Michael J. Gelb earns his living as a “self-employed creativity consultant” (p.15), whatever one of those is. “I regularly encounter scepticism, and even cynicism” (p.15). I will admit to being a cynic.
The blurb on the front flap about “the remarkable power of wine to unleash creative potential” sounds like a synonym for drunkenness. The enthusiastic promises of “the practical ‘left-brain’ knowledge you’ll need to handle yourself in any wine-related situation… how wine can serve as a catalyst for creativity and ‘right-brain’ thought… ‘Inspired Thinking’ wine parties…and other essential wisdom” disguises what is on the whole a rather typical beginner’s guide to wine. Chapter – or “Sensazione” – 7 on “The Art of Tasting”, for example, is all quite practical, occasionally veering into more arty musings on how to taste wine, “What music does it bring to mind?” and so on (p.61).
“How to Enjoy This Book” suggests that it is best dipped into rather than read cover to cover. But “You can also enjoy this book in a good old linear fashion” (p.25). Pages 27-28 largely repeats what has already been said on pp.24-25.
There are pull quotes from poems throughout the book. The “Opening Poem” is William Ernest Henley’s “The Spirit of Wine” (pp.12-13), not one of this semi-obscure poet’s better works. The closing poem is Baudelaire’s “Get Drunk”. Gelb was fortunate enough to “share many fine wines” with the English poet Ted Hughes (p.32). Now that’s impressive.
There’s plenty of the soul-baring that Americans love but us Brits find cringe-worthy. “Sandy, my dad, adores my mom, Joan” (p.29) – which is nice but not all that pertinent to uncorking my creative juices. And I simply don’t want to know about his “first great romance” (p.69). Reader, he married her. “I make a good living,” Gelb writes, “but I’m not too focussed on material things” (p.97). He does have a sports car, though.
A few typos have crept in. “Manger” for manager (p.72); “religiousy” (p.176); and “Neil” rather than Neal Rosenthal (p.233). The French word for gluttony is gloutonnerie, not “gourmandise” (p.154). And it should be paradiso, not “paradisio”, on earth. The boxed text on the eating habits of the Medici family ends with “Salud!”, which is Spanish, not Italian (p.162). Alfred Tesseron does not own Château Figeac (p.175). Gelb must have been thinking of Thierry Manoncourt – or Château Pontet-Canet.
The boxed texts are poorly designed throughout the book, often spilling over a page onto another spread. The fonts on page 245 have gone wrong.
There are some good sound bites, though, such as “The best wine isn’t usually found in a box. And the same thing is true with thinking” (p.36). “Write drunk, revise sober” is the working life of many journalists! (p.37).
Gelb lived in England for eight years, he tells us, and “developed a special fondness for British wit, understatement, and taste” (p.245). Bravo! However, he underestimates the potency of calling somebody a “wanker”, which he defines as “aka tosser – a self-referential wine snob, not a master of his Domaine” (p.247). Without a doubt there are plenty of wankers in the wine trade but perhaps Gelb and I should keep this to ourselves.
Doubtless Clive Coates will be pleased to be described as “legendary”, as will Jancis Robinson as “one of the most brilliant stars in the universe of wine writing” (p.90).
On the whole the book is far more mundane than its title suggests. It might not uncork your creative juices but its erudition and light touch make it an ideal introduction to wine culture and how best to enjoy drinking wine.