Reflections of a Wine Merchant: On a Lifetime in the Vineyards and Cellars of France and Italy

Overview

A leading importer of limited-production wines of character and quality takes us on an intimate tour through family-owned vineyards in France and Italy and reflects upon the last three decades of controversy, hype, and change in the world of wine

In the late 1970s, Neal I. Rosenthal set out to learn everything he could about wine. Today, he is one of the most successful importers of traditionally made wines produced by small family-owned estates in France and Italy. Rosenthal ...

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Overview

A leading importer of limited-production wines of character and quality takes us on an intimate tour through family-owned vineyards in France and Italy and reflects upon the last three decades of controversy, hype, and change in the world of wine

In the late 1970s, Neal I. Rosenthal set out to learn everything he could about wine. Today, he is one of the most successful importers of traditionally made wines produced by small family-owned estates in France and Italy. Rosenthal has immersed himself in the culture of Old World wine production, working closely with his growers for two and sometimes three generations. He is one of the leading exponents of the concept of “terroir”—the notion that a particular vineyard site imparts distinct qualities of bouquet, flavor, and color to a wine. In Reflections of a Wine Merchant, Rosenthal brings us into the cellars, vineyards, and homes of these vignerons, and his delightful stories about his encounters, relationships, and explorations—and what he has learned along the way—give us an unequaled perspective on winemaking tradition and what threatens it today.

Rosenthal was featured in the documentary film Mondovino and is one of the more outspoken figures against globalization, homogenization, and the “critic-ization” of the wine business. He was also a major subject in Lawrence Osborne’s The Accidental Connoisseur. His is an important voice in defense of the individual and the artisanal, and their contribution to our quality of life.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Neal Rosenthal is a source of the kind of wines that I have always looked for, wines that speak to me not of marketing trends, but of the places where they were grown and the people who made them. Whether rustic or elegant, Neal’s wines are wines of character, of taste. His lively book, which displays the spunky personality of the author, shines light on how character and taste may be bred into wine.” Victor Hazan

“There have been many books about wine, but rarely one as absorbing and as wise as this one. Rosenthal tells of his travels in France and Italy, of his friendships with wine growers, and of his own growing understanding of this ancient business that combines both art and commerce. He writes so well, one can taste the wines he loves.” Charles Simic

Bryan Miller
Rosenthal…has resisted composing a 250-page jeremiad on industry trends. Instead, his book is a warm, personal, eloquent celebration of the people and places where tradition still survives. The perception of a traveling wine buyer as a gentleman in a fine blazer, notepad in pocket, enjoying a semi-vacation of congenial sipping, is punctured by the reality of fast-paced barrel tastings (often starting right after breakfast) in cold, dank cellars. And, unlike many wine-professional journals, Rosenthal's book is mercifully uncluttered with industry argot.
—The New York Times
Jonathan Yardley
It is quite a good book—well written, informative, agreeably opinionated—but it is about a world that precious few of us are in position to enter…Rosenthal clearly has a gift for friendship, and his accounts of his dealings with growers and their families can be touching as well as informative. Being a wine merchant is harder than most people imagine, and he does a good job of describing its quotidian details. Most of all, though, this book is the testament of someone who, through a combination of talent, determination and good luck, has been able to spend his working life doing exactly what he wants to do, and doing it well. That is a blessing not often bestowed, and Rosenthal's gratitude for it is evident on every page.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

The 2008 vintage qualities remain undetermined, but with this title by New York City wine importer Rosenthal, the still-young year yields one of the outstanding wine books of recent memory. From long experience, the author writes that wine should be first understood as an expression of soil through fermented grape juice and begins his memoir of a tradesman's life with a short manifesto on that expressive quality called terroir. Then, Rosenthal takes us on an autobiography of his life as a wine merchant, starting with the opening of his Manhattan shop in 1978, from early misadventures and small-scale successes to the ferreting of significant discoveries far off the paths habitually beaten through France and Italy in particular. His and his wife, Kerry, had a knack for finding the hitherto unknown, and he narrates these discoveries with physical and social details that bring moments to vivid, sensory life. The period he chronicles was one of enormous developments in wine, from California through globalization, and he writes intelligently of the problems that came with progress. Yet neither the trade nor this title is romantic: Rosenthal makes clear the hard, often unpleasant work of winemaking and its trade and the setbacks that are part of the process. Through his business, he has had and been responsible for countless wine-related experiences of exceptional quality; he has now provided a literary one. B&w photos. (May)

