The SOMM Journal

October / November 2015

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Page 12 of 132

12 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2015 { editor's notebook } Wine owns a rich history, filled with royal figures, ubiquitous fame and countless renais- sances. Capturing its beautiful evolution from 8,000 years ago to present day is renowned British wine writer Oz Clarke in his entertain- ingly written book, History of Wine in 100 Bottles. Compiling the most influential wine bottles in the world, Clarke tells 100 compelling stories with wine at the center. He explores the various vessels that were used to hold and seal the sacred beverage, from amphorae to glass jugs and from cork tops to screwcaps, and presents such milestones as the inauguration of the very first cylindrical wine bottle in the 1780s. Clarke clarifies wine myths from facts, and offers up fascinating information, such as the most expensive bottle to ever be sold at auction, as well as the oldest unopened bottle still standing today. History of Wine in 100 Bottles ($25, Sterling Epicure) is as delicious as it is informative. Contrary to wine's long and glorious epic, gin's historic story is much shorter and a lot less posi - tive. Apart from its medicinal beginnings, gin was oftentimes characterized as an uncouth affront to the senses. Clearing the air for the now stylish spirit is Dave Broom in his marvelous new book, Gin: The Manual. In his guide, Broom explores both renowned and lesser known brands that are helping to shed gin's old-fashioned image and revive it as a bartender's dream as well as a consumer's darling. Broom starts at the beginning. What is gin, and how is it made? He explains the phenomenon behind those mysterious botanicals, and patiently distinguishes between Dutch, London, Scottish, Spanish and American gins. Of course, Broom shows us life beyond the gin and tonic in his comprehensive compilation of major gin cocktails. The martini kicks this section off, leading the way to the Negroni, John (or Tom) Collins and the Gimlet, among others. Gin: The Manual ($20, Mitchell Beazley)is terrific. Capturing the lore behind illustrious cocktails is Duggan McDonnell in his enthralling book, Drinking the Devil's Acre: A Love Letter from San Francisco and her Cocktails. Filled with splendid cocktail tales and superb recipes from a city devoted to drinking, Drinking the Devil's Acre is an extension of the Devil's Acre Bar located in San Francisco's infamous Barbary Coast. McDonnell masterfully weaves essays on prominent spirits with over 60 renowned recipes made famous in the City by the Bay. For example, who knew that the Lemon Drop has roots in San Francisco, or that the Pisco Punch was a favorite of Mark Twain's? Drinking the Devil's Acre illuminates a journey through San Francisco and her long and unyielding status as one of the world's most legendary drinking cities. Drinking the Devil's Acre ($25, Chronicle Books) is McDonnell's love letter to Bay Area imbibing. THE READING ROOM Keeping Secrets AMERICANS ARE OBSESSIVE ABOUT KNOWING everything there is to know about the provenance of the things they consume. Where was it grown? How was it raised? How was it transported? What ingredients are in it? What procedures were used in its preparation? The modern menu wouldn't dare to offer anything as vague as "steak and potatoes." It would instead describe "grass-fed organic Angus porterhouse dry aged for 21 days and grilled at 1400-degrees over hickory charcoal accompanied by GMO-free Yukon Gold potatoes sautéed in organic duck fat." Nothing is left to the imagination. The same intense scrutiny is placed on the wines we drink. Where were the grapes grown? How were they grown? At what sugar level were they harvested? How were they vinified? What is in the blend? What are the varietal percentages? How was the wine finished? Unfortunately most vintners are not as fastidious as they might be, when it comes to letting consumers know what's in their wine. All that is legally required is the vintage (if there is one), the appellation, the varietal (if there is one), and the amount of alcohol (within 1.5%). There is no requirement to reveal the vineyard, the winemaker or—and this is important—the varietal makeup and the percentages in the case of a blend. This is surprising. Knowing full well that consumers want to know as much as they can about what they consume, many vintners stonewall it anyway. They give their proprietary blends a cute name and a cute label (usually featuring a cute critter of some sort) and provide no further information. Is it Zinfandel and Syrah? Bonarda, Tempranillo and Cinsault? Petite Sirah? Why keep it a secret? Are you hiding something? Are we supposed to guess? People want as much information as possible in this information age. It's a marketing mistake not to give it to them. —Anthony Dias Blue

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