ALL-IN ON BOOK REVIEWS: Do you have a (non-fictional or fictional) book related to wine, spirits, or beer that you'd like reviewed? Contact me!

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Book Review: "Drunk: How We Sipped, Danced, and Stumbled Our Way to Civilization" by Edward Slingerland

Just by going back into the articles on this blog, it should be no secret to you that I'm a huge science and history geek. But I'm especially geeky about evolution and the cosmos. I've delved into so much Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking, and Richard Dawkins that it's ridiculous. Clearly, I'm also a wine geek, so when you combine those things together I'M IN!!!

I saw Drunk while browsing Barnes & Noble one day, trying not to lose my six year old and making sure the books my thirteen year old wanted were appropriate. I was like "Cool! A history of our drunk asses! SOLD!" but it was not like what I was expecting. Rather than accounts throughout history on our said drunken asses, this book asks the question:

How has evolution not eliminated our enjoyment of getting drunk? It's clearly harmful to your organs, leaves you with awful hangovers, and is a very common cause of death around the world, so you'd think those who refrained from booze for whatever reason would produce more offspring, and through evolution we'd have some reaction that would stop us from consuming ethanol. 

But this book goes through it all from the very beginning, and it goes deep into who we truly are as a species. How our primate lineage and instincts mixed with our worker-ant mentality and societies butt heads within our heads often, and because of this we need to shut down our prefrontal cortex to open up our creativity and inspirations.

Drinking and dancing together at the ancient ceremony or local pub builds trust and creates friendships. This has made the act of community drinking an important part of the human experience, and lead to the great ideas and progress we have made throughout history.

But the book also goes into a relatively new threat: the rise of ABV in wine (from 5% average to 12% average) and beer (we're seeing it get even bigger now with craft beer), the creation of distilled spirits (allowing you to get sloshed very quickly), and the ability to completely isolate ones self (drinking alone). Is this why evolution hasn't done anything about alcoholism yet? Is this drastic change to the alcohol we consume, the advancement of our technology, and social changes too new? And if we keep going in the direction we are, will evolution react?

At one point he wonders if there should be a different legal age for buying and consuming distilled spirits than wine and beer, and to me that completely makes sense. An earlier age for the lower ABV products of beer and wine would create a greater appreciation and respect for drinking, and there would be less abuse when the brain is developed enough for distilled spirits. For defending this, he uses the drinking cultures of southern Europe vs northern Europe.

Slingerland sticks up for the community pub and believes it's worth a hit to the liver to enjoy yourself, because if you can't enjoy yourself and your friends and be merry, then what do you have? But he takes a step back... well, many steps back and then moves closer and closer to a step back, to really analyze what's going on with us and our love of intoxication. He sees it through the eyes of both Spock and Kirk, and he's great at it.

I recommend this book to all the science, history, and wine geeks out there. It will reel you in and not let go until you're done.

Monday, September 18, 2023

Book Review: Fermentation as Metaphor by Sandor Ellix Katz

Fermentation as Metaphor by Sandor Ellix Katz
"Just as people can project irrational fear of bacteria upon fermentation, people can project any number of irrational fears of contamination by the other upon the race/nation/culture."
Sandor Ellix Katz is obsessed with fermentation. He experiments with it, he writes about it, he takes pictures of it, he teaches about it. In his book "Fermentation as Metaphor" he not only goes into some of the science of fermentation, but sees the act of fermentation in human society and culture.

As he states, and I'm paraphrasing, things don't change effectively by fire. That burns everything down. It takes a slow fermentation, a "bubbling up", to make cultural changes and form social behavior. Actual fermentation breaks down nutrients into more accessible forms. Metaphorical fermentation breaks down the old and creates the new. He connects this to politics, religious beliefs, general ideas, racism, climate change, overuse of sterilization in everyday life, and even the differing ideas of purity. And it's all done in an intricate, detailed way that keeps you reading and doesn't lose you at any point.

