Wine Book Review: Reading Between The WinesAuthor: Terry Theise
University of California Press 189 Pages 2010
The following is my “two buck chucks” worth on Terry Theise’s Reading Between The Wines.
Terry Theise is a wine importer and its always mind blowing to read something of someone you follow on social media. He prides himself on selecting what he calls “uncool” wines. I can relate to Terry as he stated wine found him in 1978 as it did for me when my family bought a liquor store that same year.
“ I found the thing I didn’t know I was seeking. Or it had found me”
Terry references music a lot in the book and his passion for both that and wine shows. He makes a statement how at first he could not account for wine flavors compared to music he could describe. Seeking wines in his travels that he saw pictures of in books. First hand I can say that is also exciting to the wine geek in myself. Going to a tasting/education class looking in a book and having that wine in your glass is a true experience.
What is VERY impressive is how Terry learned wine with no education, no tasting group, and no Internet. He learned wines by meeting old world families and tasting. “Understanding what a “palate” actually is and how to truly know ones own” Not sure if he finds wine certifications valid or not. But I can say after all my education in wine, tasting it is the best education. By tasting you discover more and it leads to looking for answers to many questions you will have, He does make a point that a professional approach to wine is to know as much about it as possible.
Authenticity is highlighted many times by Terry. It makes sense his view on an authentic wine is those that have a sense of family or place. Bottom line is it has a connection. With so many wines choices that is a great stance to take on wine buying! Terry is proud to sell authentic wines and he stresses learning about wine beginning with the old world. Great views on wine being started in the old world countries so taste them. His advice on building a palate is spot on. Recommending tasting one varietal at a time from many regions. Practice by repetition and how it’s all and experience. Wine tasting is compared to a musical instrument. The more you practice the better you become. There is mention that blind tasting skills have no place in a wine career. That may be true but those that can smell, see and taste a wine and give exact details of its type, location etc. are impressive.
There are many great references to wine education. Questions why can’t he know everything about wine but then again no one can. He gets disappointed when he finds the answer to a wine question because his quest to learn has ended. There is always a mystery to wine and to Terry we must accept that. It seams to all come back to the palate. Your palate determines what wine you like and we all vary that way.
Nine Aspects or points of flavor in wine tasting are discussed. Two stand out
balance and complexity. With balance all parts of the wine are equal. It’s not just about fruit, acid etc. but a balance of all components. Complexity is a wine that has many things going on and how they react. There is also mention to 4 aspects of wine that matter the least. Interesting that sweetness is one of them and its stated will only matter if too much or too little.
There is a big discussion on yeast cultured vs. natural. Interesting point that even experts can’t tell the difference on what yeast was used to make the wine. Having attended many wine events I must say that nothing gets me more confused than when yeast is mentioned. Even the geek in me has no interest in what stain of yeast was used. Yeast is a major player and the winemaker does need to know advantages and disadvantages of the types.
Terry covers importance in wine. Starting with connections to family or culture and how they are worth preserving. How the treatment of soil reflects the values of a growers work. True flavor of wine in that it is grown in the correct region and not a grape that has been manipulated. He is satisfied as a wine drinker because he has a connection to the wine. Even if he does not like the wine he knows its made by human beings. People that want to show you something they are proud of. This leads to how he avoids wines that the producer does not own the vines or make wine. They make a style looking for ratings. Again this hits home and I have tried hard to educate and make buying decisions on this point.
Interesting talk about if you want predictability stay clear of wine. There are many factors such as vintage that affect wine every year. He has three facets of wine that are key to understanding. Terry calls them 3 humors or 3 cruxes.
- Wine should express origin
- Having fun: work with wine not at wine
- Ease with the unknowable:
- We can live without wine
- We don’t drink wine because we are thirsty
- Wine is music in the form of water
The wine 100-point rating scale is mentioned. He would rather Writers
deepen people’s love of wine that rate it. But he does think the wine point scales were good for wine. That is hard to disagree with. Give me a wine and say its 90 points I know nothing of its character. Give me that same wine and say it has aromas of dark fruits and flavors of bright cherry will interest me. If I like it my research will begin which will involve looking at reviews.
Globalization of wine is mentioned. Meaning a style of wine made popular by Robert Parker. Meaning wines of ripe fruits, high alcohol, oak and sweetness. Discussions about certain grapes need a place to be known for. How old world wines have place on labels not the grape in it. Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay can be grown all over the world. The key is learning the differences of a Napa cab vs. Bordeaux and Chablis from Chard. This all leads to a passion for his Riesling grape. How is its grown in the proper place no winemaking is needed. Terry calls Riesling “foods best friend” for its low alcohol and high acidity. I learned the Scheurebe grape does not change with age as Riesling does. Many grapes are mention and Gruner Veltliners flexibility is highlighted.
As a wine importer Terry buys what he likes and believes in not with a market in mind. Great point made that he is not a good enough sales person to push what he does not believe in. Selections made are based on values for Terry. Those values are old world and family owned estates. Visiting the families and walking in vineyards he knows personally. Again this hits home in my wine buying decisions. With all the wines being made I need to have an understanding who is behind the label. When you meet that person or family it has much more meaning. Like Terry that connection makes me a better salesman.
There is a great view on tasting notes mentioned. When you are new to wine you tend to focus on taking many notes to remember what was tasted. But eventually you will reach a dead end in note taking. Saying something smells like a peach is no help to a person that has never smelled a peach. Terry finds it sad people spend weekends tasting wines and posting notes. He is more in favor of intimate wine knowledge. Though he does take notes on wine he tastes to help his customers. When he is home drinking wine no notes are taken. This is another point I can relate to. After attending many wine tastings hosted by the same educator I noticed he never takes notes. But he can recite wines he tried years ago and how they tasted. He treats wine as an experience and educates that. Where as I need my notes to be true to my customers.
Terry covers many personal stories of his life. The story when he searched for his biological father was very touching. Discovering his dad had a passion for wine AND had some of Terry’s selections were in his cellar was amazing. Bottom line is Terry has a love for wine and families he represents in his portfolio. This is a great wine read and I am looking forward to some day hosting Terry in a wine event. My journey in discovering his “uncool” wines has just begun!
If interested in Terry’s wines here is a link to his portfolios: