Monday, May 03, 2004

A Matter of a Lack of Taste?
Having now finished The Accidental Connoisseur : An Irreverent Journey Through the Wine World by Lawrence Osborne I’m afraid my original dislike has not softened. There are so many faults with this book that it would take too long to cover them all, so I’ll limit myself to a few highlights. One of a number of factual errors has been noted in the post for April 15, 2004. Another major concern is trying to figure out the purpose of the book. For the author “Wine is a dangerous game”. He does “not trust my own taste”, and so “To discover my own tastes in wine, I would have to discard both books and science, and go into the world of wine and drink.” But by the end of the book the author is simply learnt that he is more aware of his ignorance of wine. What is disturbing throughout the book is that the author seems to take little joy in his wine journey, his Irreverent Journey. He shows little appreciation for the established figures of wine in both Europe and California, their egos, their wines, or the high prices their wines command. But such controversy is not new to the wine world. Osborne does seem to have more affinity for the wine mavericks, those that criticize the egos and the high prices, but still he remains reluctant to let his taste buds commune with them while drinking their wines. By the end of his journey he seems bored with his search, and the last few chapters might have been better in a travel guide of Italy.

The greatest concern is that Osborne’s wine world is a small world, indeed. It primarily consists of a few interviews with winemakers here and there in the US, France, and Italy. What happened to Spain, Portugal, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, or Chile? Where are the interactions with those who actually drink wine? What about discoursing with wine connoisseurs, professional and amateur alike? For yes, Osborne also seeks to be a connoisseur! Osborne’s wine world is so limited, its no wonder his search was unfulfilled.

There may be another reason why Osborne fails to learn taste during his wine journey. Simply put, he seems to have very little taste. The clue to this comes from his own statement (p133) “I cover my food with mountains of salt; I like my chocolate as black and bitter as pitch.” My original concern with this book is Osborne’s ignorance of the biology of taste, and this is his undoing. By any definition his taste buds are so poor that he may well qualify as a “non-taster”. One is thus left to ask the question, what am I going to learn from the journey of a non-taster as he seeks, unsuccessfully, to acquire taste?