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Nov 19, 2017

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Wine, Food and Other Reads
by Sarah Donnelly, Angelina Malhotra-Singh, Rob Stout
Magazine Issue: U.S. Vol. 5.1
Everything You Need to Know about Wine
by Jonathan Ray

I could recommend this book from the illustrations alone. Hand-drawn and- colored by Emily Hare, the pictures in this book are whimsical representations of wine regions and the typical descriptors for different wines. In pinot noir illustration, somehow the sheep seems to be mounting the farmer (while riding a pig)! Unlike the standard bottle-and-glass or label shots, these images bestow a lighthearted and approachable feel on the book.

And it needs it. The type is discouragingly small, and I have my doubts about the usefulness of the information provided, especially for those new to wine. The organizational structure is reasonable enough, with chapters divided by country or world region, and sub-categories including "in a nutshell," geography, wines and grapes, quality, whites and reds, wine and food, recommended producers and trivia. But the writing displays a high degree of bias and subjectivity in nearly every category except geography (tough to have an opinion on that one - it's just "there").

France is afforded its own chapter for its 10 sub-regions, while California is one of four sub-regions in a chapter on "United States and Canada." I understand that France has a long and, according to Ray, glorious history of winemaking, but I think California deserves more than a footnote. Even Australia gets its own chapter and features four sub-regions.

There are quite a few zingers throughout. Here's the "trivia" on Switzerland: "Switzerland is one of the world's top 20 wine producers, but little wine is exported, partly because the Swiss drink more than they can make." And Argentina "in a nutshell": "Although Argentina's wine is rapidly improving, most is still cheap and ordinary, aimed at the apparently unquenchable domestic market." Yet he avers, "...winemaking in England and Wales is now a serious and successful business, the results of which are a pleasure to drink." Hmmm. Tried any Welsh wine lately?

A more appropriate title might be "Every Opinion You Ought to Have about Wine." At the risk of stereotyping, I hear a decidedly British attitude and humor in the writing. And don't get me wrong, I love British humor and found the book amusing and entertaining. But the disproportionate elevation of French wines, and the downright ridicule of others - "Having made wine since time began, Greece sadly disproves the adage that practice makes perfect." - form a rather detrimental introduction to wine. A book on the basics, on what you really "need to know," should be an unbiased tool, encouraging beginners to form their own opinions and valuations.

The last few chapters of the book, however, are delightful. When covering more general topics, such as grapes by variety, wine and food, and hangover cures, Ray really shines. The humor's more appropriate here. In "Storing Wine," for instance, he recommends avoiding temperature extremes and vibrations, cheekily noting, "Studies, cloakrooms and the cupboard under the stairs are ideal places, as is the space under your bed, provided your love life isn't too energetic."

From this last section, the humor and the illustrations, I can recommend this book. A little temperance on the opinions (and larger type) would have made it stronger. -- Sarah Donnelly

Foie Gras: A Passion
by Michael A. Ginor

As a vegetarian, I approached Foie Gras - a handsome volume dedicated entirely to engorged liver - with no small degree of trepidation. Once I realized Ginor's homage was both an historical tome as well as a repository for recipes, I decided I'd approach the book as a treatise rather than as a cookbook. I mean, I read a lot of true crime novels without actually committing murder.

The first half of the book is, I'd venture to say, the most exhaustive global history of foie gras ever written in English. Ginor covers everything from religion (Judaism and animal cruelty) to economics (who the hell can afford this?) to ancient Roman history (see page five for a simple 234 B.C. guide to cramming geese). He explains why geese fell out of favor, how Muscovy ducks and the "mule-like" mallard ducks came to be the crammies of choice, and delves into the U.S./French chef foie gras-smuggling scandal of 1970 (quelle horreur!).

Ginor also depicts - in graphic, unemotional detail - the tubed esophageal method of feeding a duck in order to blow its liver up like a "brown balloon with a hole in it." He also mounts a defense of the practice in a methodical manner that suggests he's done this bit plenty of times before. "If feeding was indeed cruel, one would expect to see unhealthy birds on foie gras farms, perhaps refusing food, listless," he argues. I called a couple of psychologist friends and indeed none of them had ever counseled or prescribed Prozac to a sterile duck. So maybe Ginor's right. Eat well and die young: the mantra of doomed waterfowl and John Candy.

