idiosyncrasy which may be New York Times usage or just old-fashioned courtesy by Asimov. Few in this business refer, as he does, to Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon as Mr Grahm and to Jim Clendenen as Mr Clendenen.
Howard Goldberg, a veteran of the newspaper (and Decanter’s US East Coast correspondent) surely supplied the droll chapter titles, like ‘So, There You Are in a Restaurant’ and ‘A Magnum of Miscellany’. He is a scourge of typographical errors, so it comes as a shock to find a fistful in this volume. Mr Goldberg, like Homer before him, has nodded.