Book Review: What Makes a Wine Worth Drinking: In Praise of the Sublime


There’s a certain audacity to declaring that you can suss out the meaning of a wine—beyond just the pleasure principle or the alcohol buzz it provides while accompanying your dinner. Even using the elusory word “sublime” in a title takes a bit of hutzpah. And famed importer Terry Theise certainly exhibits it when he tries to tackle a slippery, and very subjective, idea like What Makes a Wine Worth Drinking: In Praise of the Sublime in his new poetic meditation/memoir. But, you know? He earns it. With lyrical prose and an ability to write convincingly about inspiration, Theise takes readers on a journey through his life in wine. He doesn’t try to teach about terroir (though he contemplates the topic) or about how to find meaning—he just lets us accompany him as he finds his own passion in a glass.

I’m a sucker for good writing, and his is good. It’s a seamless interweaving of personal memoir, rumination, and celebration of wines and winemakers and moments. There’s a joy to it, as well as a peacefulness to it, as it’s written by a man who’s had a long career and can look back at it with pleasure. There’s a touch of melancholy, too—a feeling that he says accompanies his profoundest interactions with wine. The descriptions of some of his most moving wine experiences remind me of being a college kid studying abroad and devouring the Great Gatsby in one hungry swoop while sitting alone in a small Italian piazza—that singular feeling of falling in love with a made thing. It’s a wonderful perk of being a human.

Why do people devote a life to wine? Why do they devote books to contemplating this everyday staple of the table? I’m sure there are a million reasons, but one must be the search for that experience where you feel moved in your bones by a thing. And Theise writes about it beautifully. It does take audacity to write about such a thing as what feeds the soul, but this book, somehow, accomplishes it. And it’s a hell of a ride.


- Kate Soto