In Inventing Wine, Paul Lukacs tells the enticing story of wine's transformation from a source of spiritual and bodily nourishment to a foodstuff valued for the wide array of pleasures it can provide. He chronicles how the prototypes of contemporary wines first emerged when people began to have options of what to drink, and he demonstrates that people selected wine for dramatically different reasons than those expressed when doing so was a necessity rather than a choice.
During wine's long history, men and women imbued wine with different cultural meanings and invented different cultural roles for it to play. The power of such invention belonged both to those drinking wine and to those producing it. These included tastemakers like the medieval Cistercian monks of Burgundy who first thought of place as an important aspect of wine's identity; nineteenth-century writers such as Grimod de la Reyniere and Cyrus Redding who strived to give wine a rarefied aesthetic status; scientists like Louis Pasteur and Emile Peynaud who worked to help winemakers take more control over their craft; and a host of visionary vintners who aimed to produce better, more distinctive-tasting wines, eventually bringing high-quality wine to consumers around the globe.
By charting the changes in both wine's appreciation and its production, Lukacs offers a fascinating new way to look at the present as well as the past.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2012-10-29
- Reviewer: Staff
Rather than an eternal cultural verity, wine is the product of innovative discontinuities, according to this flavorful history. Lukacs (American Vintage) argues that superlatively drinkable modern wines bear little resemblance to the barely potable swill—vinegary, quick-spoiling, adulterated (with lead!), used mainly to get drunk, commune with the gods, or decontaminate water—of centuries past. In his telling, that transformation is a story of technological revolutions, from the 17th century’s new-fangled bottles and corks that kept souring oxygen away to latter-day temperature-controlled vats and winery chemistry labs. Intertwined were cultural and economic shifts that transformed wine from an intrinsically sacred object first to a secular commodity subject to intense market competition and then to a bourgeois art-beverage valued more for aesthetics and cachet than inebriating power. Lukacs combines an erudite, raptly appreciative connoisseurship of fine wines with lucid analyses of the prosaics of wine production, marketing and consumption. At times he succumbs too much to the mysticism of terroir, “the complex interplay of soil, climate and culture” that makes a wine “true to its origins,” even as much of the book tacitly debunks such “invent traditions.” Still, his absorbing treatise shows just how much the grape’s bounty owes to human ingenuity and imagination. (Dec.)