Tasting Victory by Gerard Basset

I was long overdue with writing a short summary of my thoughts about Gerard Basset’s posthumous autobiography Tasting Victory, yet watching a part of the Best Sommelier of Russia 2020 yesterday as YouTube live stream reminded me that I owe it to one of the greatest wine professionals. 


Mr. Basset, likely the most known sommelier of all times, holder of both Master of Wine and Master Sommelier titles, the winner of the Best Sommelier of the World and multiple winner of the Best Sommelier in the UK, was a humble but determined Frenchman, who moved to Britain in his youth, accepted his new homeland and embraced his wine profession, and strived to become best in business, in service and in competition. While I initially hoped that the book would have a bit on his wine knowledge and wine travels, like Kermit Lynch or Neil Rosenthal s books are – well, it has none of that. This is a book of determination and achievement, of setting targets and milestones to get there, be it wine or something else. No stories of fraternizing with top Burgundy vignerons, or getting drunk with Gianfranco Soldera. Sadly. 


Yet, the Russian competition yesterday and its panel of top contenders, all three already retired from the actual sommelier work, forced me to put a quote here. Here it goes, from the man himself, and not me. 


Following the test, I talked a lot with Nina, and in her very rational manner she reassured me about my sommelier ability. We came up with the idea that for the last two months I would work “on the floor” at TerraVina and be the sommelier. From the opening of Hotel TerraVina I had always been involved with the wine service, but rarely fully, as I had some talented sommeliers working for me. Indeed, my role was to greet the guests and work with Nina to supervise the overall service. 


Therefore, I told my two sommeliers, Laura and Laurent, that each evening I would do the wine service at Hotel TerraVina and they would be there just to back me up during very busy periods in a reversal of the roles. It turned out to be a great idea, as I put myself under a lot of pressure. Regular guests wanted to talk to me, but I had to find polite ways to keep the conversations with them short and not get behind, in order to accomplish the wine service with minimum help from Laura and Laurent. On the whole I managed well, and in fact I really enjoyed it. 


In addition, I did two very short stints in top restaurants. Diego Masciaga, the managing director of the three-Michelin-starred Waterside Inn, the restaurant owned by Michel and Alain Roux in Bray, kindly let me spend two days working as a commis sommelier there. I explained to Diego that it was important that I was treated no differently from any of his employees. Those two days were extremely beneficial as I was serving at the top end of fine dining, which I had not done since working at Chewton Glen. 


3 Story: The Secret History of the Giant Man by Matt Kindt

Matt Kindt’s short and very poetic story of a modern life Gulliver, a fictitious gentle ever-growing giant lost in the post-war 50s, 60s and the 70s in the US is very nostalgic, melancholic and even somewhat sad. A tale of three women – his single mother, widow of a WWII vet, his wife, shrinking and diminishing by the day, locked in a tower of glass and steel, and his daughter who grew fatherless – all of whom eventually lost him, gave up on his deformity – or rather, they were finding ways of coping with it, which included, inter alia parting ways. 

Beautifully scripted and drawn, it requires a certain slow-food like approach, savoring it bit by bit – otherwise you speed though those bare 200 pages, chew on them and digest, and zas, the story (well, the third story) ends. Don’t rush. 


Нью-Йоркская азбука Александра Флоренского

Одна из одиннадцати книг питерского художника Александра Флоренского в серии Азбука, его карандашно-угольно-графические зарисовки-травелоги из разных городов. Нью-Йорк близок моему сердцу, раз два лета (2017 и 2019 я провёл там) – хоть и не со всеми выборами букв у Александра я согласен. 

А “W” так вообще повеселила страшно. Не знаю как в 2015 году, а в 2019 Williamsburg could easily be called Hisptersburg.

 


Patience by Daniel Clowes

Patience, Daniel Clowes‘ 2016 story on travel in time, a hectic run to save a pregnant girl from imminent murder, 2012, 2029, 2006, 1985, and 2012 again, is a colorful and witty tale, which, sadly, reeks of its background liberal and socialist agenda, aiming to solve all the injustices in this world by violence and even more injustice.

