For the wine lover, not the student, Ralph Steadman's Untrodden Grapes is the prime choice. Wine books are often predictable, but, happily, this is one great gonzo exception. Steadman, most famous as the man who made Hunter Thompson's fits of Fear and Loathing visible as ink blots and scathing caricatures, is in fact a seasoned wine taster (this is at least his third wine book) and a scout for the Oddbins wine chain. Untrodden Grapes is a combination of wine-inspired art (the Tempranilla varietal is portrayed as a lanky, disgruntled bull with grapes hanging from either horn), irresistibly rude and/or affectionate portraits of different wine regions (Basque women with brusque mustaches, winery dogs, bouquet-sniffing baboons), and photo-collages. There are also more serious discussions of terroir and vignettes of visits to wineries that Steadman and his patient wife Anna have made in search of both sensual pleasure and winemakers of artistic integrity. Steadman might be seen as a sort of anti-Robert Parker; at least, he's anti-ratings. His complaint is clear from the introduction: Wine is now a finely modulated shelf product, a multifarious and endless gathering together of sameness. Variety of the idiosyncratic kind is rare. These are not critical postcards from the edge but a cri de coeur, a call to arms for individuality and the right sort of idiosyncrasy and, along the way, an explanation of why Jack Nicholson would make an intriguing wine.

Eve Zibart is a restaurant critic for The Washington Post.


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