This is a book review for Hungry for Wine: Seeing the World through the Lens of a Wine Glass, by Cathy Huyghe, a writer for Forbes.com on the business and politics of the wine industry and columnist for “Wine, Unfussed” at Food52.com. Published September 2015 by Provisions Press and available on amazon.com.
Hungry for Wine presents a heartfelt and profound way of writing about and appreciating wine. Cathy Huyghe is a great believer in the power of the story in communicating wine, and she does exactly this in the narration of twelve wineries and their producers in twelve chapters. Her background at Forbes comes through in her ability to analyze a situation well beyond the basic winery visit story.
Cathy looks at life through the lens of wine; and her book successfully looks at wine through the lens of life. Every chapter is like its own bottle of wine, unique and possible because of the various circumstances and hard work that made it. Consider this a warning: You may never drink a glass of wine the same again after reading this book.
Each chapter is meant to be savored, like a bottle of good wine. The book touches upon complex and multifaceted themes: economics, politics, entrepreneurship, war, migrant labor, and of course innovation, passion, and pursuing that passion in the face of all obstacles. Yet Cathy writes in a conversational, easy tone. She helps the reader understand each winemaker’s world and situation, and thus the wine at the end of the chapter. These are themes that deserve a pause at the end of the chapter, to consider, ponder and meditate upon (best with a glass of wine in hand).
This is the first time I’ve enjoyed reading tasting notes. They came at the end of each chapter and were truly interesting to read—not just because they’re well-written, but because as I read them, I pictured the people I just learned about behind the bottle. They were more than just useful or informative, usually the only goal of a tasting note. Whereas most wine writers and reviews put the wine first, Cathy shows how neither wine nor person comes first, but are inextricably connected.
The book is for all levels. Initially, I thought that established wine lovers might get the most enjoyment out of it, but that’s not true. On the contrary, someone just entering the world of wine will appreciate these stories, as the book does not take a nosedive into enological technicalities, but shares the lives of people that anyone can admire.
Hungry for Wine’s chapters read like a National Geographic exploration into wine: From how to market wine where it’s illegal in Turkey to the timely story of winemaking in war-torn Syria; from a winemaker just scraping by making a living in California to a South African winery helping others to make a living and overcome post-apartheid difficulties. I especially appreciated it for its wide geographical range. Much of my wine education and experience revolves around Italy—particularly Piemonte. Reading the stories of wine in faraway countries was an armchair trip I was happy to take.
Something else I appreciated was Cathy’s focus on what is important.
“So the real ‘wine lifestyle,’ for me, means taking the good with the bad.
It’s what makes wine all the more real, and tangible, and human.”
Being hungry for wine is taken literally in some parts of the world, where the vineyard workers are not laboring for some philosophical ideal captured in a bottle to express the land and the grape—they are working for the more basic hunger of putting food on the table. I love how she didn’t overlook this, how she sought it out in her travels and saw it; how many people don’t look beyond the glass?
Hungry for Wine was informative without lecturing and wine-focused without losing sight of the big picture surrounding the wine. It’s the type of book that could help non-wine lovers understand what all the fuss is about. At the same time, it will let lifelong experts rekindle the pleasures of drinking wine not for its points or rating, but for the drink. I do wish the book had been longer, though I'm aware that twelve countries in twelve chapters is an enormous undertaking. In the end, it’s a reminder to appreciate the wine but not to put it on a pedestal so its sits in the cellar, never to be uncorked (as her first chapter poignantly illustrates).
And I just wanted to share the best description of Italy’s massive selection of grape varieties and wine appellations: “[S]o many of Italy’s native grapes are hyper local and hyper focused, market trends be damned.” Spot on!
Book received from author.