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A Hedonist in the Cellar: Adventures in Wine [Anglais] [Impression à la demande]

Jay McInerney

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Extrait

Part Six: Matches Made in Heaven

What to Drink with Chocolate



Not far from the spot where Romeo secretly married Juliet, in the Valpolicella hills overlooking Verona, I discovered a more fortunate and successful match. I had just finished lunch with Stefano Cesari, the dapper proprietor of Brigaldara, in the kitchen of his fourteenth-century farmhouse, and I was trying to decide if it would be incredibly uncouth to ask who made the beautiful heather-toned tweed jacket he was wearing, when he put some dark chocolates from Perugia in front of me and opened a bottle of his 1997 Recioto della Valpolicella. One hesitates to describe any marriage as perfect, but I was deeply impressed with the compatibility of his semisweet, raisiny red and the bittersweet chocolates. Cesari later took me up to the loft of the big barn and showed me the hanging trays where Corvina and Rondinella grapes are dried for several months after harvest, which concentrates the grape sugars and ultimately results in an intense, viscous wine that, like Tawny Port, Brachetto, and a few other vinous oddities, enhances the already heady and inevitably romantic experience of eating chocolate.

The Cabernet, Merlot, or Shiraz you drank with your steak may get along well with a simple chocolate dessert, especially if the wine is young and the fruit is really ripe, but real chocoholics should check out the dried-grape wines, many of which are fortified—that is, dosed with brandy, in the manner of Port, a process that stops fermentation and leaves residual sugar. "Fortification seems helpful in terms of matching chocolate," says Robert Bohr, the wine director at Cru, in Greenwich Village, which has one of the best wine lists in the country, if not the world. Bohr likes Tawny Port with many chocolate desserts, finding Vintage Port too fruity. (McInerney does too, and advises that some of the best Tawnies come from Australia's Barossa Valley.) But most of all Bohr likes Madeira.

If you were to order the Hacienda Concepción chocolate parfait at Cru, Bohr would direct you to a vintage Madeira like the 1968 d'Oliveiras Boal. Madeira has become so unfashionable in the past century that many putative wine lovers have never tasted it, but I'm sensing the stirrings of a cult revival spearheaded by supergeeks like Bohr. The sweeter Malmsey style seems to be best suited to chocolate desserts. And by chocolate, I mean, of course, dark chocolate. Milk chocolate should be consumed only by day, if at all, and accompanied by milk.

The cough-syrupy Umbrian passito wine is made in the same fashion as Recioto from the mysterious and sappy Sagrantino grape. These powerful, sweet reds seem to have originated as sacramental wines, and they continue to inspire reverence among a small cult of hedonists, myself among them. This practice of drying grapes goes back thousands of years; there are references to drying wine grapes prior to fermentation in Homer and Hesiod. ("When Orion and Sirius come into mid-heaven," Hesiod advises in Works and Days, "cut off all the grape clusters and bring them home. Show them to the sun for ten days and ten nights.") I like to imagine that these dried-grape wines resemble those that were drunk at Plato's symposium or Caligula's bashes—although chocolate wouldn't appear in Europe until the sixteenth century, Columbus having stumbled upon a stash of cacao beans on his fourth and last voyage to the New World.

Two of the finest wines for chocolate, Maury and Banyuls, come from remote Roussillon in France's deep southeast. These so-called vins doux naturels are made (mostly) from late-picked Grenache grown on steep, terraced, wind-scoured hillsides near the Spanish border. The standard-bearing Banyuls estate is Domaine du Mas Blanc, one of the world's most famous obscure domaines. I first tasted this wine at JoJo, Jean-Georges Vongerichten's pioneering New York bistro, alongside the warm Valrhona chocolate cake, a nearly erotic experience that I try to re-create at least once a year. (And I'm a guy who doesn't usually even bother with dessert.)

Banyuls's neighboring appellation Maury also produces a chocolate-loving vin doux. The village cooperative makes the classic example; I recently had, alongside Le Bernardin's warm chocolate tart, a 1929 that was spectacular, with lots of caramel, date, coffee, and vanilla flavors, plus an oxidized Sherry note, which the French and Spanish call rancio. The finest estate in Maury is Mas Amiel (which once traded hands in a card game), producers of several cuvées of heady Maury, including one raised in the traditional manner of the region, spending a year outdoors in huge glass demijohns, exposed to
the extremes of the Roussillon climate. The demand for these labor-intensive wines, like that for most sweet wines, has been
static in the past few decades (Mas Amiel is increasingly focusing on the production of dry table wines), and prices remain modest when compared with Vintage Port or Sauternes.

