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Book Review: Adventures with Old Vines

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Richard L. Chilton, Jr.’s book Adventures with Old Vines, is, in no uncertain terms, a book of vintage charts. “Vineyard Profiles,” rather, as the book puts it. From page 53 to 269 (the end of the book), Chilton — who owns and operates Napa’s Hourglass Winery — runs through a collection of wine producers, painting a portrait of a few pictures of history, some information about the region the winery is in, and then talking you through tasting notes of that winery’s most memorable vintages. While the wineries are ordered by region, then alphabetically, there aren’t any headers to guide you from one winery to the next. (Presumably the shipping book has a completed index; my advance reading copy didn’t.)

These wineries are all the bluest of blue chips, so we’re talking about first-growth Bordeaux, Cristal, Gaja, Penfolds Grange, that kind of stuff. Basically, if you were to open up a wine catalog and look at the wines on sale, then cross-referenced those wines with Chilton’s book, the two lists would pretty closely align. For those looking to suss out whether 1989 Petrus is a good bottling (it is!), this book gives you a quick way to find out in between lots at the auction house.

Then again, you could probably do the same with a pocket vintage chart/cheat sheet, and that would fit in your wallet, only the chart wouldn’t have the delightful color that Chilton has on tap.

The other 52 pages of this book are presumably where the “Adventure” of the title lies, though here Chilton has a very curious focus. Subtitled “A Beginner’s Guide to Being a Wine Connoisseur,” Chilton has written a book for wine novices (complete with the unavoidable “how to order a bottle of wine off a wine list without panicking” section), but then he stuffs it with information about buying cases of Bordeaux en primeur and — whoa — selling cases of Bordeaux for $30,000 a pop. This isn’t the world of any beginning wine connoisseur I know, but paradoxically neither is much of this information of any value to the high-rolling wine collector. There’s simply a big disconnect among the various sections up front, to the point where it’s hard to determine why it’s even there except to fill space.

If tasting notes for ultra-luxe rarities are in your wheelhouse, give Adventures with Old Vines a go. True “beginners” can otherwise find better material to get them up to speed on vino, no matter how expensive and old it is.

C+ / $16 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

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Christopher Null

Christopher Null is the founder and editor in chief of Drinkhacker. A veteran writer and journalist, he also operates Null Media, a bespoke content company.

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