Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Questioning Taste

Seemingly conceived as a rags-to-riches story, "Taste: A Life in Wine" is Anthony Terlato's autobiographical chronicle of his life's work, from his childhood days in Brooklyn to his current position as an American wine industry magnate. Though I expect the publisher has targeted Mr. Terlato's work for the wine and food shelves at your local bookseller, it would actually be more appropriately placed in the motivational business section, under the subheading of: "Here's how I made my millions; maybe you can do it too."

"Taste" follows Terlato from his early work within his family's retail and local distribution businesses through an ever-increasing entrepreneurial arc of growth as he builds hugely successful brands such as Corvo and, later, Santa Margherita. Yep, he's the man responsible for the Pinot Grigio-zation of America.

Occasionally, Mr. Terlato delves into wine itself as a primary context, as in the following passage:

"It was not until a producer with the stature and marketing clout of Antinori defied the DOC Chianti regulations with his 1971 Tignanello (not released until 1978) that the Super-Tuscan wines gained critical mass. By the early 1980s, scores of other notable Chianti producers began releasing élite reds. These wines were so impressive that the humble designation vino da tavola became a badge of honor for Italian wines."

More often, though, wine serves simply as subtext for stories of the author's successes and exploits: dinners with the Mondavi family; meetings with the reclusive Gallos, with Paul Bocuse and Alexis Lichine; using 1947 Cheval Blanc to make a pan sauce... the list goes on.

I was happily surprised to find the author sharing one of my own approaches to the subjective magic of pairing food and wine: "There is a natural harmony between wines from a particular region and dishes made with vegetables and meat that are cultivated nearby." It's his take on the old "what grows together goes together" adage. Sadly, it's undermined by the recipes that serve as chapter breaks in Terlato's work. Included, it would seem, to add a dash of hominess and true, personal nuance to the book, those intentions and Terlato's words are undermined by the wine pairing suggestions, all of which are items found in Terlato's own business portfolio.

All in all, "Taste" is an easy, relatively breezy read. For those with an interest in the formative stages of the modern American wine market, the book may prove to hold some interest. For those with a personal connection to Mr. Terlato himself, the book may prove a real pleasure. For those approaching the book with an expectation that it may actually be about wine, however, the book is more likely to prove a rather self-indulgent recounting of one man's rise to fame and success, with wine simply serving as the widget of choice.

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Disclosure: An advance readers copy of "Taste" was provided at no cost to me by Agate Publishing. Should you wish to purchase your own copy, here's my own little stab at entrepreneurialism to make it easy.

Terlato, Anthony, "Taste: A Life in Wine," Surrey Books, Agate Publishing, 2008.

In related news:
I chose the passage regarding Tignanello over a handful of others that might have been appropriate in homage to yesterday's probing post by Brooklynguy and the "emergency" response from Do Bianchi, both of which address Tignanello and the Super-Tuscan genre. Well timed, gentlemen.


Joe Manekin said...

I do not see the stab at entrepreneurship- was there supposed to be a link somewhere?

TWG said...

Just below, the buy from Amazon button.

David McDuff said...

Tom's quite right, Joe. Looks like the Amazon button doesn't appear in some feeds/subscriptions and may even drop out depending on your browser settings. Time to add a text link, too....

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