Clever and fast-paced, without doubt, but there are way too many science fiction novels on the matter that could easily best it. Say, All You Need is Kill is a great example.


The Wild Party by Joseph Moncure March and Art Spiegelman

Wow, such a wholesome, rhythmic, totally jazzed-up poem from the roaring twenties, a true gem by Joseph Moncure March, then managing editor of the recently established The New Yorker magazine, spiced up with Art Spiegelman’s black and white drawings of 1994.

First published in 1926, two years before Bertolt Brecht’s similarly tuned Three-Penny Opera hit the stage, in those careless final years of laugher and prosperity before the Great Depression and War, this short barely a hundred-page long smashed up, sexed up, and cocked up narrative drama of a lovers’ fight, seduction, jealousy and vengeance in a bubbling new New York apartment, propped against a totally Gatsbian wild party atmosphere, is definitely the best piece of frivolous poetry I’ve read in a while.

Queenie was a blonde, and her age stood still,

And she danced twice a day in a vaudeville.

Lip-smacking, invigorating, well ahead of its time, and quite contemporary today.


Reflections of a Wine Merchant by Neal Rosenthal

img_0401-2Following in tracks of Kermit Lynch’s spectacular Adventures on the Wine Route, probably the best wine book ever written, out almost a decade and a half before Reflections, Neal Rosenthal shares this colorful memoir of his early days as an NYC wine importer and retailer, traveling across France and Italy in times long gone, when no-one knew who, for instance, Hubert Lignier or Paolo Bea were.

A funny read, riddled with anecdotes and full of tales about a handful of cult producers, yet it is also a brilliant discussion on the shortcomings of the modern wine trade, about a battle between quality, tradition and legacy with sales, vogue and technology, putting a wedge between classic and natural wines vs their commercial and rather soulless adversaries.

Be prepared – Neal is not hiding his resentment, he is blunt and straightforward, no words are spared for growers and distributors who favored an additional buck at the expense of filtering, over-sulfuring, raising alcohol level or otherwise diluting true drops of gold. And as all wine is perishable, and renown wine families may also come to an end (a few lamentable examples are described in great detail) – it is also Neal’s tribute and a way of remembrance of some former treasures long surrendered and lost.

Essential reading for passionate wine geeks.


When the Wolves Bite by Scott Wapner

A quick and rather superfluous read, a story of Bill Ackman and Carl Icahn’s fight over Herbalife, an MLM dietary supplements producer accused by Ackman of being a pyramid-like Ponzi scheme. Ackman lost his fight, Herbalife survived, though in a somewhat crippled way – and this story, frankly, bears no moral whatsoever – it is just yet another Wall Street popcorn read you can devour in a few hours on the beach.

The Netflix movie on the same subject, Betting on Zero, is a much more candid thing, though siding entirely with Ackman in this struggle – it has certain honesty about it, determination, candor. Though somewhat socialist and anti-aynrandian, you inadvertently sympathize Ackman, posing as a Don Quixote for the poor defrauded Latino communities (sic!).

Yet, if you want to read a true activist book, don’t read this CNBC summary report by Wapner, glorifying again and again the harsh talk he had with both investors on live TV. Better read David Einhorn’s Fooling Some of the People All of the Time – a short-seller’s tale in his own words. Or bloody read The Big Short, definitely a more wholesome read.


Mary wept over the feet of Jesus: Prostitution and religious obedience in the Bible by Chester Brown

img_0025Given a hell of controversy this may spark, I’d rather leave this review intentionally blanc. The title is self-explanatory. Read the book and decide for yourself.


The New Wine Rules by Jon Bonné

img_0022-1A short, funny, rather entertaining book by Jon Bonné, something young wine aficionados should read and enjoy. Actually, I was okay with it as well.

Funny find – the diagram of technical/traditional wines, classified whether they are in or out of fashion now. Hilarious!


My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips

KOBK_15A short new graphic novel by the duo of Brubaker and Phillips falls in the tracks of their well known Criminal series, it’s is indeed another short noir story. A wrong man meets a wrong woman. What makes it different is the combination of striking blue and yellow colors, more shameless and alluring than I would expect.

A brief easy read.