TUESDAY AUGUST 22, 2017
 
Blog IN PRINT
LIQUID MEMORY
nossiter_liquidmemory.jpg

Despite what Jonathan Nossiter says in the opening pages of his first book, Liquid Memory: Why Wine Matters, I consider it, in some ways, a natural extension of his 2004 Palme d’Or nominated documentary, Mondovino. While the film is a kind of socio-anthropological study of those working in the world of wine, dealing with aspects of homogenisation, globalisation and terroir (a word bandied about a lot in both the film and book which very loosely translates as the historical sense of place that makes wine unique), the book manages to go deeper, (un)covering much more ground. So perhaps it would more accurately be described as a companion piece, since a lot of the characters and incidents in the film reappear in the book - which is not to say that the book doesn’t work without the film, just that a familiarity with it gives a different reading.

First and foremost Liquid Memory is a celebration of wine in which Nossiter tries to reclaim -  for us all - the language, identity and cultural significance of what is in danger of becoming just another standardized commodity. He dethrones the arbiters of taste and credo, empowering the individual to step outside himself and decide what it is he likes rather than listen to a handful of syndicated ‘experts’ who all seem to have dangerously similar tastes.

For a mere 250 pages it’s a dense book, covering a lot of ground. It reads as a thesis, an investigation and a journal, peppered with anecdotes and detailed descriptions of the many pleasures and contrasting disappointments of wine-drinking.

In the latter part of the book, he spends a great deal of time with the renowned vignerons of Burgundy - Jean Marc Roulot, Alex de Montille, Dominique Lafon and Christophe Roumier - trying to find a clear, intelligible way of speaking about wine - devoid of alienating jargon and meaningless flavour profiles. Nossiter isn’t exactly successful in his goal, but is left with a sense of achievement, of hope, until he returns to the city, “where wine is a commodity, a solipsistic expression of one’s sense of power (or taste), a bargaining chip in the metropolitan struggle to assert an identity, to survive with a competitive advantage.”

But the book isn’t without a sense of humour, it’s just there under the surface, dry and biting - anecdotes about shooting and editing his films where he insisted that, even though the budget was minimal, it would allow for the cast and crew to have wine at lunch, producing more useable rushes in the afternoon. Or upon showing up late to meet actress Charlotte Rampling in Paris and knowing that he’d made the right casting when she’d already half-completed a bottle of Médoc.

Perhaps my favourite part of the book - partly because it’s bound to upset a lot of people, even though it’s more statement of fact than incendiary - is the chapter describing his visit to L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, owned by the man the French have deemed the, “chef of the century.” I began reading this chapter certain that it was going to convince me that I’d have to go there upon my next visit to Paris, but it left me staunchly allied to the fact that there would be no way on earth I’d go there even if someone else was paying. After detailing in full his dialogue with the snobbish waiter and sommelier in turn, Nossiter then goes on to reveal the exorbitant mark-up on the wine which often exceeds 1000%, the standard in the industry being somewhere in the region of 250-300%.

As well as decrying the sins of these exploitative powerhouses, he’s also quick to praise a whole slew of restaurants and wine shops in Paris, sometimes serving as a tour-guide. Certainly after detailing his experiences in the likes of Tan Dinh, Le Dôme and Caves Legrand, I am eager to go there myself and sample their wares.

I consider this book essential reading for anyone interested in wine and its role in history.  It’s romantic, certainly - but never saccharine or sentimental. Perhaps the essence of Liquid Memory can best be summed up by a quote from Nossiter’s ally and vigneron , Dominique Lafon, “If you can sip a wine, it finds its true place; you can talk about something else. Sometimes people make too big a deal of wine. It should bring you pleasure, but it shouldn’t be the be all and end all. I mean, it’s just a drink!”

TORO FEATURED VIDEO