This book balanced in my palms, like a slab of slate flecked with twinkly mica. The weight felt substantial. It smelled like an animal in the forest. Pulling back a page, I'd realized I'd not had a real book experience in ages. I've become careless with books, viewing them as throwaways, like H&M clothing. I've been guilty of sacrilige. I've marked them up, hard covers too, with pencil, pen even, as if knowing the sufferable truth; modern books are defamable.
But my pens and markers are silenced, at least where this book is concerned.
Paul Wasserman, (yes, Becky's son) has started up a little publishing company of reprints for wine books. And, not only is eatdrink.co republishing wine books (and future translations in the works), but they are doing it lavishly. The paper is 80 pound Mohawk Superfine, eggshell finish text, silk-bound, the binding sighs and gives in instead of fighting to stay open.
As far as the words in Stern's book? I was hooked on G.B. Stern's journey. But the tactile experience was so sublime I wouldn't have to care about her 1927 motor trip for four throughout Provence, the Rhone, Bordeaux and Burgundy. Except, I do.
I found the narrative, charming, delightful.It was a mannered and somewhat naughty tea-party. White gloves and romping behind the sofa. Pinkies up and giggles.
The send up was simple. There were two well-off, wine loving couples who went on a motor wine journey. They were midlin' connoisseur, needed to know more but did know their way around the vintage and knew enough to be insulted (are we too infirm?) when told that the young people like to drink wine young and not to wait.
Just like today.
In fact the whole book was a reminder that the wine world and its issues have barely budged in eighty or so years. Such as those modern young folk who just don't understand older wine. Sound familiar? Or the heartbreak of the mercurial quality of wine; when the wine you love won't perform for friends.
I lapped up their hot day in Sauternes. They were on a bit of a wild goose chase for a special meal that a mystery man set up for them. Any traveler will recognize the scene, "how did I get myself into this one?"
I recognized the sinking of the stomach when the choosing wines is in the hands of another. I could feel myself break out into a sweat in sympathy. In one drama the couples (Stern's husband who was driving was mistaken for the chauffeur) confronted one sweet wine after another, when they are bursting for some red first growth that would be transcendent. When they, dismayed,inquired who chose the wines and why, they were informed, "Puisqu'il y a des dames."
It did not need the rolling eyes of hatres which Humphrey and Johnny both turned upon us for Rosemary and myself to explode into fury. We just waited until the chambermaid departed. "Puisqu'il y a des dames.-" the old story, the idiot fallacy that the ladies preferred sweet wine. Why shols we prefer sweet wine? Has not a wiman eyes, organs, dimensions, sensees, affections, passions, even as a man has? And have we not palates, intelligence, taste, subtlety, and a fastidious discrimination--even as a man has? But there is a masculine type who will alwats classify the laties--God bless 'em!--as a form of kittle-cattle who must be humoured and indulged, given compliments, lies and sweetmeats, relegated to the drawing room to gossip or to fuss, to read pretty novel or...
This was a great rant on the curse of being typecast as a certain kind of wine drinker. I even see it alive in 2011.
I loved reading about the Margaux that let them down, the Romané-Conti was too young, and since when does white Northern Rhone's have gunflint? And Loire freaks out there, but have you heard of wines from Beaugency? The wines made an appearance in this famous novel.
As to Athos, faithful to his system of reticence, he contented himself with interrogating D'Artagnan by a look.
"Planchet," said D'Artagnan to his domestic, who just then insinuated his head through the half-open door in order to catch some fragments of the conversation, "go down to my landlord, Monsieur Bonacieux, and ask him to send me half a dozen bottles of Beaugency wine; I prefer that."
"Ah, ah! You have credit with your landlord, then?" asked Porthos.
"Yes," replied D'Artagnan, "from this very day; and mind, if the wine is bad, we will send him to find better."
"We must use, and not abuse," said Aramis, sententiously.
As recently as 1927 this was an appellation, now vanished. The wine growing area, which seems to have been known for reds, was near to Orleans. In the book they were drinking a 1921, "It might have been a very good wine indeed, had it not been so rigidly frozen."
Today Stern's structure employed a typical artifice: I'll learn about wine and take you with me on the journey. In Bouquet, there's little bumbling, but so much discovery and insight into the world of wine as it was and as it always will be. We have here, history and human nature. The Burgundy palate vs. Bordeaux palate, New World vs. Old World remains the same. And so does the thrill of that thing called wine. The weak in the knees feel at the sight of Cote d'Or. It's all there, still.
Gift it to yourself or for others. Just holding this volume can make you want to ditch your iPad. (okay, I don't have one to ditch.) or at least it serves to remind the beholder that books are sacred.
Long may they live.