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Nose: A Novel

Nose: A Novel

3.5 4
by James Conaway

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In a gorgeous wine valley in northern California, the economic downturn has put a number of dreams on hold. But not so for wine critic Clyde Craven-Jones, a man whose ego nearly surpasses his substantial girth. During a routine tasting in advance of his eponymous publication's new issue, he blindly samples a selection of Cabernets. To his confounded delight, he


In a gorgeous wine valley in northern California, the economic downturn has put a number of dreams on hold. But not so for wine critic Clyde Craven-Jones, a man whose ego nearly surpasses his substantial girth. During a routine tasting in advance of his eponymous publication's new issue, he blindly samples a selection of Cabernets. To his confounded delight, he discovers one bottle worthy of his highest score (a 20, on the Craven-Jones-on- Wine scale), an accolade he's never before awarded.
But the bottle has no origin, no one seems to know how it appeared on his doorstep—and that's a problem for a critic who's supposed to know everything. An investigation into the mystery Cabernet commences, led by the Clyde's wife, Claire, and a couple of underdogs—one a determined throw-back to ancient viticulture, the other a wine-stained, Pygmalion-esque scribbler—who by wit and luck rise on incoming tides of money, notoriety, and, yes, love.
The stage is set for this true theater of the varietals—where the reader joins the local vinous glitterati and subterranean enthusiasts hanging out in a seedy bar called the Glass Act. Soon Clyde Craven-Jones finds himself in a compromised position in a fermentation tank, a prominent family finds its internal squabble a public scandal, and a lowly vintner seeks redemption for a decades-old wrongdoing. James Conaway's Nose is a witty, delectable, and fast-paced novel that, like a good Cabernet, only grows truly enjoyable once opened.

Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post - Warren Bass
Nose is a swift, smooth read and is nicely aerated with a few love stories. Conaway clearly enjoys leading us through his beloved valley's cellars and tasting rooms, down-at-the-mouth taverns and upwardly clambering vineyards.
From the Publisher

“Very engaging . . . a funny and suspenseful and above all, for me, evocative story about a valley much like Napa and its wine-making, wine-drinking people.” —Tracy Kidder, Pulitzer Prize--winning author

“A wonderful, fast-paced, and entertaining lens on the fiercely competitive world of wine and the many noses at play. From a writer well known for his knowledge of this world, this is a real page-turner.” —Susan Richards Shreve, author of You Are the Love of My Life

“More than the five senses are stirred by wine. Lust, avarice, ego, wit, intrigue, memory, and dreams all await uncorking on each page of this sleek, passion-filled, powerfully informed novel.” —Thomas Caplan, author of The Spy Who Jumped Off the Screen

Nose is the novel for all seasons--a terrific mystery, a love story, an under-all-the-soil good-and-evil saga.... Conaway's prose is as gorgeous as some of the Northern California scenes he describes.” —Jim Lehrer, PBS NewsHour and author of Super

“A spirited romp through the rarefied world of oenophilia by a smart, funny writer who knows the milieu well. Conaway expertly decants one of the world's most obsessive subcultures, giving us a bold, fruit-forward novel with distinct notes of hilarity.” —Hampton Sides, author of Americana and Hellhound on His Trail

“James Conaway's Nose is a delicious, swashbuckling winery romance--best in its class since Miranda's Vines.” —Madison Smartt Bell, National Book Award finalist for All Souls' Rising

“The cheerful complexity of Conaway's novel rivals the richest, most nose-worthy, palate-pleasing Cabernet.” —Kirkus Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
Conaway (Vanishing America, 2008, etc.) pens a lighthearted novel centering on oenophiles cavorting in a lush, grape-growing California valley. Conaway's catalyst for his wine-country appreciation is an unlabeled bottle of Cabernet. The bottle ends up on the sampling table of Clyde Craven-Jones, known to wine lovers as CJ, head of the mega-influential Craven-Jones on Wine. CJ is a British expat and something of a corpulent, self-absorbed snob. His wife is the younger, winsome Claire Craven-Jones, who escaped Arkansas trailer-living by marrying the wine expert. It's Claire to whom Clyde has assigned the task of determining the origin of the unlabeled bottle--"Big nose, briary, just enough forward fruit. Fine tannins"--the first California Cab he believes worthy of 20 points, a rating never before awarded by Craven-Jones on Wine. To trace the bottle's origins, Claire hires Les, farm boy turned reporter, out of work and unable to settle his bar tab, and so he's pretending to be an investigator, thanks to recommendations from ponytailed Ben, owner of the Glass Act, a decrepit bar stocked with expensive, exotic wines. There's Sara Hutt Beale, daughter of Jerome, a less-than-scrupulous developer now deep in debt after turning a valley vineyard into Hutt Family Estates, a modern high-end wine factory. Sara's own land adjoins that of melancholy Cotton Harrell, a river ecologist turned philosopher turned vintner, mourning the death of his lover. Like blending Merlot-Malbec grapes for the perfect Bordeaux, Conaway uses this cast, and an assortment of quirky supporting players, to weave multiple narratives into a cozy, no-murder and not-quite mystery, all set in motion after CJ accidentally dies when he becomes stuck in a giant metal tank of wine. Les helps the conservative Claire reenergize Craven-Jones on Wine--and her love life--while simultaneously using an anonymous blog to decant murky wine-country secrets, the most damaging of which is Jerome's machinations to turn part of the Hutt Family Estates vineyard into a forest of McMansions. The cheerful complexity of Conaway's novel rivals the richest, most nose-worthy, palate-pleasing Cabernet.

Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.14(w) x 8.34(h) x 1.13(d)

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Read an Excerpt


A Novel
By James Conaway

Thomas Dunne Books

Copyright © 2013 James Conaway
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9781250006844

Black Bottle
So Clyde Craven-Jones gripped that magnificent stomach of his and hauled it farther in the direction of his multilayered chin, the two masses of rendered haut cuisine and the very best wine momentarily married in a vast floodplain of undulating flesh, exposing a bit more of what there was of him down there, enough apparently because there she went, transformed into something feral, angular, beyond his control, her shifting hips as if on rails, the lovable little gap between her front teeth exposed, making that melodious sound Claire claimed she wasn’t aware of but that reminded him of mermaids singing in an unintelligible language of a place he had never seen.
Fog seemed to muffle the vineyard on the far slope. She, better mounted, speeded up their Thursday morning ritual, mindful not to kill him in the process. What determination his wife had: up at dawn for copulation, a third his weight, riding the vestiges of his pelvis until she collapsed, sometimes allowing him to go back to sleep for another hour, though not today, and waking him again for a simulation of breakfast.
At these moments she smelled a bit vinegary—seaweed?—from all the effort, the sharp aroma of bacteria overwhelmed by the ranker olfactory engine of sexual intercourse. He could pull all sorts of associations out of this basic act if he wanted, but Claire made more distracting noises. She was a gift, named for light but dimly outlined against the natural redwood ceiling of their Spanish colonial bungalow on the edge of a beautiful expanse of some of the most valuable agricultural land on earth: vines, olive trees, live oaks, and that dangerous scrubby stuff up there on the slopes just dying to catch flame and consume all that was good in Northern California.
Her sounds bordered upon desperation now. He envied her and at the same time was a little afraid: such passion. Clyde Craven-Jones was a prisoner of two sensualities—hers, and his just as relentless but involving no climaxes, whereas she rode raptly on, past the finish line and out onto the postorgasmic plain. There she sighed, succumbing to gravity, sliding from his girth and rolling onto the comforter, sides heaving, staring dazedly up at the reclaimed beams from a historic winery that after a century still smelled of fermentation.
Claire rose on one elbow, exhaled, and said with a smile, “Well, BTDT,” a jocularity intended to make her husband feel better about his, well, supine performance. True, he had been there, but he hadn’t done that. No matter; the day beckoned.
“Anything special in the lineup?”
“Yes, you’re going to be challenged today, CJ. By this valley’s own. Nine Cabernets in the up bunch,” which meant costing at least $130 a bottle.
“Why not ten Cabernets?” It was the usual arrangement of American grands crus.
“Well, the tenth one’s a mystery. No label, nothing. I want to include it because it seems special and has been around for a bit. Arrived in a lovely cedar box, wrapped in a pashmina shawl.”
Those things meant nothing. Vintners spend small fortunes encapsulating mediocre wine in a way that makes it seem of a higher order, the same logic used for building their expensive houses and wineries. Packaging, like labels, was deception. One of his duties as a premier wine critic—the premier wine critic, he liked to think—was to out deception in Craven-Jones on Wine, with its pass-along readership of, he often insisted, more than a million. “How did it get here?”
“By hand, that’s all we know.”
Why hadn’t the dog alerted them? Clyde Craven-Jones didn’t allow wine to be left on his doorstep; only the most audacious—or stupid—would attempt it. But he was curious, and any worthy critic welcomes the random chance to test his mettle. Besides, Claire had gone to the trouble of including it. “Let’s begin.”
Solemnly launching himself into a roll, the massive, custom-made bed protesting feebly, his wife nimbly getting out of the way. She went into the bathroom and he heard water filling a tub designed for corpulence beyond the American standard, with special handles for easing himself in and out. He thought he caught a trace of something floral—tansy? Camellia? His policy was no manufactured fragrances of any sort in the house, perfume being the worst, an assault fraught with plant renderings and mysterious chemical compounds that gave him an immediate migraine and affected his ability to taste. He demanded plain soap for his morning immersion, baking soda for his toothbrush, an electric razor for the graying scrim of beard accenting copious signature jowls.

Copyright © 2013 by James Conaway


Excerpted from Nose by James Conaway Copyright © 2013 by James Conaway. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

JAMES CONAWAY is the author of several books, including Napa: The Story of an American Eden, the nonfiction bestseller about the wine country and those responsible for California's winemaking triumphs, and its sequel, The Far Side of Eden. He is the author of two novels, The Big Easy and World's End. His recent books include Vanishing America. Conaway has written for multiple magazines, among them Harper's, The Atlantic, Smithsonian, Saveur, Gourmet, and National Geographic Traveler.

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Nose: A Novel 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book has a nice short story about a mystery bottle of wine wrapoed in too much unnecesary fluff Dont waste your time
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Okay. I do not know. Answer: Pearclan steals kits but do not worry.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago