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A Carafe of Red

Gerald Asher (Author)


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Every wine has a story. In this collection of elegantly written essays from the past thirty years, updated with a new introduction and endnotes, renowned author Gerald Asher informs wine enthusiasts with insightful, engrossing accounts of wines from Europe and America that offer just as much for those who simply enjoy vivid evocations of people and places. Asher puts wine in its context by taking the reader on a series of discursive journeys that start with the carafe at his elbow. In his introduction, Asher says, “Wine . . . draws on everything and leads everywhere.” Whether the subject is a supposedly simple red wine shared in a Parisian café or a Napa Valley Cabernet tasted with its vintner, every essay in A Carafe of Red is as pleasurable as the wines themselves.
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A Carafe of Red
Storm in a Champagne Flute
Côte Rôtie and Condrieu: Drinking with Pliny and Columella
Côtes de Castillon: A Bordeaux Wine Reborn
Le Beaujolais Nouveau Est Arrivé!
Armagnac: The Spirit of D’Artagnan
Les Chevaliers du Tastevin
Jerez de la Frontera: Sherry and Tapas
Malmsey: A Greek Classic
Barbaresco: A Glimpse of Paradise
Priorato: A Heady Success Story
School Days on the Rhine
Franconia: Going for Baroque
California Cabernet Sauvignon
A Morning Tasting with Joe Heitz
Beaulieu Vineyard’s Georges de Latour Private Reserve
Santa Cruz Mountains: Ingenuity and Tenacity
Zinfandel: California’s Own
Wine and Food: The Myth of a Perfect Match
Chardonnay: Buds, Twigs, and Clones
Haut-Brion: A Most Particular Taste
Judgment of Paris: California’s Triumph
A Silent Revolution: Organic and Biodynamic Wines
A Memorable Wine
Missouri: Return of the Native
Spreading the Word: Books on Wine
Simple Pleasures: Warm Bread and Hot Chocolate

Gerald Asher is author of The Pleasures of Wine, Vineyard Tales, Wine Journal, and On Wine. As an international wine merchant, he was decorated by the French Government in 1974 for his contribution to French viticulture, in 2001 was named Outstanding Wine Professional of the Year by the James Beard Foundation, and in 2009 was inducted into the Culinary Institute of America’s Vintner’s Hall of Fame.
“A terrific introduction to one of the greatest wine writers of our times. . . . Complexity [that’s] easy to savor.”—Lara Douglass Wine & Spirits Magazine
“A real pleasure to read.”—
“This is wonderful reading for any wine lover.”—Assoc Press/SF Chronicle
“His book is definitely terroir-driven as he relates talks with winemakers, wines and the meals he has had, along with growing conditions. And each article is just about perfectly written with his eye for detail. . . . Well-worth a read or as a gift. Keep them coming, Mr. Asher.”—Gothic Epicures Writing
“Part travelogue, part history, and part viticulture and winemaking, all woven together with Asher’s enlightened personal commentary. . . . An entertaining and enlightening read.”—International Wine Review
“Forget scores. [Asher’s] wide-ranging, astute appreciation is where it’s at. Offers a window into what this wine writer — and yes, connoisseur, in the best sense — holds dear.”—S. Irene Virbila Los Angeles Times/Daily Dish
“These are travels every wine lover would take in a perfect world.”—Miami Herald
“The collections of writing from former Gourmet wine editor Gerald Asher are always a joy, but "A Carafe of Red" is worth buying for one particular chapter. "Chardonnay: Buds, Twigs and Clones," originally from a 1990 issue of Gourmet, unfurls the whole messy history of California's most beloved grape in a masterly piece of scholarship that should be tattooed on every wine writer's forehead.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“The book is a compilation of Mr. Asher’s previous articles, mostly written for Gourmet magazine–articles that defined his style of lucid intelligence. Reading a Gerald Asher essay is more than just inhaling the written word, pleasant as that is. It’s like sitting in an easy chair in front of a warming fire on a chilly night, with a glass of Port in your hand, and Mr. Asher in a chair opposite you, explaining, in an indulgent way, whatever the topic is. . . . A particular joy of reading such a comprehensive and personal book as A Carafe of Red is that we get to experience, vicariously but no less intimately, Mr. Asher’s experiences of wines we will never otherwise have the opportunity to taste.”—Steve Heimoff Wine Blog
“’A Carafe of Red’ collects a series of elegantly written essays by renowned vintner Gerald Asher on the development and history of wine as a product, an industry, an art, and a culture. Throughout the collection, Asher draws on the importance of wine in economics, art and history in order for us to understand and appreciate the importance of wine in this growing international world. . . . Unique and engaging.”—The Blue Lifestyle
“There’s a delightful, other-worldly quality to Asher’s writing. It seduces the reader, with what feels like a slightly meandering stroll, in the way of a lovely, lazy summer sun in the mote-laden air of the meadow, but his writing is packed with information, pithily expressed amidst absorbing story-telling.”—Wine Wisdom
“Ideal for hunkering down on the sofa with a bottle by your side, reading whilst getting warm from a roaring fire.”—
"Simply put, no one writes like Asher anymore, and 'A Carafe of Red' serves as a capable introduction to his style and his work. As a study in effective, entertaining, and efficient wine prose, few authors even come close to Asher's celebrated ability to lucidly summarize the heart and soul of his subjects in only a few well-written and well-paced sentences. In that way, 'A Carafe of Red' is a short masterclass in wine prose."—Joe Roberts
"This is a number of charming collected essays on various aspects of wine by one of the wine world's most stylish writers, historians and wine lovers."—Dan Berger The Press Democrat
"Asher's discussion of the most memorable wine in his life makes the reader want to learn more while they are entertained in the process."—Conal Gregory The Scotsman
Praise for Gerald Asher’s A Vineyard in My Glass:

