I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Dan Dunn’s latest book, American Wino: A Tale of Reds, Whites and One Man’s Blues. His first foray into the world of wine sounded promising, but could Dunn, whose focus has always been on spirits, deliver a well-rounded wine book about driving from coast to coast to learn everything there is to know about American wine? Could he go from wine novice to know-it-all over the span of this book? Well, not quite, but that’s also what makes this book all sorts of awesome.
While still reeling from the death of his brother and the break-up of his relationship, Dunn packs up his car and starts his odyssey across America. It’s one of those books that follows someone on a personal journey after a huge life event (think Eat, Pray, Love without as much eating or praying and a lot more wine). The first chapter, which has Dunn chatting extensively with his deceased brother, had me thinking this book could go either way.
Thankfully, Dunn is funny as hell. So funny, that I was laughing out loud as I read this during a recent trip to the cottage, stopping to read passages out loud to Shawn as he drove. I can’t say I always enjoyed Dunn’s humour (he slides into frat boy territory a time of two), but this is a book that could be super depressing given the premise, and it’s not.
And props to Dunn for trying wine all across the U.S. – stopping in states that are clearly not well-suited to wine and giving it a go. He doesn’t like all of the wine he tries, but he does walk away with a huge respect for the maverick winemakers who are trying to make wine in areas that offer less than stellar conditions. And he finds great wines in places you’d expect (California, Oregon, New York) and others less expected (Arizona, Texas).
The stories of these winery visits were what most interested me, but I couldn’t help enjoying his sidebars too—a rant about hipster sommeliers, wine definitions that are not quite accurate, wine pairings for REM albums—there’s some pretty funny stuff here. American Wino is a sad story wrapped up in a very funny road trip tale that has you laughing all the way up to the heartbreaking moments. And it’s those moments that give this book, well, heart. The book would probably have been just as funny without the introspection and revelations about Dunn’s personal journey, but I don’t think it would have been half as good a read.
By the end of the book, I admit to being a tad worried about how much Dunn drinks (in particular given the family history he shares), but maybe that’s taking things a bit too seriously. This isn’t really a book that’s meant to teach someone about wine (although there are some very interesting factoids about lesser known American wine regions), but it’s definitely one I think wine-lovers will enjoy. This funny, heartbreaking wine-soaked road trip is definitely worth riding shotgun on.
I received an advance review copy of this book. Opinions are my own.