Reading between the wines – Terry Theise

The whys of wine by America's 'foremost wine philosopher'

By Charles Lewis
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Reading between the wines by Terry Theise

Reading between the wines by Terry Theise [©University of California Press]


Terry Theise, an importer and aficionado of artisan wines, is based in the USA. He has written an engaging book on the subject that he loves – European wines – more precisely those from Germany, Austria and Champagne, often made by small dedicated producers.

These are wines that speak of place and are often degraded if judged by the 100-point scoring system, wines that are at the opposite end of the spectrum to mass produced, blended, industrial wine which are uniform in taste from one year to the next. The wine qualities he least values are concentration and power. “Modest wines are tasty, tactful and confident but they don’t show off.”

He asks what constitutes beauty in wine, and how do we appreciate it? What role does wine play in a soulful, sensual life? And can wines of place survive in a world of globalized styles and 100-point scoring systems?

He writes of wine that, if you listen, can transpose you to another place, even to the point of connecting the taster to a maker who may have long since left this world.

It’s a mystical approach that is not without risk. But Theise is writing as much for himself as he is for others. Whether you like his style or not is up to you, and quite frankly I don’t think the author is overly concerned one way or another.

This thought-provoking book speaks deeply of terroir – of all the factors that make a wine what it is, including the dedicated families that make it, many of whom have been doing so for generations. They assist bringing uniqueness to the wine by not over-imposing themselves into the winemaking process.

Many of these artisan producers do not like the name winemaker. “They simply prepare the environment for wine to come into being”, says Theise. Some big wines we see today are more of a function of the winemaking instead of the vineyard from which they come.

Theise values diversity and uniqueness over power and uniformity. “If a decent taster can’t tell a Napa cabernet from a St. Julien, then the world has something to grieve, not celebrate.”

The author writes briefly of his journey to his chosen vocation and the deep connection he has made with the wine producers he grew to love. One senses that these relationships may be the most enduring he has experienced.

Reading between the wines is a beautifully written book on wine and the families that make it. It occasionally digresses into self analysis and sometimes wanders around a little, but this does not distract from its quality. It deserves a place in every serious wine library.


Reading between the wines by Terry Theise is published by the University of California Press (Oct 2011; sc with new preface, 190 pp) and retails for RRP A$25.95.  A hardcover edition was published in 2010 (RRP A$39.95)

The soft cover edition can be purchased via here »



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October 22nd, 2011
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