Copyright 2007Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
A purveyor of fine wines offers his thoughts on the correct way to get the best reds and whites from Europe's cellars to New York's sellers. Rosenthal demands exclusivity, no filtration and full fidelity-and he indicts those who fail to meet these requirements. Like a realtor, he declares that the most important consideration is location: Terroir, where the grape lives, is of the essence when it comes to concupiscible vintages. Having no interest in wines of the New World, the author has always concentrated on the small family vignerons of Italy and France. He recounts pleasant meetings leading to palate-delighting discoveries with the local cognoscenti, growers, rascals and rogues in the fellowship of the vine. Tastings engender lavish descriptions. Forget simple "nose" or "legs"; his wares merit greater eloquence. Rosenthal depicts one vintage that, when properly mature, is "of stunning complexity with aromas that recall summer's most pungent and sweet flowers and herbs, accompanied by notes reminiscent of well-worn saddle leather and animal fur; the flavors are of licorice and burnt cherry and chocolate and tobacco [with] the almost tangible feel of a light coating of mineral-infused dust." What serious oenophile can resist such evocative and romantic appellations: Chambave Rouge from the Valle d'Aosta, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva, Hattenheimer Nussbrunnen Trockenbeerenauslese? Connoisseurs of a particularly highfalutin bent will no doubt savor this celebration of the vintner's art; the hoi polloi may prefer Sergio Esposito's more accessible expressions of enthusiasm in Passion on the Vine (2008). Exudes the supercilious attitude of a high-end sommelier who deigns to dispensesuperior wine wisdom.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374248567
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 4/29/2008
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 6.21 (w) x 8.09 (h) x 0.99 (d)

Meet the Author

Neal I. Rosenthal was born in New York City in 1945 and was educated at Rutgers, Columbia, and New York University. He lives on a fifty-seven-acre farmstead in Pine Plains, New York, which produces organic eggs, buckwheat honey, fruit, and vegetables.

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Table of Contents

1 Terroir 3

2 The Test 8

3 The Mystery of Chambave 23

4 A Foray into France 41

5 The California Connection 58

6 The Network 76

7 Character 92

8 The Art of Discovery 105

9 Carema, Bees, Friendship 120

10 The World Turns 139

11 Loyalty 150

12 Succession 167

13 Sons and Daughters and Sons 189

14 Perspective 212

15 Endurance 233

Index 247

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 26, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    No holds barred

    Evelyn Wuagh, in his long-out-of-print monograph on wine, said one of the roles of a wine merchant is to help guide us toward new discoveries, based on what we already like.

    This is exactly what Rosenthal does, and he doesn't mind skewering Francophobes, overly corporate types or a few big names along the way.

    Waugh also defended some long-standing traditions about wine, writing: "Conventions in such matters are not arbitrary, or the invention, as is sometimes thought, of snobs who wish to elaborate the barriers between the cultured and the common man. Conventions are only accumulated experience."

    Ditto Rosenthal. Informed opinion is important, and Rosenthal makes no apologies for preferring wines with centuries of tradition that often display a unique personality. Based on his experience, these are the wines that truly deliver value and enjoyment.

    Yes, many French and Italian wines can seem like an absolute jumble when you're taking those first tentative steps beyond cutesy labels, but the rewards are huge.

    If you like this book, take a look at the wine documentary "Mondovino." From Rosenthal to Roberts Parker & Mondavi, it provides a good contrast between opposing schools of thought in winemaking these days.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 29, 2008

    What a fun ride

    I received my copy yesterday and I spent the evening finishing off this wonderful read. I have long been a fan of Neal Rosenthal the importer of world class wines and now I am a fan of Neal Rosenthal the writer. Life, philosophy and the pursuit of good wine will make you crave more after every chapter. Kudos to this great first effort.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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