This isn't a woo-woo magic/spiritual book, it's based on science, but this might sound just like that to some: One part of this book that I really connected to was the idea of emotional composting. Where you can turn your negative emotions into creating positive ones. Rather than suppressing these terrible things, you embrace and accept them, you cry about them and let them out, and then you use them as motivation to turn it all around. That's what I did to get through something that hit me pretty hard a few years ago, and left me with some pretty effective trauma. I was able to ferment all of that into improving and getting away from it. I now have a term to use for how I got through it all.

With 50 beautiful photographs of fermentation taken using microscopes, this is a beautiful book in both its visuals and its words. It's 108 short pages (many of them photography) and you can finish it easily in one sitting. I highly recommend that you do so.
"Fermentation is a force that cannot be controlled, and the changes it renders are not always desirable."

Thursday, August 10, 2023

Art of Earth Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay

This isn't my first run-in with Art of the Earth by Mack & Schühle. I reviewed their Montepulciano d'Abruzzo while I was cooking up some burgers and they paired deliciously. These wines here, however, are from Mendoza, Argentina. Like the Montepulciano, they are 100% organic. I'm sure you've guessed that's kind of the point of the brand. 

The Chardonnay is 100% unoaked and it's basically a refreshing and citrusy white wine. It could have spent more time aging with the lees to bring out more tropical fruit and Chardonnay character, but honestly I really didn't care. I'm kind of over that analytical stuff when it comes to my own pleasure, and I liked it for what it is. For a $12 unoaked Chard, it gets the job done.

The Cabernet Sauvignon is also unoaked and it's totally solid. This is straight up what you should demand to expect in a Cab at that price range instead of what we're now given. It's got good quality, good structure, current and cherries, and a nice addition of savoriness.

It just looks like these guys are bringing you $12 wines (the hot spot for the average US wine consumer) with some good stuff for the price, while bringing 100% organic in as a bonus. It hits just right: just what you want, right where you want it. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Fly Wines: Welcome to the Vine High Club

Wine clubs can be a whole lot of fun, and I just got this box by Fly Wines, whose goal is to share independent wineries from around the world with its customers. I have two daughters so you're damn right I'm gonna mention this is a woman owned business, aaaaand a black woman owned business. That is friggin' awesome.

So Fly Wines just launched recently and their first offering is four wines (in 187ml bottles) by Fortino Winery out of Santa Clara, California. Which was a good decision because the wines are very nice, and I always love seeing something different that doesn't get into the market of my area often like a Sangiovese from California.

But just by everything that I see, Fly Wines has their stuff together. They have an excellent presentation, with obvious care into their image, and they ESPECIALLY have beautiful and protective packaging. I've seen wine clubs that showed up with awful presentation and packaging, but Fly Wines is top notch in this area. The best I've personally seen yet of its kind.

Getting a delivery from this wine club would be a pleasure. I'm gonna give it a big thumbs up!

Saturday, July 15, 2023

Glasvin Natural Stemware "The Universal" Wine Glass

I got these new wine glasses by Glasvin! It's their "The Universal" model, meant to be flexible with all of your wine consumption needs, and I just think they're awesome. Razor thin, perfect tulip shape for wine versatility, and NO BULB on the lip! They're also tall and elegant, without being too tall and elegant. Just perfect, and they're going to now be the stemware that I reach for first.

It comes in a box with protection for shipment, and a guide to using other stemware shapes for specific wines and adult beverages. I highly recommend these glasses, and you can get them right on Glasvin's website:

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Wairau River Sauvignon Blanc 2021

Yikes, man! I thought I posted this over a year ago but I never hit the schedule or publish button! Now I'm just embarrassed because the stuff for the photoshoot are super cool.

You see that Solostove with Wairau River etched on the side? That thing is amazing! It even comes with a holder for the top to place a pot or pan on it so you can cook with it. Really friggin' cool. And that knife and board is part of the Primus cutting set, for preparing food for outdoors. I've used that thing many times in the past year, and I keep it with all my "just incase, cuz you never know" stuff in my car. Love it!

That 2021 Wairau River Sauvignon Blanc was so good too. Crisp and refreshing, while clearly still a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, but not feeling like you're being punched in the teeth. Oh yes, the expressive grapefruit is still there and it's still intense, but... okay, let's be honest... I'm kinda done with New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. They can be just toooooo muuuuuch now. Just overboard with the grapefruit and tartness! This guy right here is expressive and varietally correct for New Zealand, but it didn't make me twinge once and I enjoyed drinking it! Grapefruit, peach, lime, and a little dash of herbalness. A delicious porch pounder for the summer!

