Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Drinking & Knowing Things: A book review

Michael Amon
This is a sponsored post: Michael Amon paid me to write about his book. He also offered (and I accepted) to pay my higher pre-publication-preview sponsored-post rate without seeing the post ahead of time, but this is a guy who cites some wine brands that he likes despite ... well, let me just quote him writing something I would never dare to write, about a wine he actually recommends.

"My Tempier discussion comes with a caveat. I think their quality control processes suck. In my experience about one out of every three or four bottles of Tempier is faulted. Sometimes it's too much brett, sometimes cork taint, and sometimes it just tastes bad. You're taking a gamble with it ... If you try a bottle of Tempier Bandol and you don't like it, it may be that you have gotten a bad one. It's like playing the lottery with $80 and a two-thirds chance of winning."*

This is the type of shockingly honest wine advice that runs throughout Drinking & Knowing Things, a self-published compilation book of a weekly email he sent to friends and associates during the pandemic, cluing them in to grape varieties and wine regions that are "Dope AF."

Despite calling himself the World's Leading Wine Influencer (which he apparently did to irritate friends in the wine industry), Amon actually knows even more about wine than he lets on. He's a successful international business consultant who works with some wineries, and he is a stage 2 Master of Wine candidate. He's also involved in planting the first wine grapevines in Bhutan, where he liked the look of the terroir while running a marathon. And he says he has a tattoo of La Tache vineyard on his chest.

His style of writing is conversational, bragging and profane, full of in jokes, and perfectly suited for the 1500 to 2000 word length of his weekly missives. I started out with this book as a toilet companion (I know people who keep The Oxford Companion to Wine in there) and that's an outstanding way to consume these columns, but I wasn't getting the book read fast enough, hence I had to sit down (in a chair) and read the whole thing. It's not the best way to read it, but it was still better than your average intro-to-wine book, which I usually fast-forward through if I have to review because I know the stuff already. Amon is amusing and provocative enough to get me to read about things that I already know about.

I like the unfiltered nature of his writing. He hasn't dealt with editors or the general public, so every now and then you get a frisson of danger, and not just because he can write "fucking" and I can't. I also can't write this:

"Many of the 'best' Champagnes are not. Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label is one of the shittiest Champagnes of all time for the price. If you drink this, you are a victim of marketing and also an idiot. Here's some homework. Get a bottle of Yellow Label, and also of something at the same price point (Pol Roger, Henriot, whatever). Pour a glass of each and drink them side by side. You will immediately notice that the Yellow Label is bitter, tastes rather disjointed and not as smooth, and the bubbles are larger and harsher. Side by side, it's easy to taste the difference. Then enjoy the other bottle while you use the leftover Yellow Label to degrease your lawnmower."*
(*My wife insists I repeat that this is a quote from "Drinking & Knowing Things," written and published by Michael Amon.)

A few years ago a friend texted me from a grocery store where he was about to buy Yellow Label for an anniversary with his wife, and I talked him into something better, but even in a text to a friend I didn't go quite that far. But you know, he's not wrong.

For each of his essays about a region or varietal he offers a couple of specific wine recommendations, and apparently in the email columns you could just click on them to get a Wine Searcher link. But the columns are almost never about individual wines. It's all about him assuming you're not a stupid person, but you don't actually know about Gigondas or Madeira. Even if you do, it's often still entertaining. I found this to be an illuminating observation about why so much varietal Cabernet Franc is disappointing; in writing about the grape, I had not considered it, but I think he must be right:

"I think that one of the reasons that there are a bunch of shitty Cab Francs out there is that producers of Bordeaux style blends grow Cab Franc grapes, and in some years they don't need to put that much of it into the blend. Maybe the Cab Franc that year wasn't that great, or maybe they only needed a little of it or whatever, so they bottle up the rest as a single varietal wine so it doesn't go to waste and they can recoup a little cash from it. And it isn't awesome. You'll know because the winery one year will have a 'special bottling' or 'limited release' or something like that, which will sound very impressive and will magically be a single variety Cab Franc. Avoid these like Coldplay."

Amon likes Cab Francs from Chinon and Saumur Champigny; he's a big Loire fan in general. He also likes Riesling, Arneis, Pinot Noir, Xinomavro and Nerello Mascalese. He hates Robert Parker and too much oak; he thinks "old vines" are a marketing scam. I should thank him because ... confession alert ... I didn't actually know what Bourgogne Passe-Tout-Grains is, and now I can't wait to try it.

Where he falls short is on more general topics, and maybe this is because he's like your really drunk smart friend talking loudly in a bar, and that person is much more fun to listen to when explaining how to make your own Madeira-type wine at home than describing what exactly tannins are, or how food-pairing works. And your tolerance for in jokes will vary: I emailed him asking "Who's Ann?" (partner) and "Who's Erik?" (coworker) I think this is a product of him not writing for a general audience. Amon writes like there's a club and it's inclusive so that you can be a member -- all you have to do is be interested in wine -- but he is definitely club president.

Would I praise this book if I wasn't being paid by the author to review it? That's a thought experiment I can't answer, as I probably would have never picked it up; intro-to-wine books just aren't my jam. But the fact is I did get a kick out of it.

You can order the book here.

Follow me on Twitter: @wblakegray and like The Gray Report on Facebook.


Bob Rossi said...

"Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label is one of the shittiest Champagnes of all time for the price." I think you could almost eliminate "for the price."
It looks like my taste probably corresponds to Amon's in a lot of ways, and I like some of his comments, although I doubt if I would like to have a conversation with him about wine or be an acquaintance of his. But he'd probably say that about me.

MC said...

A Long time poster on the various wine boards had a sign in the window of his wine shop.
It read "Friends don't let friends drink Veuve Clicquot"

Bob Rossi said...

"Friends don't let friends drink Veuve Clicquot" I won't stop a friend from drinking it if it's being poured, but I'll warn him against buying it. When my niece was a teenager she loved Veuve Cliquot, although what she really loved was the hype and supposed glamour associated with it. I tried to convince her otherwise, but it didn't work. Then she became an adult, and a doctor, and now prefers grower Champagnes.

Joel said...

Ahh.. but vintage Clicquot Gold Label--another beast entirely!!!

Bob Rossi said...

Yes, vintage Veuve Cliquot is a whole different thing.