I was sent a free copy of this soon to be released book about the rebirth of Malbec by the publishers but said that I might not have time to read it, let alone write a review. I also had a pile of unread psychology texts, kindly provided by Wiley Blackwell, which I was trying to get through, as well as a couple of drafts of doctoral theses to feedback on, so reading time was at a premium. However, I took it with me at the weekend on a camping trip to celebrate my mum’s 70th birthday and, unable to sleep as youngest son tossed and turned next to me and sleepwalking nephew Jamie wandered about the forest causing mayhem, I rattled through it in a couple of hours.
The author, Ian Mount, can write. His stories about South American wine and associated topics have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Slate. This journalistic background shows in his prose. He has also lived in Buenos Aires since 2005 and seems comfortable with idiom and cultural nuances. The book zips along, punctuated with decent research and lots of rhetorical flourishes. Although the focus is Argentina this is essentially a book about the rise of New World wines and how a country with ambition revolutionized its infrastructure and approach to wine making.
The early history of Argentinian wine is set out. Then it is down to business with the modern period and the influence Parker, Mondavi and Rolland. The aspirations of Argentinian wine makers are supported by technology and knowledge exchange with California (and France to a lesser extent). Nicolas Catena and Paul Hobbs are at the heart of developments in the main body of the book. At times there is a slightly patronising feel to how events are depicted with the Argentinians depicted as lazy in their approach due to the security of an uncritical domestic market. Maybe there is an historical truth in this, much as there is when people generalise about Burgundy’s complacency in the 70s or Bordeaux’s avarice over the last few decades. Stereotypical, but a useful handle on subtlety and complexity.
It is probably pretty uncontentious to suggest that Argentina is now making some great wines . Many single vineyard, high altitude, Malbecs are well made and distinctive. There is an avid global market for them. There is also lots of scope for further development in this part of the world. Argentina has had to deal with fascist dictators, earthquakes and economic collapse. Despite these issues the wines improve year on year and its reputation has never been higher. Mount outlines how this has happened and so succeeds with the aim of the book.
There is probably not enough ‘plot’ to make this attractive to readers looking for a page turner but anyone with a specific interest in New World wines will find it engaging and informative. There are a few photos of key players in the book and some really nice photos on Ian Mount’s website (here) that would have added greatly to it but aren’t used. Argentina has some of the most beautiful vineyards in the world and it seems like a missed opportunity not to show them. It would be a good read on a flight to Buenos Aires so I am giving it to a friend who travels there frequently. He is also in charge of organising a trip to the World Cup in Brazil for a bunch of us in 2014 and I hope he can arrange a few detours to vineyards in Argentina and Chile on the trip back. We can drown our sorrows with good Malbec following the predictable dismal display by the England team. And Argentina will probably win…
Mount, I. (2012) The Vineyard at the End of the World Norton New York