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Book Review: The Dirty Guide to Wine

By April 3, 2018 One Comment

Dirt—or more accurately, bedrock, as Alice Feiring points out—is essential to everything you eat and drink, but when is the last time you really thought about it? Weighing organic versus nonorganic crop shares doesn’t count because I’m betting you considered pesticides and irrigation, not the bedrock type your radishes love. Which is probably fine for radishes, but for wine? It’s time to consider the loose earth you’ve been walking on.

Or at least that is what Alice Feiring champions in her book, The Dirty Guide to Wine. Feiring’s book positions itself as a guide to wine organized by bedrock type but the larger message here is a little more complex. By exploring and explaining wines by the earth they grow in, she methodically challenges traditional beliefs on terroir and convinces the reader of the virtues of natural, low-to- no intervention wine. You pick up this book with an interest in terroir, and end it with a craving for a big glass of unfiltered, unrefined fermented grape juice from MotherNature.

How does Feiring manage to achieve this over a fairly short 239 pages? First, she calls in Pascaline Lepeltier who contributes her invaluable palate and seemingly bottomless bank of wine knowledge. As the back cover mentions, Pascaline is a Master Sommelier from France with a penchant for Chenin Blanc. She is also highly respected and highly regarded by wine enthusiasts of all types, including, yes, the traditional snobs. This gives the book an added dose of credibility even among the natural wine haters who write it off as a “hip” fad.

Second, Feiring is sincere and straightforward. She doesn’t shove her views down your throat,so there’s no need to get defense about your favorite wines. As the subtitle says, this book is about “following flavors from ground to glass.” She provides information about different soils,speaks about her experiences tasting wines from various types, and acknowledges that there’s no scientific proof to cleanly tie bedrock to flavors in finished wine. Yes, evidence would be great, but she still manages to accomplish her goal: tracing wine characteristics back to bedrock types. She gives the reader what she knows to be true both from research and personal experience. From there, you can draw your own conclusion.

Even if you disagree with her (which I doubt you will after reading), you will still walk away from this book with a new perspective on wine and geology. If you’re like me, knowing the different bedrock types across major wine regions is interesting in and of itself—wine aside! The Earth is a pretty cool thing when you get down and dirty with it (pun intended). To produce wine grapes on top of everything else it gives us? Even natural wine haters can be thankful for that.