America's answer to Banyuls and Recioto is late-harvest Zinfandel—a fairly rare, sweet style of Zin that is eminently delicious with chocolate, the darker and more bitter the better. This is a good general rule: chocolate with a high cocoa content and a lower milk and sugar content is the most complex, intense, and wine-friendly. As for the desserts, the more complicated they get, the harder they will be to match. Chocolate already has some five hundred flavor compounds—how many more do you need? A chocolate soufflé is a beautiful thing, but it's hard to improve upon a simple piece of Valrhona, Bernachon, or Scharffen Berger dark chocolate, unless of course you pour a Madeira or a Maury alongside it. --Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Relié .

Revue de presse

"Splendid vino vignettes [that] pique both curiosity and thirst."
--Jennifer Reese, Entertainment Weekly

"[McInerney's] research is impeccable and his judgments generally astute . . . Wine writer or novelist, the man is a story teller and a good one, [and] he his a hard-working professional who brings solid reporting and exceptional narrative skills to a subgenre woefully in need of them." --Frank J. Prial, The New York Times

"Good wines leave you wanting more; so, too, good wine writing, [and] from start to finish, first sip to last, A Hedonist in the Cellar is crisp, stylish and very funny."
--Michael Steinberger, New York Times Book Review

"As bracing as high-acid Riesling . . . McInerney the novelist, with his eye for detail and smart aleck wit, is never far from the page, [and] he's able to get inside each destination and suss out what makes it interesting, both by itself and in wine terms. By the end of each three-day column, you can't help but yearn to go there yourself, or at least open a bottle."
--Bruce Schoenfeld, The Washington Post Book World

"One of the most transparent of wine writers . . . His vision of the widening wine world ranges from South America to South Africa, New York to New Zealand, [while his] unfussy prose and his celebration of lesser-known wines make him the most transparent of wine writers."
--Mark Knoblaunch, Booklist --Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Relié .

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Amazon.com: 4.3 étoiles sur 5  13 commentaires
15 internautes sur 15 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 A refreshing collection of essays pleasurable to read and digest 22 novembre 2006
Par Bookreporter - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
Christened "the best wine writer in America" by Salon, Jay McInerney is truly the master of the grape, sans pomposity. In the years since his previous collection, BACCHUS AND ME, he has traveled to more countries for his trade, sniffed more woody aromas and uncorked more bottles than most sommeliers in the world. His monthly House & Garden column is read by thousands of oenophiles worldwide. He is also the award-winning author of seven novels, including most recently the critically acclaimed THE GOOD LIFE. In his latest concoction, A HEDONIST IN THE CELLAR, McInerney combines his extensive and perpetually growing knowledge of wine with a penchant for telling a good cocktail hour story to create a collection that is thoroughly pleasurable to read and digest.

As all essay anthologies should, HEDONIST begins with an informative introduction, written in McInerney's comfortable, laid-back style --- much like an evening's first glass of wine. He writes of his formative years at his job as a wine clerk at a rinky-dink "boozeteria" in Syracuse, New York, called the Westcott Cordial Shop. It was there that he heard about the acceptance of his first novel by Random House, while studying under Raymond Carver and Tobias Wolff in the Graduate Writing Program at Syracuse University. It was also there that he laid the groundwork for what later would be a career as a wine connoisseur, by reading the shop's books on wine and occasionally lifting a bottle or two to taste.

Ten years or so later, he was offered the wine column gig, despite his minimal training. "I'd never taken a class, or attended a wine tasting, or spit into a bucket..." Yet he managed to pull it off, purely for the love of learning about it and the enjoyment factor. "It's an inexhaustible subject, a nexus of subjects ... Ideally, the appreciation of wine is balanced between consumption on the one hand and contemplation and analysis on the other." These humble beginnings, combined with a desire to share his burgeoning knowledge with others, make these essays quite refreshing to read --- without the haughty hangover.

