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Book Review: The Dirty Guide to Wine

This book, by Alice Feiring and Pascaline Lepeltier MS (Master Sommelier), promises to take us on a journey following flavours “from ground to glass”. Feiring notes that, in part, the idea for the book came about through visiting a restaurant where the wine list was ordered by geology rather than more conventional means. I like that idea … I think too often we are seduced by broader geographical terms (‘Marlborough’, ‘Barossa’) without taking the time to dig a little deeper and understand the subtleties in those regions.

The book begins, promisingly, with an overview of soil types before heading into chapters titled Igneous, Sedimentary and Metamorphic. But before we even hit words, there’s a forewarning of the book’s focus: a map of the world, showing major bedrock types in winemaking regions. France gets a whole inset, detailing bedrock by major region. Australia … granite and limestone, with an indicator pointing vaguely in the vicinity of Margaret River and Great Southern.

The French focus is actually even a little more limited … with a heavy emphasis on the wines of the Loire. Feiring is pretty up front about this – it’s one of her favourite regions (clearly!) and obviously one in which she’s spent a great deal of time. The book’s other emphasis is on natural wines and organic and biodynamic farming (again, interests of Feiring’s) and I found that sometimes I needed to take pronouncements with both a deep breath and a pinch of salt.

The wine lists (‘what to drink’ or ‘tasting box’) probably won’t make a huge amount of sense to many Australian consumers, and while the wines I googled were available in Australia they certainly weren’t cheap. I’m not suggesting this is a problem I know how to solve – a book written in Australia will undoubtedly reference wines that are expensive or difficult to source for readers in America. It’s more something I found frustrating – because it’s always good to try something new!

I really loved the ‘cheat sheets’ at the end of each section, which detailed a wine region’s bedrock, climate and what the region is known for. Although – as elsewhere – the emphasis on France is definitely noticeable!

Possibly the biggest spoiler in this book for me was an inaccuracy I spotted early on. This worried me because if I’m reading about something, I want to learn about it … and if I want to learn about it, I want it to be accurate. And once I spot that first mistake? Well, then I’m worried about what other mistakes are there that I don’t know about?

To many, this may well sound silly … But here we go anyway … “But even in Australia, the wine is growing up. In the southeast, outside of Melbourne in the district of Victoria …” Setting aside the patronising tone of the first sentence, the fact that Victoria is referred to as a district is just so wrong. Add to this that is really the only mention of Australian wine (and I find Beechworth Shiraz a really odd choice for an only mention – although in this case I suspect driven by the biodynamic credentials of the producer written about) and you wonder “what else is missing? what else is wrong?”. Is this sloppy editing or sloppy research?

While this book has its issues, I found it a reasonably interesting read – and let’s face it, soil types is dry subject matter so clearly Feiring and Lepeltier have done something right here. If you find yourself in the position of a wine trip to the Loire, I would definitely recommend it. Outside of that scenario, it’s a fascinating premise but not delivered in a way that will engage a broad range of readers, and I think that’s a shame.

The Dirty Guide to Wine: Following Flavors from Ground to Glass*, Alice Feiring with Pascaline Lepeltier, MS

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