Looking for Love, and Wine

Memoir Pairs Tasting Notes With Poetic Prose

By Alyssa Pinsker

Published May 15, 2008, issue of May 23, 2008.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Alice Feiring is no stranger to controversy. Her debut memoir, “The Battle for Wine and Love: Or How I Saved the World From Parkerization” (Harcourt), hit Page Six three months before its release this month. The reason? Feiring’s taste for natural wine brought her up against the world’s leading critic, the bulldog-esque Robert M. Parker Jr., whose trademark 100-point scale and preference for concentrated, manipulated wines can make or break a vineyard. Yet in talking to the petite, soft-spoken, 50-ish redhead — who, over wine and tea in the Soho neighborhood of Manhattan, where she resides, will reveal only that she is “old enough to drink” — all one sees is a warm, free-spirited, former dance therapist who listened to her own palate and is not ashamed to write about it with humor, passion and chutzpah.

Her memoir is a classic David and Goliath story of Old World traditionalists fighting “sanitized” standardizations. Feiring is for independent, local and varied winemakers, not the corporate and homogenous movement. She prefers delicate and natural flavors, like “chicken soup and dill,” over Parker’s “jammy fruit bombs.” It

is a highly technical account (she calls it “geeky”), but it’s filled with such graceful descriptions — “soft tannins melted into the purity of baking bread and smoke and a touch of lime” — that it’s no surprise her first published work was a poem.

Feiring grew up in an Orthodox New York home on Long Island and was a reader of the Forverts. Her grandfather, Samuel, a moonshine maker, gave Feiring her first taste of Manischewitz and also passed down his strong sense of smell. A delicate palate seems to be part of Feiring’s DNA, so it’s no wonder she became a critic of wine and fine, although the latter isn’t easy: Feiring, who refers to herself as a “kosher pescotarian,” doesn’t eat meat or shellfish.

As a teenager, she attended a yeshiva day school on Long Island, where she said she was shy but not afraid to speak out against anything she thought was wrong. The Talmud influenced her reverence of debate. Asked if she sees a parallel in her Orthodox upbringing and her adoration of Old World wines, she jokingly refers to herself as having a “shtetl” mentality. Her first bottle of fine wine was introduced to her while she was in graduate school by her lawyer father’s mistress, “Madame Chauchat.” And though Feiring resented this new woman’s intrusion into her family, she adored her 1968 Barolo.

“When I see a wine that I really love, I want to meet the person who made it,” Feiring said. In her battle for wine and love, she embarked on a journey across Europe, cutting it short in France for Yom Kippur. She left to heal her broken heart with the tepid “Owl Man,” and the story ends with a mysterious “Mr. Bowtie” waiting for her in New York. Along the way, Feiring has purely platonic love affairs with natural winemakers, most married, each who has his own seductive oenological yarn. More love is felt with her female tasting companions — with such names as “Honey-Sugar” and “Skinny” — yet Feiring is deeply drawn to the luscious grape-handlers.

“Drinking a great wine can almost feel like falling in love. It is sensual, it is full of discovery and magic,” Feiring said. Effectively battling Parkerization, Feiring has won her battle for wines that speak the truth even if they argue. As for wines that make one “smile, think, laugh, and feel sexy,” Feiring is still searching, and readers may find themselves rooting for the “wine cop,” hoping she finds her Bacchus.

In Feiring’s questioning of Parker’s monopoly on the wine critic market, she said it’s not that she is not setting him up as the “hit man”; it’s simply that his tastes have become bigger than Parker himself. What she truly wants is room for discussion, and maybe a little old-fashioned grass-roots protest: “Go into wine stores and ask why all their wines are manipulated. Walk out; tell them you can’t drink it.”

Alyssa Pinsker is an essayist and writer living in New York City.

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.