29 March 2013

Book Review: Into Wine by Olivier Magny

Olivier Magny is the founder and operator of O Chateau, a wine bar and education center in Paris. In addition, he is the author of the 2011 book Stuff Parisians Like: Discovering the Quoi in the Je Ne Sais Quoi.

He contacted me recently to see if I'd like to check out his latest work, and it sounded interesting.

Into Wine
Olivier Magny
Published by Gourmand Horizons
213 pp.

I'm not a huge fan of translations--I prefer to watch foreign movies with subtitles, and I suffered through a lot of dry, stale book translations in high school and college. However, this is not a translation. Magny writes in an easy, colloquial English that is approachable and engaging. Terroir is one of the few French terms used in the book and even that is explained in plain English. (His wife is from Mississippi, so his English is even better tuned to my ear.)

The book is a collection of brief essays that cover dozens of wine topics, heavily footnoted and including charts and tables. However, this is not a technical book. Instead, it's aimed at the American wine novice, and while much of the focus is on France, he covers other regions as well. He also speaks to his own self-education in the world of wine, and the early days of hosting wine tastings out of his apartment in a dodgy neighborhood.

Magny on the subject of oak in wine, and I thought this was brilliant: "I like to consider oak for wine like make-up for women. Sometimes, it's not needed; used sparingly, it can be quite lovely; when it's the first thing you notice, it's rarely a sign of elegance."

Magny takes us through wine production from planting to bottling, and along the way comes out in favor of organic and biodynamic wines. Some of my experience from the past weekend speaks to the split in American and European wine appreciation: we're focused on fruit, they're focused on soil. Fruit elements change with the weather (hot/cold/wet/dry), but rocks and earth remain constant.

More than anything else, the book is a love letter to wine. Enjoy it, let it be natural, share it with others, and don't overthink it.

Into Wine is not available for purchase yet, but when it is I will update this post with a link.

Note: This book was received as a sample.

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