Sunday, June 14, 2009

Reflections of a Wine Merchant

I greatly admire small business owners and freelancers. They have a passion for their business and an energy and determination that I strive to match. Neal Rosenthal, author of Reflections of a Wine Merchant (2008), opened a wine store and wine importing business in New York in the early 1980s. He imports wines directly from small vineyards throughout Europe. Many of his suppliers have been with him for over 30 years, and he has established a deep, enduring relationship with his partners.

The book describes Rosenthal’s relationships with some of his suppliers, and he does an excellent job of painting a picture of these individuals who have devoted their lives to growing grapes and making wine. For example, “Monsieur Forey was in his early fifties when I met him in 1982. He had a round red face and a gentle demeanor that made him appear less physically imposing than he actually was. His wines mimicked him, impressing more through delicacy than through power.”

Rosenthal has some very strong beliefs about what makes a good wine: “I believe first that fruit is only one aspect of wine; that wine, when it is truly complex and interesting, gathers its elements from the soil and atmosphere in which it is grown; and that the smells and flavors should, and must, express far more than simple fruitiness. Second, to cleanse wine of its impurities lacks merit as a goal; taming the beast may lead to comfort and commercial success, but it comes at the expense of the quirky, the extreme, and the uninhibited. It makes for uniformity that, ultimately, is boring. I am not arguing for flawed wines. I am saying no to a form of eugenics in wine that creates high yields and brilliant colors but fails to capture the essence of place, that purifies wine to the point that it becomes monochromatic, and that imposes a standard of beauty that limits our personal choices.”

Rosenthal is concerned that consumers and retailers place too much emphasis on the point value assigned to a wine by a critic. He feels that it is more important to respect the individuality of each type of wine and its terroir. He says, “Much of what has gone on lately in the wine world reminds me of the steroid scandals in sports. The goals are to be the strongest or the fastest or, in the case of wine, the most powerful and flamboyant. Yet the heavens are made beautiful not just by the brightest and biggest stars but because of the infinite array of stars, some twinkling, some shimmering, some only occasionally visible.”

Rosenthal discusses universal issues such as loyalty, consistency, endurance, and honesty in business. His respect for the land is an important message at a time when we are finally realizing that humanity is dependent on and cannot survive in isolation from planet earth.

Note: This review is also being posted on Library Thing where I have started maintaining a record of the books I have read or want to read.

Other reviews of books about wine can be found at: Favourite Books of 2008, Wine - Expensive, but does it taste good?

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