Book review: A love letter to a rustic wine culture
As children we learn to read starting with ABCs, yet most wine lovers inadvertently skip over the beginning history of the drink they love. France and Italy are often spoken of as the grand old centers of great winemaking, but that's four or five thousand years off the mark.
In "For the Love of Wine," New York City writer and natural wine advocate Alice Feiring takes readers on her passionate journey to explore the republic of Georgia in the Caucasus Mountains, the region where many experts believe winemaking originated roughly 8,000 years ago, long before Western Europe.
"For the Love of Wine" is a love letter to a still rustic culture, and to unique grapes and styles of winemaking. Forget cabernet and merlot: Feiring samples kisi, mtsvane, rkatsiteli and other grapes that few Westerners know, all aged in huge clay qvevri, containers similar to Greek amphora.
Wedged between Russia, Turkey and Armenia, and at the western end of the old Silk Road, Georgians have persevered through waves of invaders, from the Greeks and Romans to Mongols, Persians and most recently, the Soviets. The one constant they held tight: winemaking.
Feiring captures the raw, fresh beauty of the Georgian countryside and the passions of winemakers who fight to keep local traditions alive in the face of pernicious pressure from a global beverage industry that too often measures worth in gallons and price point, not taste.
When a Frenchmen asks a Georgian winemaker what fertilizer he uses, the man is briefly puzzled because he farms naturally, without chemicals or additives. The Georgian then replies, "Every inch of my soil is soaked with the blood of my ancestors. What do you use?"
Feiring has a reporter's eye and an ear for people, their dreams and their quirks, along with a poetic gift for language, and that makes "For the Love of Wine" a memorable, beautiful book.
Like Kermit Lynch's "Adventures on the Wine Route," Feiring shows readers that making great wine isn't really about chateaus, the rich and other typical marketing props. Winemaking comes down to men and women who pay obsessive, loving attention to their soil and grapes, and to the magic of fermentation.
It sometimes seems as if every wine writer goes to Burgundy, Bordeaux, the Loire or Tuscany. Thankfully, Feiring takes us somewhere new, yet back to the ABCs of winemaking that we should have learned in the first place. The book also includes many tempting Georgian recipes, such as rose petal jam and beets with cherry sauce.
Just like Georgia itself, "For the Love of Wine" is full of wonderful, plentiful food and drink. The result is a classic, captivating book that casual drinkers, serious wine geeks and cooks can all enjoy and learn from.