The second half of the book is composed of 82 recipes that make duck liver out to be the little black dress of the foodie world. It fits in everywhere. I paused for quite a while on Andre Daguin's classic dish, Whole-Roasted Foie Gras with Fifty-Clove Garlic Confit and decided it was the best pick for curious duck liver virgins. It's easy to prepare, it's paired with a fruity French red, and frankly, you could eat a tasseled loafer with 50 cloves of garlic and it would taste rather good.

The recipes are preceded by a couple of pages on pairing wine with foie gras, and the advice is (drum roll) "experiment." Each of the recipes (from different chefs) comes with recommendations on what to quaff, so if you're cooking by the book, you can drink by it as well. It shouldn't be any harder to find a bottle of Domaine Leroy Clos de Vouget 1994 than it will be to procure the three black truffles and four diver-caught sea scallops that the dish demands. -- Angelina Malhotra-Singh

The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones
by Stanley Booth

Members of the latest generation of readers, who only know the Rolling Stones as representatives of safe, comfortable, middle aged pop culture, owe it to themselves to pick up a copy of Stanley Booth's recently revised "The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones." The book chronicles the band's chaotic 1969 American tour, which culminated in murder and mayhem at a hastily organized concert at the Altamont Motor Speedway.

After befriending Keith Richards, Booth joined the Stones' inner circle as the band's unofficial historian and baggage handler. With pen poised and eyes wide open (throughout the greater part of the tour), Booth documented their stateside misadventures with voyeuristic charm, though the nature of the group's exploits were already considered reprobate by an industry in which bad behavior is part of the creative process.

But more than just offering up an account of drug consumption or the band's estimated sperm count, Booth provides a solidly researched history of the group, from the early London club scene to the death of Svengali-like Brian Jones weeks prior to the American tour.

As Booth astutely observes, in 1969 the Stones had not played a U.S. date in three years. Other than drummer Charlie Watts, who exhibits the only detectable common sense during this entire drug-induced farrago, most of the group hadn't grasped the dramatic changes that had occurred within American culture.

In the interim, much of the Stones' audience had endured the prospect of war, student unrest, life with a draft card, race riots, police harassment and assassinations, not to mention a plethora of easily obtained drugs.

Throughout, it was suggested that the Stones wrap up their tour - indeed the decade - with a free concert on the West Coast, preferably in the San Francisco area. Having faced the incendiary psyches of audiences whacked on a variety of mind-altering drugs, the band had escaped near disaster for most of the tour. Now, as promoters set into motion a free concert to be given in the hallucinogenic capital of the world, luck was about to run out. As Booth memorably recalls, "Some of us were wondering who these people were, a bunch of stoned incompetents?"

Unfortunately, these stoned incompetents were just incompetents, as he and the band's management came to find during concert site negotiations.

The plan, hashed out in the last hours before the show, called for the Stones to headline a day-long festival with Crosby, Stills and Nash; The Grateful Dead; and The Jefferson Airplane. Adding some local color to the festivities, the San Francisco chapter of the Hell's Angels would be handling security with their customary pool cues.

The concert itself has been featured in countless articles and dramatically captured in the Maysles Brothers' film "Gimme Shelter," but none has come close to Booth's account, written literally just to the left of Richards' stage monitor.

As those who've seen the film will agree, Booth's observation that the combination of the Stones' inciting music, the overzealous Angels and the equally ominous crowd actually "recreated Vietnam in California." Continuing, Booth adds that "At Altamont, you felt as though you could die in the next few seconds and there was nothing you could do to change the odds."

Given this potential, however, there were only three deaths during the show, and Booth's retelling of the Stones' rather abbreviated set - cut short by numerous confrontations with the Angels - still stands as one of the best pieces of rock literature around.

Also woven into the madness is the eloquent evolution of the Stones' music, not born to earlier (mainly white) rock n' roll, but to the blues of neglected southern black performers like Slim Harpo, Muddy Waters and Jimmy Reed. Unfortunately, as these influences begin to unfold with the recording of "Sticky Fingers," it's just days before Altamont, and only someone of Booth's sensibilities could so ironically capture the final curtain call on an era they helped to create, just as it came crashing down around them. -- Rob Stout

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