When Simon and Schuster’s publicist asked if I’d review George Taber’s latest book, I didn’t hesitate. I’d enjoyed his previous books “To Cork or Not to Cork” and “The Judgment of Paris” and a new book from the retired journalist, wine collector and author was likely to provide hours of enjoyment.
But his new book arrived at a bad time. I was in the middle of a wine club shipment and all my spare reading time was already divided between two biographies – one on Robert Parker and an out-of-print book on James Beard. These were forced to the back of my night stand with only a minor amount of fisticuffs and complaints, the books embodying the self-promoting characteristics of their respective subjects. And then I dove into “In Search of Bacchus“, and it was like taking a mental vacation to 12 of the best wine regions in the world.
This book is partly a travelogue written during his visits to a dozen of the world’s premium wine-growing regions. The reader is introduced to each new region with a relatively brief (~25 pages) overview of regional winemaking history and the three or four wineries most critical to its current level of success. Each region could easily justify a book unto itself, perhaps even several several volumes, but “In Search of Bacchus” is a useful introduction to each growing region. A temptation to travel.
These introductory sections are written in Taber’s identifiable style – high-toned, well-researched and erudite – reflecting his chops honed during his years as a journalist (and a well-schooled wine enthusiast). I found each of these sections quite useful, packed with useful bits of insight and information. As you complete each chapter, you’ll swear you’ve found the location for your next wine pilgrimage (honey we’ve got to go to this one, no wait, THIS one! no, no…)
Following each detailed section is a brief story about Taber’s experience at one of the wineries mentioned. While the entire book is written in the first person, this is where the reader feels as if he/she is actually looking over Taber’s shoulder. It is less fact-driven, more intimate, and only slightly frustrating in that many of the experiences Taber relates are not available to the average wine tourist without his insider connections.
I’m a fan of Taber’s work. But I do find his style a bit dry. Never does he squeal with delight, moan in the pain of a hangover, or admit to a lusty thought or other human foible. With his apparent writing skills, I’m sure Taber could craft an ode to make a lover swoon. But he doesn’t reveal that side of himself here, and while I appreciate his dispassionate professionalism, I’d also welcome a glimpse behind the Taber curtain from time to time. Otherwise, he might as well be writing about economics instead of the greatest, most sensual beverage on earth. I mean, the Romans also called Bacchus “The Liberator”, a God who could free one from one’s normal self through madness, ecstasy or wine!
In person, Taber strikes me as someone you’d enjoy sitting next to at a long dinner – interesting, unassuming, and friendly. See for yourself:
Wine & Tourism – Finding the Right Balance
One of the issues surrounding wine tourism is the issue of access. Taber doesn’t shy away from the fact that some wineries actively discourage tourists (well, mostly in Bordeaux, not surprisingly) while others put wine on the back burner with massive, tightly-packed tasting rooms, huge (and barely-trained) pouring staffs, and more souvenirs and paraphernalia than wine. Such differences exist between individual wineries more than between wine regions, with both extremes even found in tourist-hungry Napa. This book quietly raises the issue, and the wise wine pilgrim can then rely on the internet to develop an itinerary that suits their particular style.
Buying “In Search of Bacchus”
Despite these nits, with its release date so close to the holidays it seems obvious that “In Search of Bacchus” will be one of the biggest wine books of this holiday season, and I can’t think of another new wine book I’d rather read. Those interested in buying a copy for their favorite wine-lover can simply click here (also available as an eBook, though in Epub format only. I make no commission on sales of this book).
And now that I’ve completed the book and am nearing completion of this review, my books on Parker and Beard are over on my nightstand, fighting to see which gets read tonight. It appears to be a pretty good fight.