Book review: Vintage by David Baker

Cover of Vintage, by David Baker - Love the wineglass stains!
Cover of Vintage, by David Baker – Love the wineglass stains!

You’ll either be delighted or affronted by the protagonist of Vintage by David Baker–possibly both. Bruno Tennenbaum is a half Jewish/half Catholic, working-class gourmet food writer with a weakness for expensive wines and indulgent meals–and has a not-so-surprising resemblance to certain qualities of the author himself.

Like his protagonist, author Baker worked in vineyards, visited France, and for some years made a passable Pinot Noir in his garage. He’s also a professional food writer who writes with poetic passion in the story about food and wine pairings that will make your mouth water.

Unfortunately, protagonist Bruno’s excesses have come back to haunt him–a recent over-indulgence in wine has left him broke, fired from his job as a food columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times, and nursing a spot on his mothers couch. He’s separated from his wife and two daughters–though he still visits occasionally and charms them by cooking fabulous meals and bringing special wines–and he’s lost as to how to turn things around.

Then Bruno stumbles on the secret to an infamous bottle of wine, the 1943 Trevallier. Stolen from France during World War II and missing even from the Trevallier family records, the ’43 Trevallier is worth a small fortune – and major acclaim – to whoever locates it. Bruno, financed by what he thinks is a loan from his estranged wife, goes gallivanting with reckless abandon across the Continent and Russia in search of this treasure that he believes will restore his fortunes and inspire his next book.
Baker even intertwines his plot with a true story of how Americans saved the French wine industry. In the late 1800s vineyards all over France were dying. It was because of an imported root louse called phylloxera. All the classic French varieties fell prey to it. Many winegrowers went under. Stories abound of vintners hanging themselves in despair. Two Missouri researchers shipped to France millions of grafts of American root stocks that were immune to this louse. Today most of the vines in France have American origins below the soil.
The book is full of beguilingly poetic anecdotes and succulent descriptions of gastronomic experiences. Although the protagonist is a definite loser in many ways, you may find yourself charmed. The book is a light-hearted page-turner and would make a nice gift to any food and/or wine lover. Learn more here.