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Saturday, September 1, 2012

Book Round-Up: Wine Edition

The Billionaire's Vinegar by Benjamin Wallace: I don't read much non-fiction, but a book about a discrete area I find interesting, that involves intrigue, science, and mystery? Totally up my alley. So I enjoyed this book (a gift to Mr. Beadgirl a few years ago) quite a bit. Wallace spent years researching the world of rare wines, and this book focuses in particular the bottles of Bordeaux that allegedly belonged to Thomas Jefferson, which sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars each and were almost definitely frauds. The narrative spans about two decades, from 1985, when the bottles first surfaced, to the mid-2000s and the start of legal action against Hardy Rodenstock, who "found" them. Wallace jumps around the timeline quite a bit, for storytelling purposes, which sometimes makes it confusing to understand exactly what happened when. He has the suspicion build up over the course of the book, but if you go by the dates, people were suspicious from the very beginning. And for good reason -- Rodenstock has refused for over 25 years to say where the bottles were found or who he bought them from, which to me is just about the biggest red flag you could have. With no statement of provenance, I have to wonder how anyone could be dumb enough to fork over $156,000 for a bottle. But then, Mr. Beadgirl says the world of old and rare wine-collecting is sketchy in general. Certainly this book shows there is a lot of willful ignorance out there, let alone outright fraud.

Drops of God, v. 1 by Tadashi Agi and Shu Okimoto: This manga tells the story Shizuku Kanzaki, the prodigal son of a famous wine critic, who must prove his worth to inherit his father's wine collection.  It's melodramatic (emotions run high, and Shizuku must defeat an upstart, arrogant, and clearly eeevil young wine critic who wormed his way into Kanzaki Sr.'s affections) and mildly sexist (good, demure girls who wake to men in their beds are all shocked and embarrassed, whereas bad, confident girls in such a situation smoke cigarettes), and Okimoto's art is alternately beautiful and cutesy (and sometimes adorable).  But what makes this series so remarkable is the way Agi weaves into the story a thorough education in wine, and how he* compares the fragrance and taste of wine to art, nature, music, memories, life itself.

*Really, "they"; apparently Agi is a pseudonym for a brother and sister.

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