Down with bronchitis last month, I languished on the sofa, catching up on some reading I never seemed to have time for before. From the top of the pile I picked up “A Carafe of Red” by Gerald Asher (University of California Press, Berkeley, 2012, $21.95 paperback). It’s a collection of pieces Asher wrote mostly in the early '90s for Gourmet magazine, back in the day when magazines had the space and the will to publish long-form writing on wine.
I like that he hasn’t rewritten the pieces. They read as they were published, with an update at the end. I opened and read at random and was at Asher’s side when, as a young man in the British wine trade, he arrives — after midnight — in Jerez de la Frontera. “To my northern amazement, groups of men were still drinking and talking at tables in front of the bars and cafés of Calle Larga as if they intended to remain all night, while streams of people, young and old, crowded the narrow sidewalk.” The next morning he reported to a sherry house where he became fascinated with the intricacies of making sherry. No one else has explained flor better. He manages to fit in a bullfighting bit too, and how and when to drink a fino or an oloroso. Good stuff.
In other chapters he relishes visits to Côte Rôtie and Condrieu, recounts the revival of Priorato, instructs us in grape clones, and celebrates California’s own Zinfandel.
A wonderful prose stylist, Asher found in wine that “the more I read, the more I traveled, and the more questions I asked, the further I was pulled into the realms of history and economics, politics, literature, food, community, and all else that affects the way we live. Wine, I found, draws on everything and leads everywhere.” Amen.
Forget scores. His wide-ranging, astute appreciation is where it’s at.
“A Carafe of Red” offers a window into what this wine writer — and yes, connoisseur, in the best sense — holds dear. And I do envy him his adventures on the wine roads.
-- S. Irene Virbila
Cover of “A Carafe of Red”; courtesy of University of California Press.