“Gerald Asher’s name snaps wine types to attention for good reason . . . shimmering, detailed prose [that] can often relay a wine’s cultural tale in a single sentence.”—Jon Bonné, San Francisco Chronicle

“There is a timelessness to his writing . . . a literary pleasure.”—Lettie Teague, The Wall Street Journal
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podcast interview with Gerald Asher, author of A Carafe of Red


Long ago, during my apprenticeship in the wine trade, I learned that wine is more than the sum of its parts, and more than an expression of its physical origin. The real significance of wine as the nexus of just about everything became clearer to me when I started writing about it. The more I read, the more I traveled, and the more questions I asked, the further I was pulled into the realms of history and economics, politics, literature, food, community, and everything that affects the way we live. Wine, I found, draws on everything and leads everywhere.

Those leads run through the chapters of this book. Each stands alone, yet each sheds light on an aspect of wine that will, I hope, add to your understanding of it. The very first-"A Carafe of Red," which gives its name to the collection-is a conversation that summarizes two thousand years of winemaking in France, from the first Roman colony to today's republic, explaining along the way how religion and politics, the Industrial Revolution, transportation (canals and railways), and the ravages of phylloxera helped shape the nature of French wine. "Malmsey" gives a glimpse of international trade and politics in the Middle Ages, while "Côtes de Castillon," a tale about the revival of a Bordeaux wine, looks behind the town's official name, Castillon-la-Bataille, to the battle fought there in 1453. Heavy artillery-giant cannons hidden on a hillside above the battlefield-was used for the first time to mow down knights in armor. While bringing an end to England's territorial aspirations in France, it also brought an end to the chivalry of the Middle Ages. Like a bookend to that historic moment, Castillon's winemakers have also been at the forefront of modern wine technology. They were among the first to adopt micro-oxygenation, a technique emblematic of their determination to improve the quality of their red wine, an effort so successful that Castillon wine leapt to the cover of Le Point, the French news magazine, where it was classified among the ten best wines of France. In "Jerez de la Frontera," I give you a glimpse of microbiology in action in the veil of Saccharomyces that plays a key role in the development of Fino Sherry, while "A Silent Revolution," about the meaning of "organic viticulture," looks at the role microbes play in keeping us fed. Small things often have large consequences: the spark of a weekend escape for a few writers and painters from nearby Tarragona, caught by a magazine article coinciding with the Barcelona Olympics, lit a passion that has brought back to life Priorato, a Catalan wine region on the verge of extinction, yet now producing one of the most sought after red wines of Spain. The chapter "Haut-Brion" shows how Bordeaux wine was transformed from tavern tipple into the yardstick by which other wines are measured; in "Judgment of Paris" that yardstick has historic consequences for California. In "Missouri" I show how the German American culture of that state evolved alongside its early viticulture; and "Chardonnay," in recounting the origins of one variety's clones in California, illustrates, in effect, the significance of all clones of all wine-grape varieties everywhere. And in "A Memorable Wine," I reflect on the question often asked of me and others who have led a life professionally involved with wine: What is the best wine you can remember? The answer to any such question can only be subjective, of course. What is "best" for me, or anyone else, depends on personal preference, the context, and our mood at the time. But above all, it depends on the knowledge and the personal memories we bring to the wine in the glass. It's what we bring to it that can make even a supposedly simple carafe of red memorable. That's the purpose of this book.

Gerald AsherSan Francisco, August 2011

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