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Champagne, Uncorked By Alan Tardi

August 15, 2016
Champagne Uncorked by Alan Tardi

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When I started taking wine classes, I was instantly enchanted with Champagne. The unique terroir, the traditions of the region, the exacting process of making the bubbles so perfectly, it all drew me in. Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of trying several Champagnes, but never Krug, the subject of this book by wine and food writer Alan Tardi. After reading Champagne, Uncorked: The House of Krug and the Timeless Allure of the World’s Most Celebrated Drink, I feel like I need to rectify this very soon.

Champagne Uncorked by Alan TardiTardi immersed himself in the world of Krug over the course of a year – an entire vintage production cycle. Along with this hands-on experience of every aspect of producing Krug Champagne, he interspersed the history of this famous Champagne house. It’s a little like the recent documentary, A Year in Champagne, with a lot more history and a stronger sense of the personality of the author.

I felt throughout the book as though I’d like to have a glass of Champagne with Tardi one day. He doesn’t come off as stuffy and affected, but as genuinely passionate about his subject and not afraid to admit that, even after years of wine writing, he’s still a little unsure in some wine-related situations – like when he was suddenly asked to add his opinion during a rapid-fire tasting to help choose the blend. I’m sure I would have been immobilized in that moment (especially given my pokey nature as a taster) and it was comforting to know that Tardi was a bit thrown, though he recovers quickly.

I quite enjoyed this book, taking away a wealth of new knowledge about Champagne, the House of Krug and the changing world of Champagne production (in particular as ownership of many big houses shifts away from families to large corporations). I would highly recommended this one for wine-lovers and bubble obsessives alike. I liked it so much that I’ve already added Tardi’s other book, Romancing the Vine: Life, Love, and Transformation in the Vineyards of Barolo, to my reading list.

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Have you read Champagne Uncorked? Do you plan to? Share your thoughts below or on social

*While I received a review copy of this book, all opinions are my own.

Book Reviews

Nose: A Novel

June 20, 2016
A review of Nose, a novel by James Conaway

I recently finished another novel set in the wine world, as I play catch-up on my backlog of wine reading. Nose is a novel by wine critic James Conaway that has been sitting on my shelf for about a year. It tells the story of a mystery wine that blows away a pompous, old school wine critic and leads him on a quest to find out who made this incredible wine.

The story starts out with wine critic Clyde Craven-Jones, but CJ is far from the only character whose perspective is shared—there’s Les, a young journalist turned wine obsessive and makeshift PI, Claire, CJ’s long-suffering wife, Sara, a medical technician and the daughter of a California wine scion struggling under debt, Cotton, an environmentally conscious winemaker devastated by the loss of his great love and seething over the role of Sara’s father in that tragedy and Sam, the owner of Glass Works, the wine bar where everything comes together at some point or another.

All these characters (and a few others of less import) weave in and out of the narrative, as we piece together the complex story of this wine and the people in its orbit. There’s also Nose, the gossipy wine blog that bedevils CJ (an old school wine critic annoyed by a blogger – that would never happen, right?), as his own publication struggles.

There’s a lot going on in this book. I might argue that there’s actually way too much going on, since I often found myself losing the plot threads. But I would say the biggest flaw with this book is that you stay with the characters for such a short time that you don’t really understand (or even like) them. Les seems like the central character, and is something of an anti-hero, but I found myself mostly confused and annoyed by his behaviour. C.J. flits back and forth between pompous fop and misunderstood genius and Claire, who is the most likable character in the beginning, drifts off in a very weird direction by the end.

The mystery of the wine isn’t terribly mysterious (it’s fairly obvious where this part of the plot is going from early on), but there were a few surprising twists and turns along the way. Conaway clearly knows and understands the California wine industry and I suspect some of the characters are based on the people he’s met along the way. Unlike real life, though, sometimes it’s better to try and tell the story from fewer perspectives to have the most impact.

I have a few more Conaway books on my list for 2016 and I’m excited to see how I feel about his non-fiction. Novels are a personal thing, so I’d be interested in hearing from others who have read Nose and their thoughts on the book! Share your reviews of Nose in the comments or on social.

