A wide-ranging journalist/author takes to the oenophile road.
“Is there anything better than drinking?” Osborne (The Poisoned Embrace, 1993, etc.) asks. “When the happiness of drinking overwhelms you, you cannot resist it.” But Osborne felt terribly self-conscious about drinking wine, wondering whether his choices were the promptings of others or the authentic response of his tongue to something good. Wanting to feel comfortable with his likes and dislikes, to breathe free of the floodtide of wine opinion, off he went to California, France, and Italy to educate himself. That meant, in measure, coming to know himself, as well as something about what the winemaker was after. He had to dig into the notions of taste and the realities of terroir, into hugeness versus finesse, into the usable nuggets of prejudiced wisdom from the wine police threshed from the ego and dross. By temperament, Osborne is drawn to the stranger byways and backrooms of winemaking; he’s not about to pass up a sampling from Angelo Gaja or lunch with Robert Mondavi (though both had him sweating his self-confidence), but he’s happier in the company of California garagiste Bill Cadman, a man of “dark forces, mistakes, passions, and truculent convictions,” or bad-boy alchemist Randall Grahm. Like Kermit Lynch and Simon Loftus, Osborne is looking for a connection between grape, place, and himself, a trifecta that, with growing exposure to ideas, intentions, and product, he hits more often than he would at the racetrack. His prose has a pleasing, gentle flow, with eddies of humor and yeastiness; Osborne displays a hungry mind, and a gift for taking in the landscape even if he dislikes the wine: “a distant field of mustard switching off for the night,” or “cypresses stabbing into the dark blue air . . . silhouettes of umbrella pines along the hills.” He takes the showboats down a peg, but he isn’t a self-conscious iconoclast, just an odd fellow looking for a mouthful of happiness.
Personable and keen-minded.