Marco Pasanella has a gift for storytelling, an assertion that can’t be denied after reading “Uncorked: My Journey Through the Crazy World of Wine.”
“Uncorked” is Pasanella’s tale of opening and nurturing a wine shop in an “iffy” lower Manhattan neighborhood. If only he’d stuck to storytelling, and left the educational interludes that lead off each chapter to more scholarly tomes.
The concept embraced in “Uncorked” is that the process of developing a wine shop and then growing the business parallels the process of making wine, from vineyard to glass. Thus, the eight chapters are titled: “Plow,” “Prune,” “Harvest,” “Crush,” “Ferment,” “Bottle,” “Age” and “Drink.” Each chapter begins with a short essay on the given agricultural, scientific or artistic step in the process. Then it’s back to the story.
On paper, it probably seemed like a good idea. Ironically, it’s on paper where the concept went awry. Rather than augmenting and complementing Pasanella’s engaging and entertaining story, those chapter preludes interrupt it.
Time after time, a chapter ends as it should: with a hint of what’s to come and a compelling reason to keep reading.
And time after time, an intriguing segue is cut off at its legs by a quick lesson on pruning a grapevine or crushing grapes or why there’s a “punt” on the bottom of wine bottles.
Rather than a fluid tale of how a successful hotel and houseware designer came to sell one of our favorite fluids, we’re left with a patch quilt of engaging prose and unnecessary education, made even less cohesive by the placement of recipe sidebars in the middle of text — rather than at the end of chapters or grouped in the back of the book, where they would have been much more welcomed.
We don’t know whether this organizational approach was Pasanella’s idea or that of an editor. Either way, it was a bad idea, one that greatly detracted from a compelling story.
By now, you’re probably thinking that we’re going to recommend passing on “Uncorked.” On the contrary, this is a book that any wine lover should read. The stories of dealing with growers, winemakers, salespeople, employees, customers, bureaucrats and family are insightful, occasionally hilarious, and often heartfelt.
But in order to fully enjoy “Uncorked,” you’ll need to read it the right way — as I did on my second run-through. Here’s what I suggest: Skip the educational verbiage at the beginning of each chapter. Simply read Pasanella’s story straight through.
Do that, and suddenly the segues sing, making for a much more cohesive tale.
Then if you’re so inclined, go back and read the chapter preludes, although, frankly, they contain no information that can’t be found in dozens of other books.
I hope “Uncorked” is a great success for Marco Pasanella, a man I’d love to meet after reading this book as it should have been presented. I also hope that, should success prompt a second printing, the publisher will allow Pasanella’s storytelling to carry the day — and perhaps even add some more of it. All the rest is unnecessary filler.
“Uncorked: My Journey Through the Crazy World of Wine” ($24) will go on sale May 22. It is published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of The Crown Publishing Group that specializes in cookbooks, lifestyle books and gift books. Info: http://www.randomhouse.com/crown/clarksonpotter/index.php