I love to read, and I’ll bet you do, too. Being transported to another place, another time, meeting new people, finding new adventures—it’s all fun.

I like to read everything. Newspapers, magazines, books, labels on wines and spirits (especially those things), whatever. I can’t seem to spend much time reading on the computer or on a “reading device,” but that is probably more attributable to my advanced age rather than any social hang-up. No doubt the next generations are taking to electronics as easily as the printed page.

And this is not a lead-up to a discussion of what our former daily newspaper is about to embark upon. There’s been quite enough energy spent on that topic already. We already know that people from New Jersey who own newspapers and manage publications in local markets are uncaring about meeting the needs of their customer-base. Oh dear, did I say that out loud?

Recently several books have come across my desk and I really enjoyed them. I do receive, from time to time, some books to review. Often they are worthy of attention and I think you will like knowing about these.

 

To Have and Have Another: A Hemingway Cocktail Companion

By Philip Greene (Perigee Trade, 2012)

Phil Greene is a New Orleanian. He is a descendant of Emile Peychaud, yes, that guy. The one who invented Peychaud’s Bitters back in 1830 or so, right here. Phil is quite the cocktail expert, but his day-job is a trademark and internet counsel stationed at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

He is a founding member of the Museum of the American Cocktail here in New Orleans (disclosure: as am I), and he has taken a great interest in the drinking habits of Ernest Hemingway, both in real life and as expressed in every story Hemingway ever wrote. It’s fascinating stuff.   

Hemingway, one of the greatest authors in the English language, was a hearty soul and a man who knew his way around a bar, no matter where in the world he was or what time of day it was. But as Phil Greene so completely demonstrates, enjoying a proper adult beverage was never far from Hemingway’s thoughts or his hands.

Throughout this volume are references to cocktails Hemingway featured in his novels, and then there are cocktails that Hemingway was enjoying in his personal life, all so well documented that it does not appear the great author had much private time, nor did he seem to want any out of the limelight.

You will appreciate the tales surrounding the famed La Florida Bar in Havana, known to locals as the Floridita, and where now resides a statue of Hemingway at one end of the bar, right on the stool he used to occupy for long periods of time. Cuba Libre was the cocktail of choice, but there were other drinks which involved some of Hemingway’s favorite spirits, like absinthe, cognac, rum, whisky and Champagne, among many.

Photos from that Golden Age of writing and movies are liberally sprinkled throughout the volume, including one of Hemingway leaving Hawaii on his way to China. Hemingway was not a fan of all those strangers bestowing leis around his neck and he departed the islands with the warning, “I’m going to cool the next son of a bitch who touches me.”

Over 60 wonderful drink recipes, and the stories, reveal a man larger than his times, whose every move was newsworthy, and every tale penned by him became a modern classic. 

Greene has exposed a true American legend, alongside his flaws and thirsts.

 

Unquenchable: A Tipsy Quest for the World’s Best Bargain Wines

By Natalie MacLean (Perigee Trade, 2011)

Right up front let me tell you I am a sucker for Natalie MacLean’s works. Her free monthly newsletter, Nat Decants, keeps me entertained; her book, Red, White, and Drunk All Over, is a smash hit; and her articles in noted food and wine periodicals always elicit rave responses.

But now she has not just skewered the sacred wine cow of pricing, she has brought sanity and reason to a topic which puzzles us all. Is a $120 bottle of wine as good as four bottles that cost $30 each? That’s an individual preference but maybe, just maybe, MacLean can create a bit of sanity in a world gone mad.

Let me offer a side note here: my friend, Jeff Siegel, over in Dallas, is renowned as The Wine Curmudgeon. He is a like-minded moth attracted to this same flame. His daily newsletter/blog devoted to finding reasonably priced but good wines is also free, winecurmudgeon.com.  

Okay, back to Natalie, her writing style will have you smiling at least once on every page, and laughing out loud with great frequency. In Unquenchable, she travels the wine world, interviewing industry folks who are passionate about making fine wine but committed to keeping the pricing at levels all of us can afford. Admirable goal, yes?

See if you have not felt like this from time to time. When someone tells you, “this is a delightful wine,” would you like to respond, “if I were shackled in Kingston Penitentiary?"

Or, “This wine has smooth texture,” maybe you could mutter under your breath, “making it an acceptable antiseptic to clean a chest wound before knife surgery in the Brazilian rain forest.”

Throughout Unquenchable, wines are named, producers are named and food pairings are suggested, all from a self-proclaimed “wine cheapskate.”

You are going to enjoy this book, and then you are going to be curious enough to do your own research based on Natalie’s. You may not always agree with her, but along the way, discoveries will be made, pleasures will be enjoyed and you will regale your friends with your wit and knowledge.

I hope you will. That is the essence of wine and cocktail (literature) appreciation.

 

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