Many of the wine books I’ve read have been either dense and technical or overly poetic. The former tend to detail soil specifics, ideal elevation, preferred drainage, and other minutiae that might be of interest to a geology or agriculture student (or a wine geek). The other type of wine book is more accessible, but is often loaded with pretty pictures instead of telling an engaging story with a human interest component.
Don’t get me wrong – if you want to learn about wine, both will round out your knowledge base. The beauty of a book like Neal Rosenthal’s Reflections of a Wine Merchant (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) is that it provides information, but wraps it in an engaging story of the author’s love of French and Italian wine.
Rosenthal, a long-time importer based in New York, first came to my attention via the 2004 wine documentary Mondovino; he was one of many that mused about the potential for the globalization of wine to have devastating effects on the mom-and-pop winemaker, especially in Old World (read: European) countries.
While that film was uneven at best, Rosenthal’s prose in written form is consistently engaging; his heartfelt admiration of the French and Italian producers with which he has worked over the last three decades doesn’t talk up or down to the reader. Like his bias for French and Italian wine, his writing style is straightforward, and when he does occasionally wax poetic about a winemaker or a wine, it comes across as sincere.
I shouldn’t care about this American importer. After all, his wines don’t typically get to our shelves, and if they did, they would be pricey. Rosenthal’s palate is quite conservative (and acknowledged by the author), his preference for small-lot French and Italian wines made by family-run organizations. He hints his client base is small and knowledgeable - to call them affluent certainly wouldn’t be a stretch. After all, who else can afford to indulge on rare, expensive wine?
So... why do I care? More importantly, why should you care? Well, Rosenthal’s honesty and passion for wine come shining through; it’s also written well enough that you don’t have to enjoy the same wines as Rosenthal (or even enjoy wine at all) to appreciate his enthusiasm and passion for his wine and the dear friends has has made over the last three decades.