When Eric Asimov visits the Island for the book festival it will be his first time on the Vineyard in 30 years. His last trip was marked by trying his first farm-fresh egg. He was in college at the time, sleeping on a friend’s floor, and for breakfast one morning they went to the neighbor’s next door to fetch the eggs for breakfast.
“I was blown away,” he recalled. “It was a different color than I was used to, the flavors were far more intense than I had experienced before. It was as if I had been eating with a plastic slipcover over my mouth and taken it off, and exploring flavors that were true and direct.”
“I’ll never forget that experience,” he added. “It was formative for me because I never wanted to settle for flavors or ingredients for food, and by extension wine, that wasn’t clear and direct and full and real.”
Mr. Asimov returns this weekend to discuss his book How to Love Wine: A Memoir and Manifesto.
As chief wine critic for The New York Times, Mr. Asimov has been writing about wine for the past 15 years. He routinely has people approach him about their anxiety about wine.
“They say, ‘I like it but I don’t really get it when people talk about all those flavors. I know I should.’ And then there’s always a trail-off,” he said. “It was clear to me that people blame themselves for lacking some sort of skill and ability to experience the wine the way it’s written about in so many consumer publications.”
“That disturbed me.”
“Don’t worry about detecting flavors and aromas; don’t worry about what you’re supposed to do,“ he added. “Just enjoy it. Don’t approach it like it’s an academic exercise or unpleasant exam.”
Mr. Asimov, a longtime wine drinker and adventurous eater, began wondering what caused this obstacle that prohibited people from experiencing “the simple enjoyment to deep exploration” of wine. The result is How to Love Wine, which alternates between chapters of personal reflection on how Mr. Asimov went from reviewing canned beer for his high school newspaper to the meal in France that changed his life, to a breaking down of the barriers in understanding wine. Over the years Mr. Asimov has learned that a good bottle of wine isn’t so much about the flavor profile or dense language that can accompany its description but the conversations that happen when you uncork the bottle.
“The interesting thing about wine is often not the wine but how it transports people in so many different ways,” he said. “You could say that partly that’s the effect of alcohol, but it’s also the effect of a verbiage that can be so complex and interesting and have such good stories to tell just in the glass.”
Wine goes beyond a pleasure to consume; it also creates memories, he said.
“It has also opened many doors to me, introduced me to fascinating people, some who have become lifelong friends,” he said. “It’s a memory marker. You can say, ‘remember that bottle?’ ”
Novices need not fear, Mr. Asimov said, there’s always someone to help. Whether it’s at your neighborhood wine shop or high-end restaurant, there’s usually assistance. But first, give them your budget, he advises.
“Hopefully, the wine person will be sufficiently sensitive to be able to detect what the level of interest is without getting academic with you,” he said.
“We should feel there are people who are able to help us and overcome our fear of being taken advantage of,” he said. “That’s not to say that all the time and energy devoted to talking and analyzing wine is a waste. It’s just a next step if you’re interested.”
“The crucial point is that whether you’re interested or not, you’re not compelled or obliged to approach wine like that.”
Secondly, try, try and try again. Mr. Asimov recommends getting a case of different wines, uncorking different bottles every night and keeping track of likes and dislikes.
For a hot August night, reach for something beyond the white wine.
“The world is cottoned on to rose,” he said. “It’s gone beyond a fad and lasted more than five years. But the world can’t survive on rose and white wine alone. There are lot of really good fresh, light-bodied reds that benefit from a light chill.”
Today’s wine culture is “a complete revolution” compared with years past. Just as with food, “we’ve become far more conscious of what’s available in the world and what real, honest wine is.” “It is the greatest time to explore wine,” Mr. Asimov said. “There are many great and interesting wines from different places and a greater diversity of styles than ever before.”
“For the last 10 or 15 years, we’ve seen a growing appreciation of what makes each small village or region unusual and distinctive,” he continued.
California, for example, has one of the more exciting regions in the world these days, Mr. Asimov said.
“One of the reasons is you have younger generations, primarily, that are experimenting with diversity,” he said. “You’re seeing a lot more risk taking and a lot more effort in California.”
Eric Asimov will speak at 4:15 p.m. on Saturday, August 3, at the Harbor View Hotel and at 3 p.m. on Sunday, August 4, on the grounds of the Chilmark Community Center.