When Gourmet magazine debuted in the 1940s, America's wineries were still reeling from the lingering effects of Prohibition and the loss of wines from war-torn Europe. But for every closed door, there was an open bottle: The bleak postwar years were actually a prelude to today's unprecedented and widespread appreciation for the grape. New York Times bestselling author Ruth Reichl reread sixty-five years of wine articles in Gourmet to select the best for History in a Glass. The result is a rollicking tale of great meals, great walks, and wonderful drinks as Americans discover the pleasures of wine.
These marvelous essays were written by men and women who were not only on hand to witness wine's boom but, in many cases, helped to foster the environment that made it thrive. The early days after World War II provided a great opportunity for James Beard and Frank Schoonmaker to reacquaint oenophiles with the joys of European wines. Through tireless dispatches from the Continent, they inspired American vintners to produce world-class wines on their own rich soil.
In subsequent pieces, an impressive, surprisingly diverse roster of writers revel in the sensual and emotional pleasures of wine: the legendary Gerald Asher reflects on the many faces of Chianti; Hillaire Belloc dispenses bits of wisdom by the glass to his niece on her wedding day; the science fiction titan Ray Bradbury rhapsodizes about the earthy pleasures of dandelion wine; Kate Colman explores the moral quandary surrounding a friend's unintentionally generous gift of a rare Bordeaux; Hugh Johnson reports on Hungarian varieties during the height of Cold War tensions in the early 1970s; even Gourmet's current spirits editor, James Rodewald, reminisces on the first time he fell in love-with a bottle of Pinot Noir.
With an Introduction by Ruth Reichl, and covering more than six decades of epicurean delights, History in a Glass is an astonishing celebration of all things good and grape.
Gourmet's editor-in-chief peers into the archives for an intriguing perspective on wine-making history since the magazine's 1941 founding. Reichl culls from a cornucopia of famous food writers--Gerald Asher, James Beard, Frank Schoonmaker--and bares an unabashed boosterism for American wines. As Schoonmaker notes in a series of shimmering early pieces, American vintners had a grand opportunity for growth during the war years, with eminent French chateaux under German control, and yet American viticulture was still reeling from the abuses of Prohibition. Moreover, American vintners resisted using indigenous grape varieties, ignoring "the greatest natural grape-growing area on the earth's surface." With time, the second "American Revolution" was achieved, as Hugh Johnson and Frederick S. Wildman Jr. note enthusiastically in articles from the 1960s and '70s. Meanwhile, Gourmet's bon vivants traveled from France's Bordeaux, Burgundy, C?te d'Or and Rh?ne regions to Germany's Rhineland, Hungary's elusive Tokay and Spain's Sherry capital, Jerez de la Frontera. Hugh Johnson's supercilious essay "The Wines of Italy" (1972) asks sneeringly, "What great wines, if any, are there in Italy?" thus demonstrating the occasional datedness of the pieces. Wines of Chile, Australia and New Mexico have also inspired these literary oenophiles, happily so. (On sale Mar. 7)
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December 10, 2007
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Excerpt from History in a Glass by Ruth Reichl
0679643125|excerpt Reichl: HISTORY IN A GLASS Celebrating the Repeal The Vine Dies Hard Frank Schoonmaker It could hardly be expected that a part of the United States which has had as fantastic and extraordinary a history as California, would be anything but extraordinary as far as the history of its viticulture is concerned. A state in which a Mexican general, born a Spaniard, received as his guest a Russian princess who had arrived in America by way of Siberia and Alaska, and protected this Russian princess from the amorous advances of an Indian chief, is no ordinary state. The treatment which the vine has received in California has been exactly as fantastic and as extraordinary as that story, and involves an even greater array of nationalities and events tragic and comic. In California was planted the largest vineyard in the world, 3,060,000 vines that never produced anything worth drinking. California also boasted the largest small vineyard, a single vine planted in 1783 by a Mexican woman named Maria Marcelina Feliz, and known to have yielded upward of five tons of grapes. The European vine was introduced into California in 1770 by Franciscan missionaries, who brought over with them what were supposed to be Malaga cuttings and planted them around their missions from San Diego up the old Camino Real as far as Monterey and Sonoma. But the grapes they planted were not of any very good variety, and the wine they made was nothing to boast about. We can safely say that when the Forty-niners arrived on the coast, they found no very good wine awaiting them. People of almost every nationality made a contribution of some sort to early California wine-making. A Hungarian nobleman and a Finn were leading pioneers; Chinese labor was used almost exclusively in the vineyards until 1890; a member of the Japanese royal house was, for several decades, the owner of one of the state’s best vineyards; German emigrants became winemakers; a score of leading Frenchmen planted vines and gave their vineyards French names; and a large part of California’s present wine production is in the hands of Italians. Thus a sort of viticultural League of Nations has existed in the state, with almost every race that played a part in the building of America contributing its penny’s worth to the creation of California’s vineyards and wines. Among these strangers who appeared on the scene was a remarkable individual who came as Count Agoston Haraszthy, but presently had Americanized himself into plain Colonel Haraszthy. He introduced, it is said, the Zinfandel grape; and the cuttings of this variety, carried off and planted all over the state, undoubtedly changed the whole trend of California viticulture. It became an industry and began to grow like the prairie towns of the same period. California made up its collective mind to “go places,” and the familiar American cycle of boom-and-bust was under way. The “bust” was due to perfectly evident causes. The first boom lasted a little more than ten years. Most of the get-rich-quick planters knew very little about grape varieties, and still less about wine. Huge crops were harvested, but the wine was poorly made, and found no ready market. Then, to cap the evil days, the phylloxera arrived, that parasite which devours the roots of grapevines. The disastrous effects it had on the vineyards of California were hardly less than those it wrought a few years later on the vineyards of France. Whole vine- yards were wiped out and abandoned; all conceivable remedies, from those of science to those of witchcraft, were tried, with little or no success. But the vine dies hard. By 1876 in California it was on its way back. The resurrection was due largely to the efforts of two individuals, Professor George Husmann and Charles A. Wetmo