March marks the 8th month of the virtual Wine Book Club, and the third time I’ve participated. I’ve come to appreciate these monthly tasting/book clubs more and more because they provide me a due date to complete a post which then forces me to stop, collect my thoughts about the wine/book and actually learn something by writing about it. Thanks to Len, Deb and the others who have created these monthly events.
The subject of this month’s WBC is ‘Adventures on the Wine Route: A Wine Buyers Tour of France’ written by wine importer, wine shop owner, wine maker and Wine Renaissance Man, Kermit Lynch. I’m a big fan of Lynch and the quality ‘natural’ wines he imports and have had this book on my Amazon list for a while. Finding his imports here in Southern Virginia is nearly impossible, so I try to buy several bottles of my favorites when I’m in San Francisco each quarter.
Since I am a relatively new wine enthusiast (just a few years), I am one of those naïve people who believe the lives of importers like Kermit Lynch is filled with world travel, fine dining at Michelin 3 Star restaurants, roaming around Bordeaux and Burgundy tasting at all of the prominent chateaux and domains and just living la dolce vita. Lynch dispelled that ‘glamorous life of a wine importer’ myth beginning on page 4 and continuing throughout the book with stories of early morning tastings in frigid cellars and less than palatable food experiences. (I still do feel he does have quite a cool life).
Overall, I found the book fascinating and appreciated his insights in to the life of passionate wine enthusiast, who also happened to be wine importer, and his adventures and experiences with the various ‘characters’ he met along the ‘wine routes’ of France. One can sense his youthful excitement and passion through his writing.
I found each of the chapters informative, educational and entertaining. More than his adventures through France, what really surprised me was his distaste of blind tastings.
“… I decided to stop taking part in blind tastings. They seemed such tomfoolery. Blind, yes, that does sum up the vision involved in this popular method of judging quality. The method is misguided, the results spurious and misleading… There is a vast difference, an insurmountable difference, between the taste of a wine next to another wine, and the same wine’s taste with food.”
Admittedly, I have participated in many ‘blind’ tastings without food and have ranked wines based on my initial impression (i.e. – which one made the biggest impression in terms of bold fruit and tannin). Although I did willingly participate in these tastings, I was never sure the why the tastings were conducted blind and without some type of food since most of us drink wine with food (right?). I have also never fully understood why some wine critics base their scores on ‘blind’ tastings with no food which tends to favor big, bold wines over those with less immediate fruit, but with more finesse and elegance (for the most part).
In addition to being an enthusiastic seeker of ‘real’ wine (natural, unfiltered, true to the place), he was also ahead of his time in terms of caring for wine during the shipping process. He appears to be one of the first importers to use refrigerated shipping to transport the wine he imported. I really respect the fact that he cared enough about delivering great wine to his customers to take such steps to ensure that the wine his customers received was the same quality of the wine he tasted in the cellars of France.
The only thing missing from ‘Adventures on the Wine Route’ is an updated and revised edition with more recent information including a ‘where are they now’ section. I wonder how many of the chateaus and domains he wrote about have since been turned over to the next generation. It would be nice to know how many of them have continued the traditions that earned them a place in Lynch’s shop. How many of the vineyards have been plowed over in the name of progress and development. On second thought, perhaps it’s best not to know… and instead hold the pictures of Loire, Burgundy and Provence that he painted.
The book also served as a catalyst for dinner at our house last night… This week is my first ‘full week’ at home this year with no travel, which means I try to take on dinner responsibility for a few nights and give my wife a short respite. As I’m finishing the book yesterday, I started thinking about what to have for dinner… and literally as I’m having that thought I read the following poem in the final chapter,
“Chablis is so good with oysters
That I’m tempted to leave these cloisters
And find true love whe’ere I’m apt to.”
Perfect timing… finished the last few pages, went to Fresh Market to get a couple dozen oysters and then to the wine shop for a bottle of Chablis.
A great ending to an interesting book (and to celebrate a full week at home!) I’ve added Kermit to my ‘cool dudes I would like to meet and have a glass of wine with’ list.