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In 1999 US House & Garden magazine approached New York literary hero Jay McInerney to write a wine column. It was an audacious move; McInerney, whose Bright Lights, Big City was one of the hit novels of the 1980s, had no professional connection with the wine industry, nor any formal training as a tasting critic. But he had a passion for wine and an eagerness to learn more, and his articles proved highly popular among readers.
House & Garden folded in 2007, and some time later McInerney was picked up by The Wall Street Journal, where he continues as its resident wine writer. “Is Jay McInerney the world’s best wine writer?’’ The Guardian asked
recently. After reading McInerney’s latest collection of wine essays, I would have to argue that he is certainly the most entertaining.
The Juice: Vinous Veritas is the third collection of McInerney’s columns. Each piece is about 1000 words and covers a raft of wine-related topics: from wine varieties and labels to vintners he meets, regions he visits, trends and marketplace newcomers. You learn a lot, but you are also inspired to taste the wines he talks about and travel to the areas he describes. If ever there was an affordable wine book to nourish the soul and inspire the palate, this is it.
In McInerney’s loving hands, wines develop personalities, like characters in a novel. “Whenever I think about comparing chablis with Cali chardonnay, I think of Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s,’’ he writes. “Truman Capote wanted Marilyn Monroe to play the part; she could have been great, but it would have been a very different movie. And chardonnay grown in chablis’ Serein River Valley as opposed to the Napa Valley comes out very different indeed. Young chablis is lean and racy, although with age the best chablis takes on a dazzling richness.’’
Re-assessing the worth of pinot grigio, McInerney recalls that “like many of my peers, I turned my back on pinot grigio early in the nineties and remained slightly embarrassed about my early enthusiasm, much as I did about my earlier reverence for the music of the Monkees. PG seemed like the vinous equivalent of the novels of Paulo Coelho.’’
And then there are his descriptions of the wineries and regions he visits – courtesy of various generous editorial budgets – which make you want to book a plane ticket and head for Burgundy’s Côte d’Or/the Napa Valley/the dining room at Cru in Greenwich Village.
McInerney also celebrates the people he meets during his wine journeys. His curiosity and powers of observation bring to life characters such as South African winemaker Anthony Hamilton Russell (“if Hamilton Russell’s wines are restrained and classical in demeanor, the same cannot necessarily be said for the dashing six-foot-four, 49-year-old proprietor’’) or Piedmont’s Giuseppe Rinaldi, who is “lying in the driveway of his Beaux Arts villa in Barolo, poking a wrench into the innards of his Yamaha dirt bike’’ when McInerney first comes across him.
The Juice’s dust jacket describes this collection as “a masterclass in a wide range of grapes and wine styles’’. It is a fitting assessment of a master wine writer at the top of his class.
The Juice: Vinous Veritas
by Jay McInerney
» $32.99 (Bloomsbury)
Welcome To Normal
by Nick Earls
» $29.95 (Random House)
Not usually a big fan of the short-story genre, I was completely drawn into Brisbane writer Nick Earls’ new collection. The connecting theme is the human condition, with each of the eight stories offering readers some very rich characters and delicate but genuinely moving writing. Travelling and international settings give this collection a global perspective and remind us that the ways people respond to one another, the regrets they experience, and the ways they can
react to even the most innocuous action, are universal.
by Douglas Brinkley
» $39.99 (HarperCollins)
It’s our repetitive bleat to book publishers: where are the compelling biographies of the great men and women of the media? At a time when the newspaper paradigm is transforming and traditional journalistic values are underappreciated, we need to be reminded of the virtues of a responsible, articulate, skills-based and public interest-centric media. The stories of the fourth estate’s heroes – the campaigns they fought, the wars they covered, the crooked politicians they exposed – inspire us all. May we introduce, then, this excellent biography of US journalist and broadcaster Walter Cronkite and declare it a must-read.
Frieze Art Fair New York 2012
» $49.95 (Frieze)
This beautifully produced catalogue celebrates the famous London art fair’s recent conquering of the Big Apple and captures current trends in the New York commercial gallery scene, and the US contemporary art movement more generally. More than 170 acclaimed artists are featured, and their work is accompanied by colour images and assessments from respected critics. New York-bound travellers will also find the gallery guide at the back of the catalogue instructive and helpful.
Women From The Ankle Down: The Story Of Shoes And How They Define Us
by Rachelle Bergstein
» $29.99 (HarperCollins)
The modern shoe has come a long way since 14-year-old Italian Salvatore Ferragamo started cobbling in Bonito. “The idea of shoes as an investment, as a social currency, isn’t new,” the author declares. What is new, she argues, is “the incredible variety of socially acceptable shoes available to women today”. Bergstein’s study follows the shoe’s 20th-century evolution into a must-have fashion item, from the arrival of stiletto to the little flats made popular by Audrey Hepburn in the mid-1950s, to Doc Martens’ practical designs and Jimmy Choo’s works of art.