THE ACCIDENTAL CONNOISSEUR: An Irreverent Journey Through the Wine World

Lawrence Osborne, Author . FSG/North Point $25 (272p) ISBN 978-0-86547-633-2

The number of serious wine books published in recent years can be counted on one hand—which makes Osborne's funny and erudite tale all the more welcome. Structured as a traditional quest, it stems from an insecurity of the author's English childhood: "I do not trust my own taste. " So he embarks, Quixote-like, on 11 adventures in the wine world, jetting from France to California, then Italy, hoping to plumb the mystery of why someone would spend $600 on a bottle of fermented grape juice. At every step, Osborne, who's written for the New York Times Magazine , Lingua Franca and other publications, trains his reporter's eye—previously honed in books like American Normal —on both the big picture and telling details. At a comical lunch with viniculture icon Robert Mondavi, Osborne swiftly gets at the importance of his contribution to the industry, while also squeezing in the apt observation that Mondavi's wife, Margrit, reminds him of German filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl, "at once coquettish and dominant." Despite the miles logged, Osborne's journey is primarily an intellectual one, and his writing will be appreciated by high-minded readers: "Wine is always the lightning conductor of an irrepressible and often iniquitous cosmopolitanism." By the last chapter, Osborne can't say exactly what Chateau Lafite Rothschild tasted like, and he has just encountered the foulest bottle of his life. But he also sounds strangely contented, because he's found the rare world where aesthetics still matter—even if the terminology and the people who employ it can be maddening. (Mar.)

Reviewed on: 01/26/2004
Release date: 03/01/2004
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