McInerney wine writings prove a real education

The Juice — Vinous Veritas

Jay McInerney

Bloomsbury; €19.80

Review: Blake Creedon

In a three-star restaurant in Greenwich Village, property mogul Rob Rosania (aka Big Boy) is brandishing a sword and a $10,000 bottle of champagne. With a few swipes of the sabre he decapitates the bottle, sharing glasses all round. The event he’s just interrupted is an auction of his $7m wine collection. A cheer goes up, but the auctioneer bangs his gavel and brings proceedings to order, growling, “shut the fuck up and let’s finish this.”

Novelist and wine writer Jay McInerney observes the roomful of bidders sporting ponytails and shades, rock-star cool. “And none of them remind me of Fraiser Crane”.

The antics McInerney describes in this chapter (‘His Magnum is Bigger Than Yours’) are certainly not typical of the book, a collection of his newspaper and magazine articles, and in particular his Wall Street Journal column filing reports from wineries around the world. He’s both a solid journalist, letting the facts speak for themselves, and a reliable commentator, pointing out, for instance, that the aforementioned auction took place in the month after investment bank Bear Stearns collapsed; in a single line underlining the impunity of the 1% by noting that Krug launched a $3,500-per-bottle fancy-dan fizz in Manhattan a year after Lehmann Bros tanked. Boo-ya. High five.

The book’s terms of reference are, as you’d expect, American, and even though wine enthusiasts will enjoy the journey, many of the specifics are foreign to us. Even names that are known here — for instance Ravenswood, rightly praised for spearheading excellent approachably-priced but red Zinfandels — aren’t quite household names this side of the Atlantic.

Your view depends on where you are standing. The focus on wines priced at $20 or €20 — effectively normalising inflated prices — may cause some readers to suffer an episode of one of the signature uneases of our era — a sense of guilt for not spending enough. But hang on. It’s our responsibility, not the author’s, to ensure we don’t succumb to the crazed Stockholm syndrome that is modern consumerisem. So read on.

Effortlessly shifting gear from pen-picture to anecdote, McInernry shines and, whisper it, provides an education. For instance, gently and engagingly chivvying us to see beyond our prejudice against German wine labels to behold the beauty inside. I’ll raise a glass to that.

One entertaining motif is McInerney’s delightfully apt Hollywood metaphors: wine styles as famous actors. McInerney’s are pitch perfect. Puligny-Montrachet as Grace Kelly, or Napa Valley cabernets: “big ripe, voluptuous... easy to love, the vinous equivalent of Seinfeld-era Teri Hatcher.”

Wine isn’t primarily about details, the declension of vintages. It’s about the buzz, the chat, and the warmth of good company. Jay? Unlike Charles Foster Kane, McInerney discloses the identity of his ‘Rosebud’. His most fondly remembered wine experience — as a young man on a first date enjoying a summertime supper accompanied by cheap and cheerful Mateus Rosé.

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