Monday, July 10, 2023

The GrapeBunch presented by Luke's of Cape Cod

Where have I been? Well, first of all, real life hit pretty hard in early 2021 and I had to put things on a pretty extended hold. I'm looking to pick things up a liiiiittle bit with book reviews and such, but as it stands right now there are no plans on bringing the blog back to the constant content producer that it once was.

That doesn't mean that you can't see my stuff on a weekly basis, though! When I returned to Luke's of Cape Cod in 2020, I became the marketer, utilizing my experience with blogging and social media. For three years now I've been running The GrapeBunch; a weekly wine email.

Sure, it's made for the customers of Luke's of Cape Cod, but much of the information is universal. There's a winery feature every month, a monthly themed "in-home tasting package" where I choose six wines based on a theme for you to hold your own wine tastings, AND there's also a monthly article where I geek out about the history of a certain varietal or wine region (just like I used to do here, but without the bad language).

Subscribe to GrapeBunch

Take a look at all these articles and features from May 2020 to June 2023! (listed newest to oldest)
Regions and Varietals
● Puglia
● Merlot
● Paso Robles
● Loire Valley
● Cabernet Sauvignon
● Verdejo
● Moscato Bianco
● Chianti Classico
● Petite Sirah
● Oregon
● South Africa
● Malbec
● Sauvignon Blanc
● Washington State
● Montepulciano
● Tempranillo
● Bordeaux
● Cava
● Pinot Noir
● Zinfandel
● Trentino-Alto Adige
● Albariño
● Gewürztraminer
● Grenache / Garnacha
● Syrah / Shiraz
● Douro River
● Port Dessert Wine
● Nero d'Avola
● Côtes du Rhône
● Cinsault
● Champagne
● Grüner Veltliner
● Pinot Blanc
Winery Features
● Benzinger
● Duckhorn
● J. Lohr
● DAOU Vineyards
● Wente Vineyards
● Banfi
● Chateau Buena Vista
● FitVine Wines
● Treasury Luxury
● Bread & Butter
● le Fat Bastard
● Cline Family Cellars
● The Beachhouse
● Trapiche
● 14 Hands Winery
● DeLoach Vineyards
● Chateau Ste. Michelle
● Truro Vineyards
● 90+ Cellars
● Foley Family
● Joel Gott
● Noble Vines
● Knotty Vines
● Mondavi Private Selection
● Bodegas Callia
● Layer Cake
● Dreaming Tree
● Hess Select
● Leese-Fitch Wines
● Copper Cane
● Bogle Winery
Wine Articles
● Cooking with Wine - keeping it simple and inexpensive
● How Rosé exploded!
● Canned Wine
● Analyzing Wine
● How to make Spanish Sangria 

Sunday, July 9, 2023

Book Review: Eastern Promise by Peter Stafford-Bow

"I was tempted to suggest that anyone who reduced a living wine - its relationship with its terroir, the stage of its development in its decades-long life, the conditions prevailing at the moment of consumption, not to mention the company in which it was consumed - to a single numerical score, was a tedious, innumerate fool."
Eastern Promise is the fourth book in the Felix Hart series by Peter Stafford-Bow, and let me start off by saying that I have thoroughly enjoyed each and every one of these books. Corkscrew started things off back in 2017, recording Felix's rise into the wine trade, becoming a Minstrel of Wine, and going on a series of ridiculously hilarious adventures. Brut Force expands on his Minstrel duties while continuing to have Felix running around to save his own life. Firing Blancs was the first to be based on one location; South Africa. While the first two books were fun, hilarious, and definitely must-reads, Firing Blancs is where you could see Peter really coming into his own as story teller.

In the fourth installment, Eastern Promise, Peter continues that trend. Not only is this just a well-written story, it is definitely the wittiest of all four of the books and is very hard to put down. I finished it in just a few nights, staying up much later than I probably should have, and I cannot tell you how many times I literally laughed out loud. The character of Felix Hart is a treasure, and the world that Peter has build around him is quite brilliant.

