In November of last year one of the wine industry’s most venerable magazines, the Quarterly Wine Review, ceased publication. Wine, says owner Richard Elia, has lost its romance. The charm, the characters, the gentle hedonism, the mischievous sparkle; all have been losing ground at a devastating rate to marketing and point systems. In many ways he is right, from huge companies whose product just happens to be wine, to raging consumerism and out of control bandwagons, things can look a little bleak from a certain angle. A recent YouTube video shows a sommelier vigorously molesting his glass of wine (his glass in this case being a convenient lab beaker…) with a hand-held electric blender so as to better and more quickly aerate his fine aged wine. This is the face of the apocalypse, I thought; I rent my clothes, rubbed ash in my hair and spent a week wandering around in sackcloth.
A postcard available at Corchos, a small, classy wine bistro in the old quarter of Montevideo depicts a personification of a Tannat grape, Uruguay’s flagship varietal. He is short and … robust… North American of girth and his face sunburned to a deep shade of British tourist. He snarls a challenge over a stubby hand-rolled cigarette and his eyes back it up; try me, they say; see these spurs on my boots, they say; that’s right, they say; I’m no Pinot Noir mo#% *f#$!!@.
And for the longest time he got the arms-length respect he demanded in his native Madiran, a small area in the Gascon region of France. Generally blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc to make Madiran appellation wines (a wine must contain at least 40% Tannat to classify) or made as a single varietal, wines with Tannat are relatively simple and rustic and usually stored for many years before consumption is even considered.
The South America Handbook, begun in 1921 as the Anglo-South American Handbook (before the Royal Mail Steamship Company privatized it in 1924), has been one of the most talked about, written about, and longest continually published guidebooks in the world. The guide doesn’t have the commercial appeal of Lonely Planet South America, but everyone from Graham Greene to Michael Palin have raved about its resourcefulness. The pages are full of info and bible thin, which is only partly why sometimes the guide is compared to “that other bestseller.” It doesn’t tell you where to go like some of the other guides as much as it tells you of what is there. On my first trip to South America, this is the guide I carried with me.