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Book Review: American Wino

Dan Dunn, former Playboy magazine nightlife columnist who wrote mainly about beer and spirits for two decades, knew little about wine when the confluence of personal life crises and a desire to learn about wine led him to hit the road in his FJ Cruiser on a seven-month,15,000-mile journey to practically every wine region in the United States. Dunn’s live-in girlfriend had abandoned him, his beloved dog, Piglet, had succumbed to cancer, and his brother had committed suicide. In addition, he had become disenchanted with living in Los Angeles, what he termed, “A gorgeously fucked-up bubble.” This humorous travelogue turns out to be one of personal discovery, a way for Dunn to free himself of sadness, or as Dunn notes, “A tale of a man drinking himself to life.”

Dunn admits, “I’ve spent most of what some people charitably call ‘a career’ writing about booze....not so much a job that you get as a job that you get away with.” For years he had “bullshitted” his way through wine tastings and learned how to fake a knowledgeable grasp of wine (“what the trade calls Speaking from the Rectum”). He decided to educate himself about wine by visiting well known winery states as well as places in the United States that you would never think made wine, such as Missouri, Nebraska, Georgia and Vermont.

The trip would begin in Venice, California, and culminate at the Pebble Beach Food & Wine Festival in Northern California where he would recount his travels as a keynote speaker. Through a haze of freeloading, drinking, womanizing, and a stream of expletives, the downtrodden Dunn shares some useful wine production basics, wine terminology and insights, albeit in a cynical tone. For example, the term “complex,” when used to describe a wine, is translated by Dunn to, “I actually have no clue what I’m fucking tasting.”

After reading this book, I did not learn a thing about wine that I did not already know, but I laughed out loud at many junctures about experiences only wine insiders would muse over, and overall was thoroughly entertained.

American Wino, Dan Dunn, William Morrow Publishers, paperback, 338 pages, 2016, $16.99.

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