Review

A Hedonist in the Cellar: Adventures in Wine

by Jay McInerney



Christened "the best wine writer in America" by Salon, Jay
McInerney is truly the master of the grape, sans pomposity. In the
years since his previous collection, BACCHUS AND ME, he has
traveled to more countries for his trade, sniffed more woody aromas
and uncorked more bottles than most sommeliers in the world. His
monthly House & Garden column is read by thousands of
oenophiles worldwide. He is also the award-winning author of seven
novels, including most recently the critically acclaimed THE GOOD
LIFE. In his latest concoction, A HEDONIST IN THE CELLAR, McInerney
combines his extensive and perpetually growing knowledge of wine
with a penchant for telling a good cocktail hour story to create a
collection that is thoroughly pleasurable to read and digest.

As all essay anthologies should, HEDONIST begins with an
informative introduction, written in McInerney's comfortable,
laid-back style --- much like an evening's first glass of wine. He
writes of his formative years at his job as a wine clerk at a
rinky-dink "boozeteria" in Syracuse, New York, called the Westcott
Cordial Shop. It was there that he heard about the acceptance of
his first novel by Random House, while studying under Raymond
Carver and Tobias Wolff in the Graduate Writing Program at Syracuse
University. It was also there that he laid the groundwork for what
later would be a career as a wine connoisseur, by reading the
shop's books on wine and occasionally lifting a bottle or two to
taste.

Ten years or so later, he was offered the wine column gig, despite
his minimal training. "I'd never taken a class, or attended a wine
tasting, or spit into a bucket..." Yet he managed to pull it off,
purely for the love of learning about it and the enjoyment factor.
"It's an inexhaustible subject, a nexus of subjects ... Ideally,
the appreciation of wine is balanced between consumption on the one
hand and contemplation and analysis on the other." These humble
beginnings, combined with a desire to share his burgeoning
knowledge with others, make these essays quite refreshing to read
--- without the haughty hangover.

From Chile to New Zealand, German Riesling to Absinthe, McInerney
--- a "pilgrim of the palate [and] devout hedonist in search of the
next ecstatic revelation" --- has developed a rich appreciation of
and refined palate for all varieties of wine. His essays reflect a
passion that is both respectable and contagious. Even amateur wine
tasters will be entertained by his natural ability to draw them in
with stories of celebrity beverage preferences, intrepid oenophile
adventures for the "perfect" bottle, and sommelier snafus.
Conversely, snooty sippers might easily tire of his overly casual
tone, but these wine buffs will likely be too busy writing their
own tasting tomes rather than reading about others'
observations.

Best kept on the shelf as a flip-through reference rather than a
straight-through read, HEDONIST is also ideal for chuckle-worthy
truisms such as: "Let's be honest: there's only one activity more
satisfying than drinking good wine with good food; and if you're
drinking good wine in the right company, the one pleasure, more
often than not, will lead to the other."

Reviewed by Alexis Burling on January 22, 2011

A Hedonist in the Cellar: Adventures in Wine
by Jay McInerney

  • Publication Date: October 24, 2006
  • Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf
  • ISBN-10: 1400044820
  • ISBN-13: 9781400044825