Gerald Asher is one of the 20th century’s great wine writers. Born in Britain, he worked in the wine trade in London and New York for over thirty years. He is also the author of several wine books and many articles for Decanter and other magazines. Beginning in 1972 and for many years thereafter, he wrote the “Wine Journal” column for Gourmet magazine. A Carafe of Red reprints many of his most erudite and entertaining articles written for Gourmet. The result is a book that’s part travelogue, part history, and part viticulture and winemaking, all woven together with Asher’s enlightened personal commentary.
While some of the articles in A Carafe of Red were written as long as thirty years ago, there is a timeless quality to them. Asher is a scholar of wine who delves into the history and culture that lies behind the wine, whether it’s the origin of California’s Cabernet Sauvignon vines, the invention of Champagne (and, no, it wasn’t Dom Perignon), or how the innocent anticipation of the vintage’s first, fresh wines became the marketing phenomenon known as Beaujolais Nouveau.
Reading these articles, one is struck by how little is new in the world of wine. Judicious oaking is all the rage these days, with vintners bragging about reducing the amount of time their wines spend in new oak, but Asher was writing about this twenty years ago. He also writes about the tendency to create smaller and smaller parcels for vineyard designated wines, more for commercial than gustatory ends.
One thing that is new, according to Asher, is today’s sometimes overly fastidious pairing of food and wine, something gastronomic writers of the past, even Brillat-Savarin, never wrote about. He has his own recommendations for serving a special wine: “A special wine, no matter how defined, will be appreciated all the more if a preceding bottle establishes criteria for it……Use the first wine as a curtain raiser, to set the mood and establish a standard that will then be gloriously excelled by the special wine of the evening.”
Asher’s vast experience as a writer and wine importer gives his articles, and the book, a vision and perspective few wine writers can match. His article on organic and biodynamic wines covers the globe, from Australia to California, Burgundy and the Loire. Other articles, like that on Chardonnay, go into considerable depth in a particular region (in this case, California). And articles like the one on pairing wine and food and the one on Champagne reveal the fascinating history of wine. Taken all together, A Carafe of Red is an entertaining and enlightening read.
Editor, International Wine Review