Book Reviews

Gin Glorious Gin

May 30, 2016
Gin Glorious Gin book

It’s hard not to be horrified by some of the history chronicled in Gin Glorious Gin—the story of gin in London through the ages—children drinking pints of straight gin, drunken revelers so sauced they have to crash in the helpful piles of straw bars provided in the 1700s, or gin cut with such lovely items as turpentine. But this book is far from dour, author Olivia Williams has written a rousing history that starts off with the first references to gin in London and moves through to modern times.

Gin Glorious Gin bookI found myself reading passages out loud to Shawn on a recent drive to Niagara—completely entranced by the little old ladies who, drunk on gin, were a constant source of frustration to London police in the 1800s. It seems that the spirit made their behaviour less than exemplary, but somewhat amusing when viewed through a modern lens.

There’s a cautionary tale here to be sure. While Britain managed to make it through history without prohibition, they learned the hard way that unlimited access to alcohol—gin for the most part—was a recipe for disaster. The drunken madness that reigned in the 1700s until almost the First World War left a dark legacy. But, like most of the developed world, England started to regulate and manage alcohol consumption and it levelled off to where it is today. People discovered vodka and wine, leaving gin to flounder in the post-1960s.

For me, that was where the magic of this book started to wane a bit. The history of gin in London was just so vibrant and horrifying in pre-WWI that the post-war calm and cocktail craze seems practically quaint. The history of producers is interesting, though, and the notes about famous gin drinkers like author Kingsley Amis made for great additions. It was also neat to learn about the cocktails created for Royal weddings and that time the Queen’s butler had to break the rules to bring her preferred gin to an event.

I also enjoyed the final chapter, where Williams sets out distilling methods, explains the botanicals most commonly used in production and outlines where to drink the best gin cocktails in London. There’s some great info in this section that I was able to reference in my recent Introduction to Spirits course.

For those who are interested in the history of spirits, this book will make a fabulous addition to your library. While focusing solely on London was a bold choice, it turns out there’s more than enough from the city to make for a substantial read. Just be prepared to cringe and recoil in horror while reading about the excess and awfulness of alcohol consumption in the London’s early years.

And if you’re craving a gin cocktail now, I can recommend a few from Dillon’s Distillery in Niagara, Ontario. Shawn and I are big fans of the strawberry gin and are looking forward to cracking our bottle soon. Strawberry gin is best drunk on its own to fully appreciate the delicate flavours, but Dillon’s Unfiltered Gin 22 is a great base for cocktails, like the Blue Spruce or The Gin 22.

Do you have a favourite gin? Share it in the comments below or on social!

Book Reviews

The 24-Hour Wine Expert by Jancis Robinson

May 9, 2016
The 24-Hour Wine Expert by Jancis Robinson is a great guide for those learning about wine.

Can you become a wine expert in just one day? Well, if anyone could help you do that, it would be Jancis Robinson, arguably the greatest wine writer of our time. Her numerous books on wine have helped many a wine student (yours truly included) get through wine classes and learn the nuances of real wine appreciation.

Given that, I was excited to read Robinson’s latest, “The 24-Hour Wine Expert,” her take on the “get up-to-speed-quick” genre that’s all the rage in wine books these days. But here’s the thing, you can’t become a wine expert in one day. That said, a solid 24 hours straight of study and tasting, including reading this book cover-to-cover and taking on all of the suggested tasting exercises, that would get you up to passable wine lover status. It’s a feat achievable primarily because this book is full of really good information that will take you beyond introductory knowledge.

I’ve read a few intro to wine books in my time, including Robinson’s excellent “How to Taste” and this new book is actually a pretty good companion piece to that great primer for wine newbies. “The 24-Hour Wine Expert” has lots of basic info, yes, but it’s got a lot of unique things too—Robinson’s favourite Champagne growers, wine region cheat sheets that go far beyond the basics, a list of adventurous wines to try—this is an intro book that a wine nerd like me loved even though I’ve moved beyond the basics.

Compared to Robinson’s textbooks (which I confess I use for décor as well as reference), this is a wee little book that will fit into purse or pocket. A pretty good selling point if you want to take it to class with you for reference. But the substance is what charmed me here—I felt like I was taking a class with Robinson and even when she was telling me what glassware to use (a staple in any wine book), it felt genuine and fresh.

A very worthwhile (and quick) wine read.

*While I received a review copy of this book, the opinions are very much my own.