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Book review: Le Gout et le Pouvoir by Jonathan Nossiter

Whatever else might be said about Le Gout et le Pouvoir (Taste and Power), it makes you hungry - for good wine and good food.

Around the issue of power revolve recurring themes including the current trend towards sweeter flavours, wine jargon and Paris restaurants with scandalous wine prices.

Today’s consumers are driven, Nossiter says, towards sugar-sweet, child-like flavours, rather than led towards more complex ones. This comes across in the book as more important than the endless debate about Parker and Rolland (which, it has to be said, Nossiter is in large part responsible for).

But Robert Parker and Michel Rolland are not let off the hook. Parker for example is a ‘lover of what is easy’, Rolland makes wines which are ‘denuded of all original identity’.

Both are placed in the context of being in the right place at the right time, rather than in terms of ‘taste dictators’. Parker’s wine prose style is scathingly described as ‘childish, grotesquely ornate and treacherously unclear’.

And it is the hype around the legendary 1976 Judgment of Paris that is cast as the central villain of the piece. This, Nossiter says, opened a Pandora’s box, ‘conferring a totally misleading legitimacy to the notion of objectivity, mathematic and empiric, in the matter of wine’ and opening the floodgates to less complex, easy-drinking American styles.

Nossiter suggests the notion of terroir might even be extended to the moment when – as well as where and how – wine is drunk. In this context Michael Broadbent is cited as a ‘wise English critic’ who details the precise circumstances of each of his tastings.

The author also attempts, with varying degrees of success, to find a new way to describe wine. We should talk about energy or the lack of it, vitality, acidity and light, rather than liquorice, lime, phenolic acids and vegetative cycles.

Le Gout et le Pouvoir is energetic and passionate. For all its its overlong arguments and occasionally sententious prose, it poses important questions. It requires us to take a less lazy, more rigorous approach to the enjoyment of good wine and food. And it demands that we are less tolerant of mediocrity.

The book has already sold 10,000 copies, and next week it will appear on the bestseller list of one of France’s main national papers, the Express.

Le Gout et le Pouvoir 410pp, is published by Grasset in French. It is due for translation into English and publication in America late next year.

Written by Sophie Kevany in Bordeaux

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