You'll never think of elephant seals the same again. Trust me.

So what has Felix gotten himself into this time? Well, of course Sandra from Paris-Blois has coaxed him into doing something he doesn't want to do. This time it's for 1 million US dollars to raid a counterfeit wine scheme in Hong Kong! Although the year is not given, it appears that this all occurs during the later stages of the COVID lockdown, as many travel bans and safety measures (such as masks) have been pulled except for in Asia, where these things are as strict as ever.

As straight-forward as steal-a-fake-bottle-and-run sounds, things aren't really as they seem. And it's made even more difficult when the new idiot CEO of Gatesave fires Felix from his wine buyer job, and he becomes the bathroom accessories buyer instead! However, it turns out that this big screw up becomes a savior move for Felix. And it's a good thing that Felix was enlisted for this mission, because it's going to take a shifty thinker and a lot of screwing up to bring down these bad guys!

This is such a great book, and I highly recommend that every wine lover with a sense of humor reads the whole series. You will not be disappointed.

Oh, one last thing... In my Firing Blancs review I mentioned that Peter is really good at writing American tourists. Well, in this book he proves he's really good at writing modern business jargon. Those CEO and consultant meetings were tooooorttttttuuuuuure.
"On Sunday, if things didn't quite go to plan, my bloated corpse would be fished from a paddy field irrigation ditch somewhere up the Pearl River Delta, and by Monday, all going well, I'd be back in Britain, awaiting my own postmortem. Assuming, that is, there was enough of my cadaver left to examine once the flesh-eating wildlife of Guangdong had finished with it."

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Book Review: Dragonvine by Steven Laine

Back in 2019 I reviewed a book by Steven Laine called Root Cause and enjoyed the crap out of it. So here I am with his newest novel called Dragonvine. This review won't be as long and detailed as the last one, as life is still chaotic while I try and get back to posting here regularly.

Let's cut right to the chase: I FRIGGIN' LOVED IT! My favorite thing about this book is the idea of the main characters. Two of them are here right now in the present and really couldn't be any more different. The other couldn't be any different from them... and he's in ancient China!

So the plot goes like this: Carmine Cooper is a young man in his early 20's who loses his father in a wildfire and he suddenly has to take over his father's California vineyards and winery. But his dad left this world with a lot of debt when he purchased new winemaking machinery a few years back, so Carmine's in some financial trouble right off the bat. Jessica Lung runs the Chinese mob in San Francisco with her twin brother. She's a total badass. A series of events leads her to get into the wine counterfeiting business, and she starts looking for winemakers that have no choice but to cooperate. Wuju is the king's physician and his story starts in 235 BC China. His king is looking for the elixir of life, and while others believe that to be in mercury, Wuju believes it can be found in wine.

By the way, one of Carmine's vineyard plots is planted with a mystery varietal that they assume is Syrah. But what is it really? All of this ties together wonderfully.

Again, I FRIGGIN' LOVED IT! Grab this book, open a bottle of wine, and relax with some Tai Chi music like I did. You will not regret it!

Friday, September 2, 2022

San Gregorio: Greco di Tufo, Falanghina, Fiano di Avellino


This past year and a half has been a very difficult one that has changed my life drastically. I have been to the very bottom of frailty and fought to pull myself back up, stronger than ever. This is why you haven't seen much of me, and I apologize.

I received these wines at a time where I just needed to have a good night with friends, and we all enjoyed all three of them. They're from Campania, Italy, which is where my grandmother was from. Avellino specifically, as you see mentioned in the Fiano. She was somebody who found nothing better than enjoying food and drinks with friends and family, so it was a night of toasting to her. The legendary Rose.

I have no notes other than great wine, smiles, laughter, and love. San Gregorio is one of my favorite wineries because of the regional connection to my grandmother. If you see San Gregorio in your local wine shop, please buy a bottle and pour a glass for Rose.

Thank you, Donna, for giving me a great night of hope and happiness. Looking forward to moving forward, and starting this journey back up.

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