From Chile to New Zealand, German Riesling to Absinthe, McInerney --- a "pilgrim of the palate [and] devout hedonist in search of the next ecstatic revelation" --- has developed a rich appreciation of and refined palate for all varieties of wine. His essays reflect a passion that is both respectable and contagious. Even amateur wine tasters will be entertained by his natural ability to draw them in with stories of celebrity beverage preferences, intrepid oenophile adventures for the "perfect" bottle, and sommelier snafus. Conversely, snooty sippers might easily tire of his overly casual tone, but these wine buffs will likely be too busy writing their own tasting tomes rather than reading about others' observations.

Best kept on the shelf as a flip-through reference rather than a straight-through read, HEDONIST is also ideal for chuckle-worthy truisms such as: "Let's be honest: there's only one activity more satisfying than drinking good wine with good food; and if you're drinking good wine in the right company, the one pleasure, more often than not, will lead to the other."

--- Reviewed by Alexis Burling
5 internautes sur 6 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Sharp essays on good wine 28 décembre 2006
Par L. Tutor - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
It should first be noted that Jay McInerney was a writer long before he became a writer about wine. That's an important distinction, because it's easy to forget, when reading McInerney's witticisms and anecdotes, that he's also got a pretty good street cred as a wine authority.

"A Hedonist in the Cellar" is probably one of the more aptly named books ever to be published, because it's about a guy who truly loves what he gets paid to do. Unlike other books written about the perimeters of luxe lifestyles, McInerney's offering doesn't come across as a smug piece in which the author revels in highlighting what normal people will never get to enjoy.

In "Hedonist," McInerney gets beyond the froufrou language that causes most of the civilized world to arch a brow at wine lovers (and collectors and writers) and dismiss them as pompous snobs.

This latest book, a compilation of funny, frightfully easy-to-read essays about wine around the world, makes readers feel as though they've dropped in for a chat or were allowed to eavesdrop just outside the dining room door as a fabulous buffet of stories unfolds. McInerney -- and this is where the ordinary part ends -- takes readers to the hearts of the finest wine cellars and vineyards in the world. It's not an academic exercise, but rather like hitching a ride in the back of an old Mini (before they became fashionable) and rattling around for a year or so. In the case of the essays of the book, there are five years of writing.

He shares how the wine world works, what to look for in certain wines and, most important, how to find a wine you like and, by God, be confident in that choice.

People new to drinking wine might not be interested in "Hedonist" as a beginner's introduction to one of the world's oldest beverages. Some of the labels are fairly obscure, and a person trying to decide if they're a "red" or a "white" might not be so enamored of the intricacies of a particular Chilean vintage. They'd be better served by a book that's a little less chatty and a little more straightforward.
25 internautes sur 35 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
3.0 étoiles sur 5 One for the spit bucket 16 août 2007
Par Bevetroppo - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
"Sir, a woman preaching is like a dog walking on his hind legs. It is not done well but you are surprised to find it done at all."-Samuel Johnson

I want to get one thing straight before I begin: I wouldn't know Jay McInerny from Hugh McElhenny, so I don't want anyone to think that this review is colored by my previous experience with McInerny as a novelist or anything else. I understand this book is a compilation of short articles he wrote for the magazine House & Garden over a five-year span in the early part of this decade, although there are no dates on individual entries. That's too bad, because in 2007 there's virtually nothing new in the entire book, and if it turned out he wrote them all, let's say, in the period between 2000-2001, at least we'd know he was blazing some new ground at the time and it just took the rest of us a while to catch up. Instead I would describe the net effect as a romp through very well trodden territory with a half-baked, way-too-clever-for-his-own-good guide.

In the introduction, McInerny informs us that he came by his gig at House and Garden by accident, when a friend and editor suggested he combine his growing passion for the grape with his writing. Hence the Johnson quote above- should we be impressed that a novelist knows anything about wine, or perhaps go with the flow and quote Maximus from Gladiator, dripping blood in the center of the arena and shouting, "are you not entertained?"

My standard-bearer in this genre is Gerald Asher, who for 30 years has written brilliantly incisive articles about wine in Gourmet (The Pleasures of Wine). I know Gerald Asher, at least his wine writing, and Jay McInerny, Sir, is no Gerald Asher.

