The Accidental Connoisseur

An Irreverent Journey Through the Wine World

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What is taste? Is it individual or imposed on us from the outside? Why are so many of us so intimidated when presented with the wine list at a restaurant? In The Accidental Connoisseur, journalist Lawrence Osborne takes off on a personal voyage through a little-known world in pursuit of some answers. Weaving together a fantastic cast of eccentrics and obsessives, industry magnates and small farmers, the author explores the way technological change, opinionated critics, consumer trends, wheelers and dealers, trade wars, and mass market tastes have made the elixir we drink today entirely different from the wine drunk by our grandparents.

In his search for wine that is a true expression of the place that produced it, Osborne takes the reader from the high-tech present to the primitive past. From a lavish lunch with wine tsar Robert Mondavi to the cellars of Marquis Piero Antinori in Florence, from the tasting rooms of Chateau Lafite to the humble vineyards of northern Lazio, Osborne winds his way through Renaissance palaces, $27 million wineries, tin shacks and garages, opulent restaurants, world-famous chais and vineyards, renowned villages and obscure landscapes, as well as the great cities which are the temples of wine consumption: New York, San Francisco, Paris, Florence, and Rome. On the way, we will be shown the vast tapestry of this much-desired, little-understood drink: who produces it and why, who consumes it, who critiques it? Enchanting, delightful, entertaining, and, above all, down to earth, this is a wine book like no other.


"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" - Publishers Weekly

"Ruminating on the origins of taste, Osborne delves into the current state of the Northern Hemisphere's wine industry. Traveling through Europe and California, Osborne meets both earnest small-vineyard proprietors and powerful wine barons who set the pace for the rest of the industry. Along the way he learns not only the aesthetics of wine but also the economics of it all: how California now sets the standards and how small vineyards prosper only insofar as they position themselves adroitly in the vast worldwide marketplace for wine. The characters Osborne meets are more indelible than zinfandel spilled on white damask: Robert Mondavi, who went to dinner in France and had an epiphany; an Italian nuclear engineer who returned to his family manor, became a vintner, and applied chaos theory to his well-regarded bottlings. But mostly Osborne discovers that taste has succumbed to the exigencies of capitalism's obsession with brands and product synergy. Odd and fascinating facts about wine pepper Osborne's lighthearted yet deeply informed text." - Mark Knoblauch, Booklist

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