Alicia Bien writes a book about wine that is interesting, didactic, and funny! She takes the reader on a fun ride through wine country with an A to Z structure, with “R” being my favorite—“Retsina at The Parthenon.” Each chapter is a short autobiographical tale about wine and the author. When traveling to Greece, Bien and her husband meet up with her cousin, Mike the Marine, and though the men end up having beer, the author finally does try Retsina. Her stories are infused with dry humor, and I also learned a few things about wine when reading her book.
For example, she writes: “Retsina uses white Savatiano or Assyrtiko grapes to make a white wine or sometimes it uses the pink Rhoditis grapes to make a Rosé. No matter the color, what makes a Retsina a Retsina is that it is flavored with the sap (aka resin) of the Aleppo pine tree. Yes, pine tree sap is purposefully added to the wine must during fermentation, giving the wine a—how do I say this nicely?—a pungent, paint-thinner, turpentine-like nose. Upon reflection, this smell may explain why Retsina is not found outside Greece.” I agree. It is not my favorite wine either.
Another story, about her experience while taking a class with Captain Clarence Sargent, a sixty-five-year old wine connoisseur, was equally entertaining. Captain Clarence tells the author, “You got a problem?” . . .
“Swirling,” I said. “It looks so snobby. Can’t we just drink the wine?”
His eyes met mine and in that instant I knew how the Viet Cong felt facing him on the battlefield—scared out of their skulls. She ends that chapter with “I had grown to respect Captain Sargent and his oenological knowledge and although I realized we’d never be friends, he’d done something remarkable for me—he’d provided an introduction to wine and its pleasures, turning this college beer chugger into a passionate wine drinker.”
This is a perfect little book for anyone who loves wine and short humorous tales. It’s a fun, quick read. The paperback has great drawings and the author brings her stories to life with clear, colorful language while making the reader chuckle from time to time. I highly recommend it—it’s perfect for a gift that includes a bottle of wine. Salud!
Alicia Bien is a comedy writer, performer and wine lover. She studied at Second City-Hollywood and the Upright Citizens Brigade and is Head Writer for the sketch show “Top Story! Weekly” at iO West. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and adopted cat. Visit the author online at her Blog newhousegirl.blogspot.com and follow her at Twitter@aliciabien.