“Thirsty Work”…A Book Review

"Thirsty Work" by Matt Skinner (Running Press)

There is a market out there, and a fairly large one, for books that seek to educate the masses on wine. In fact, if you look across the spectrum of wine books you’ll find that the majority tend to be "for dummies" "for the average Joe", an "introduction to", the "Basics of" and other such titles that assume no more than a rudimentary understanding of wine by those who will buy the books.

"Thirsty Work" by Australian Matt Skinner falls into this genre. It seeks to apply a hip, off-handed , detached attitude to the job of educating neophytes about wine. If nothing else, it succeeds at communicating this attitude.

Skinner is friends and colleague of "Naked Chef" Jamie Oliver of TV cooking fame. Oliver contributes the forward to "Thirsty Work". Oliver is convinced that the book is "a real turning point as far as books about wine are concerned." It’s the "accessibility" that Skinner brings to the topic that convinces Oliver of the momentousness of "Thirsty Work". I’m not sure I agree.

That said, "Thirsty Work" is a fine addition to the "you-don’t-need-to-know-anything-about-wine-to enjoy-it-accept-know-what-you-like-and read-this-book" approach to wine writing. Indeed you’ll find very basic information about varietals, winemaking techniques, the different wine regions and even a bit vocabulary. The book is decidedly euro/Aussie centric. And you get the feeling that Matt doesn’t really like American wines, or at least Californian wines….or, alternately that he doesn’t know much about them. This is fine if you are planning to write an introductory book on wine mean to be looked at closely by your target audience: those who don’t know wine. Still, this doesn’t justify this entry on California wine:

"California—the soul of the USA’s wine trade, encompassing the ultra-fashionable Napa Valley, north of San Francisco, to the more southerly growing zones, such as Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz. From Disney to Dogtown, California has given us plenty, but the one area where it falls short of satisfying every one is in its wine department. For a long time, the problem has been that wine from the really great producers is either made in such microscopic quantities  that it’s ever seen or simply ends up way to expensive for Joe Average (you and me).

"At the other end of the scale, and even more frightening is the statistic that each year some Goliath-like Californian producer single-handedly churn out more wine than Australia’s combined annual production."

The last part of that entry is just silly. But taken as a whole you get the impression that Skinner has it out for California.

I know I sound dismissive of this approach to wine writing. I think it’s a result of the implication of Skinner’s style and approach: Connoisseurship = Snobbery.

But there is something else that bothers me. The idea that you must dumb down wine in order to make the world of wine palatable to the uninitiated. And that is what’s going on here. But it’s just not true. Here are the reasons why.

Still, the book has redeeming value. The photos throughout the book, taken by Chris Terry are quite nice. And the mirco-profiles of wine people throughout the book are fun to skim as well.

As a whole, I’m not recommending "Thirsty Work". There are simply many more and better introductions to wine in your local book store.

Posted In: Wine Media


9 Responses

  1. maggie - November 21, 2005

    I agree completely. I was set to interview the wanker when he breezed through the Northwest, but he cancelled his dinners/book signings last minute–no explanation. I love a frank attitude towards wine, it’s too rare. But something about this book rubs you the wrong way. He’s almost talking down to the reader AND dumbing down wine at the same time. Odd. I don’t get the fuss over this limey ****. Note to publishers: just because a guy seems kinda cute behind the bar doesn’t mean squat. He’s thirsty alright, for publicity (Jamie Oliver’s name is tatooed all over the freakin book). Too bad he doesn’t feel like doing much of the work. If I were Jamie, I’d take some scissors to my coattails.

  2. Tom Wark - November 21, 2005

    Damn it Maggie….Stop holding back and tell us what you really think!

  3. Aimee Bianca - November 28, 2005

    The reason why Matt cancelled his dinners/book signings last minute is that his wife was having complications with her pregnancy and he had to fly back to London to be with her. He will most likely reschedule his book tour for the Spring.

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