Inventing Wine: A New History of One of the World’s Most Ancient Pleasures

Paul Lukacs’s fascinating book takes readers on voyage through the history of wine, giving perspective on current trends. His major theme turns out to be that even though a lot has changed over the centuries, many aspects of wine and the market for wine remain the same. Trends in wine are the result of a confluence of factors like popular taste, available technology and the search for profit.

It is well worth the read to learn why and how wine has evolved from the ancient world to the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the !9th century and the present day.

Lukacs points out that the diffusion of modern scientific knowledge has virtually eliminated “bad” wine from the market. For centuries, people drank it because that’s all there was. It has also created the possibility of making “style” wines: wines that satisfy a taste and style that the market wants. He writes: “Wine’s newfound ability to come in styles that can transcend both region and grape variety is the most important aspect of the current era of globalization.”

The pervasive style ushered in by Robert Parker is one of rich, fruity, in Lukacs’s words “flamboyant” wine. This “style” makes it possible for wine drinkers to experience pleasure without specific knowledge and without waiting for the wine to age. No wonder it has become so popular! Lukacs explains everything in a neutral way, just the facts, giving a clear overview of why and how current trends came to be.

The rush for one particular style has of course led to a standardization of wine. Everything starts tasting the same. That has made space in turn made space for the opposite kind of wine: natural, terroir wines made with indigenous grapes with very particular characteristics.

The fact that globalization, the rise of wine critics, the internet and modern technology have bifurcated the market is not good or bad according to Lukacs. It simply is.

At the end of the book, he discusses trends toward organic and biodynamic agriculture for making terroir wines saying: “They reject chemically dependent methods on stylistic as well as ecological grounds, and they want their wines to evidence a feel of nuanced complexity that will render them distinct from other wines, even those made from grapes a stone’s throw away.”

He goes on to point out that these methods “…reflect traditions, but traditions invigorated or invented anew.” The book ends a few pages later, but the history is still being written. I believe that the next chapter in wine will be wide diffusion of these “real” terroir wines “on both stylistic and ecological grounds.”

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