November 27, 2006
A Hedonist Avoids Lodi

Lodi didn't make the cut. Jay McInerney apparently didn't have an ephiphany as he tasted through a bunch of Lodi wines Lodi vintners brought him in San Francisco four years ago.

At the time, McInerney was best known as a successful New York novelist, but he'd also been writing a wine column for House & Garden magazine. The intent of his visit to San Francisco was to promote a book of those columns, "Bacchus & Me: Adventures in the Wine Cellar." Unable or unwilling to visit Lodi, Lodi went to him.

"Bacchus & Me" was well received, McInerney continued to write the column, and now he's out with a new collection of his wine writings, "A Hedonist in the Cellar: Adventures in Wine" (Knopf, $24, 243 pages), covering the past five years.

I was at the San Francisco tasting for McInerney, and remember that he was loose with his praise for several of the wines. "This reminds me of a Tahitian-period Gaugin," he said of a Lodi viognier. "It's more a Kate Moss style than Pamela Anderson," he said of a Lodi chardonnay, and that was a compliment. He said he liked Lodi's zinfandels, and appreciated the restrained prices of Lodi wines generally. In all, it seemed a positive and informative exchange.

But if McInerney wrote anything of Lodi wines in his column, it didn't get into "A Hedonist in the Cellar." Lodi's winemaking community might be irked by the snub, but nonetheless there's a lot to like in the compilation. In his wine research, McInerney goes to the right sources, he keeps an open and inquisitive mind, and he remains his own person about what he likes and doesn't like. His essays are concise and focused, they move along briskly, and he brings to the craft the novelist's knack for fresh metaphors and telling anecdotes.

McInerney gets around, so his collection is eclectic, moving from California chardonnay to Italian Soave to French Cote-Rotie to Argentine malbec. The personalities he focuses on are as diverse and expressive - Willy Frank from New York's Finger Lakes region, Berkeley wine merchant Kermit Lynch, Charlie and Stu Smith of the Napa Valley winery Smith-Madrone, Randal Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyards in the Santa Cruz Mountains. His writing is current, helpful and honest. Anyone looking for a broad and entertaining survey of the modern world wine scene will benefit from "A Hedonist in the Cellar."

Lodi's vintners might think otherwise, however.

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