Oldman’s Brave New World of Wine: Pleasure, Value, and Adventure beyond Wine’s Usual Suspects by Mark Oldman

by Stevie on October 7, 2010

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bring Bacchus home with you tonight!

bring Bacchus home with you tonight!

Oldman’s Brave New World of Wine is a delightful guide to exploring wine for novices and experienced oenophiles alike. Convinced that we all tend to stick with the familiar when it comes to our vinous choices, Oldman’s goal is to push the reader to give up that oaky chardonnay or go-to shiraz, at least once in a while, and try something new. Attuned to today’s wine audience, this is no stuffy and ponderous tome. Rather the book is light, even funny at times, all the while remaining informative and knowledgeable without the extra baggage.

After a brief intro, Oldman describes what he believes to be wines that the in-the-know have already discovered but are fairly under appreciated by the general wine-drinking public. Organized simply from light to more full bodied whites, rosé, light to more full bodied reds, sparklers then dessert wines, the book finishes with a few chapters on special topics (e.g. box wines or large format bottles) and some informative appendices.

Each chapter is fairly short: only three to four pages, so they’re easy reading. All of them are in three parts. First he introduces the wine and gives some info about it, often with humorous commentary or personal anecdotes. I started cracking up when I read in the chapter on sparkling shiraz:

This is an animal of a completely different sort—a bubbly red. Just writing that phrase sets off alarm bells of cognitive dissonance. Quality red wine is not supposed to sparkle any more than Anthony Bourdain is supposed to bury his head in a plate of Tempeh bacon.

Next, he offers quotes about the wine of that particular chapter in a section he calls “Bravehearts on…” These are often comments by movie and television stars, popular musical performers, celebrity chefs, wine aficionados, restaurateurs, etc. I was thrilled to read Mireille Guiliano reminiscing about pink champagne as we at weirdcombinations really enjoy her. And I had no idea that Jason Priestley, Hilary Swank or Jody Foster were so into wine.

All chapters end with an interesting section in which he puts each wine on a graph of price versus “adventure” level, suggests what the drink in question might be an alternative for (e.g. Cahors might be an “audacious alternative” to cabernet sauvignon or syrah), offers suggestions for producers that he likes, food pairings, gives pronunciations for certain non-English terms and more.

I was excited with the idea of “Bargain Bordeaux” with smoked tofu. In an appendix at the end he even suggests wines “fit for foragers” by which he means vegetarian friendly. He defines these as having “ample acidity, low/no tannin, low/no oak, low to medium weight, and/or herbal notes.” It is a bit discouraging that these are mostly whites, sparklers and a few medium bodied reds like various pinots noirs and cru Beaujolais. He’s obviously never been to my house where we’ll serve a hearty Châteauneuf du Pape with veggie dishes. Sometimes opposites attract. Food and wine pairing is tricky, I’ll give you that. Still, in a book promoting adventurous drinking, perhaps avoiding endlessly pairing minerally whites with shellfish and full-bodied reds with meat might have freshened it up some. Really though, that’s my only complaint, and it is fairly minor as he routinely will offer other food pairings at the end of every chapter.

Oldman sounds like he’s a lot of fun to hang with. How many people do you know that would think to bring aged Madeira to a family gathering in which they used a Ouija board in an attempt to contact his mother’s mother from beyond the grave? I was thrilled to read that he smuggles wine into movie theatres, too! I’ve done that once or twice with great success.

His wine suggestions themselves got me excited. Now I’m terribly curious about Txakoli, Rueda, Lambrusco and aged Aglianico, to name a few. In a way, my excitement distracted me from the text. I found that I had to keep taking breaks either to absorb what Oldman was saying or to sample some of these wines. Obviously, he doesn’t include everything under the sun here. But that’s not really the point. I enjoyed recognizing an occasional one that he chatted about, like “good merlot” from Pride and Shafer, or Quinta de Aveleda vinho verde. Many of his recommendations I’ve tried before, but somehow I’d let them slip into the background. I want to make a real effort to seek these out more often.

Physically, the book is quite attractive. On the cover is an impressive photo of the handsome author. It is a large format paperback with an unusual color scheme that I really liked. The text is in a pleasant tawny brown color alternating with a purplish blue on an off white background. Pages that break up sections are in a richer brown with the bluish text and the third part of each wine chapter is boxed off in a pale brown. Though there are no photographs inside, it has diagrams and comical drawings liberally sprinkled about. The writing itself is very engaging and of high quality.

Oldman’s Brave New World of Wine does what it sets out to do: fires you up to seek out wine beyond your safety zone. It is a work that I plan on turning to again and again to keep from falling back into my Côtes du Rhône rut.

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