I'm going to begin my serious critique with the most nitpicky of comments. I hate typos and errata in books about wine. Maybe no one can tell when typos occur in a novel. But they are well nigh inexcusable in any work where people are theoretically relying on the author for accuracy and a minimal level of expertise. I refuse to accept the claim that a wine writer of any caliber understands his subject if he can't spell a place name right or spend the time to proofread, even if he once identified a bottle of '82 Haut Brion blind. Here are just two examples (curiously, both blunders I noticed relate to Italy, which, like Rome, seems to be where many unskilled wine gladiators go to die.) (1) Gamberro or Gambero? The famous Italian wine guide Gambero Rosso is spelled both ways within two pages. (2) Somewhere he refers to the town of Spoleto but it's written Spoleta, which is doubly unfortunate because it actually has nothing to do with wine-it's an Umbrian town famous for its annual classical music festival, also mirrored in Charleston, SC. My point is, what else in here is a trap for people who think he's trustworthy? Were these names misspelled in the magazine and someone just hit the copy and paste key? On a related note, why is a chapter entitled "The Maserati of Champagne" not placed in a section of the book called "Bubbles and Spirits?" The whole effort comes across as casual, superficial and sloppy, like maybe he was still drunk while he was writing and never went back for a fact check-hell, it's not a novel, after all.

But the two main reasons I found myself increasingly wincing as he pranced along were more significant. First, I suppose it goes with the territory, but I have to say I found his frequent use of metaphors, especially literary ones, both pretentious and unreliable. There are multiple references to wines as sports cars, including Maserati (see above), Ferrari and Mercedes-never linked to the country of the wine's origin- but unfortunately no steady, dependable Civics that can give you a lot of mileage for everyday consumption. Different first-growth Bordeaux are stylistically Turgenevs, Tolstoys and Dostoyevskys-at least he can spell them right-though I have no idea what he's talking about. A poor South African winemaker is described as "the gruff Charles Barkley-sized black sheep of the family," which is such an unintentionally inappropriate and hilarious analogy I had to include it even if it doesn't refer to a wine. I can't wait for his book on basketball.

Which brings me to the final complaint. Perhaps the book's most annoying feature is the seemingly random perspective the individual essays take relative to the reader's presumed knowledge of wine. I'm sure many will have already decided I'm an unrepentant geek of some kind because I don't appreciate the wit and accessibility on display here, or that I'm focusing on the bad instead of the good, but I would think that McInerny owes it to his readers to talk to them at a consistent level instead of a voice that's literally and figuratively all over the map. From one paragraph or essay to another he either speaks to the audience in an instructive and engaging tone like he was the grand prize in a "win an evening with Jay McInerny" winetasting sweepstakes for H&G subscribers, or he prattles on with the most abstruse, incomprehensible name-dropping drivel about wines that only a billionaire can afford.

Just to show this is a balanced review, I will credit the author for trying to sprinkle most essays with a few recommended examples of whatever he's talking about. When exploring the wide world of wine, we all need someone we can Lichine on, and if you want to, you can Lichine on he. Although I hate to see it in print, I must also give him credit for outing the fabulous though increasingly expensive wines of Montefalco's Paolo Bea.

I'm about done here. My recommendation would be for you to try to read a few of the short chapters before you buy this book to see if it hits the mark for you. But if I were writing in the clever McInerny style, I'd be compelled to return to my opening and say something like, while Hugh McElhinney made it into the football Hall of Fame, this book is going into my wine writing hall of shame
2 internautes sur 2 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 It's a fine, literary choice any general-interest public library strong in food and wine lending will want. 6 février 2007
Par Midwest Book Review - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
Wine columnist Jay McInerney has been billed the 'best wine writer in America' and his previous collection BACCHUS AND ME earned him much praise: so it's right to expect much from his sequel A HEDONIST IN THE CELLAR - and his memoir doesn't disappoint. Here are over five years' worth of essays and explorations in the wine world - and we do mean 'world' - following passions, people, and wines around the globe. It's a fine, literary choice any general-interest public library strong in food and wine lending will want.

Diane C. Donovan

California Bookwatch
2 internautes sur 3 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 attention wine geeks 11 février 2007
Par T. Welker - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
Though not as entertaining as" Bacchus and Me: Adventures in the Wine Cellar" , I still enjoyed the book. Lot of short pieces on various wine and alcohol related subjects....and who doesn't love that!? Probably not for you if your not geeky about wine but if you are so inclined a vicarious pleasure.
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