The Accidental Connoisseur (Book Review)

by Liz Caskey on August 10, 2006

9780865477124I just finished one of the most insightful and intelligent books about the wine world I have had the pleasure of reading in some time: The Accidental Connoisseur. Part of its lure is its engaging text written by Lawrence Osborne, a terrific writer who is anything but a wine expert. However, being astutely open-minded he asks the right questions, wanting to learn about what makes a great wine and weaving these interviews and experiences into an erudite tale. Stemming from his claim that, “I don’t trust my own taste”, he dives into 11 Quixotic wine adventures traveling the Northern Hemisphere from California to Europe (France and Italy) to find out what is truly behind this mystery of great wines (from Chateau Lafitte to Mondavi to those oddball Super-Tuscans): the people who make these wines and their passion, the places where they come from, and the economics of the industry that drives (and thrives) on it.

At times, it seems more like an intellectual journey of trying to capture what should make a great wine (its aesthetics), which inevitably is trying to contemplate that age-old wine lover’s question: Is wine more than merely a drink of fermented grape juice? (My response: it is and it isn’t). Parts of the book reminded me of Jonathan Nossiter’s film, Mondovino, depicting the dichotomies that coexist today in wine like: small vineyard owners v. powerful international wine lords like Mondavi; California v. France (and Italy now) and their influences; the concept of terroir and their vehement defenders like U.S. importer Neal Rosenthal (almost an evangelist of terroir in small appellations in Europe like the northern Rhone, Barolo, and Carema) v. globalized wines with no “soul” that have fallen to capitalism’s obsession with brands and product synergies. It is an easy but inquisitive read that at times hit home and for me, as someone who works in the industry on both the tourism and tasting side, asks those probing questions of truly trying to understand what good wine is and the world surrounding it. A personal word of advice—keep it lighthearted and pour yourself a glass of your favorite “juice”; and settle in for a fantastic book–but never loose sight of the fact in all this wine discourse that it is ultimately just a drink. Enjoy it.


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