Written in disarmingly colloquial but fine, living German, Wein is a comfortable book, loose and casual as a pair of stretch-waist jeans and an extra-large Bundesliga jersey. A collection of 27 humorous short essays and 52 sublimely eccentric illustrations, Wein is about wine, of course, but it’s also a book about getting, and staying, relaxed. If your wine book collection resembles mine – a tannic row of the dutifully historical, aridly technical, ploddingly evaluative, and tediously politicized – it will gain balance from the addition of this juicy, hedonistic, and yet earnest volume.
Wein’s lead author, the much-awarded and much-maligned satirist Wiglaf Droste, has built a fine career from kicking sacred cows. Mostly a social commentator, he also keeps a watchful eye on German gastronomy, editing, with Wein coauthor Klink, a longstanding food and wine quarterly called Häuptling Eigener Herd (roughly, My Stove Is My Castle). Among his roughly 20 books, this is his first on wine. It was reprinted in November 2010 in paperback.
Here Droste aims his cleats at the human pretensions besieging wine and keeping it from flowing more freely in, around, over, and under our lives. Whether sending up bio-freaks, the demonization of alcohol, or a dinner host who wields boredom the way Freddie Krueger wields a bladed glove, Droste makes a consistently pomposity-popping point: there are too many spoilsports out there trying to take the fun out of his favorite drink. He goes about this business with a wicked grin, and for someone known for writing parody with a jackhammer, a surprisingly light touch. A seasoned snob like me comes away admonished, but laughing . . . and eager to test Droste’s adage that “the world looks better seen through a breakfast wine.”
Vincent Klink is a famous and talented chef and, to judge from his Stuttgart restaurant’s menu, a man who values a roasted veal hock over chilled tofu. Droste’s friend, he shares the satirist’s imperative to drink more and care less. He too has a deft feel for writing, mixing, as Droste does, the high with the low, and not shying self-parody, no matter how compromising. I was deliciously entertained by Klink’s deep-frying of his parents’ abysmal kitchen skills, and shamelessly amused by his steamed masturbation fantasy, involving melons, shrimps, a ham-hipped former classmate named Hilde, and a bottle of Giorgio Rivetti Barolo (“Viagra für die Frau”). There are also recipes.
They might have given either writer his own book, I thought, instead of braiding their sections together. But where the danger with Droste is a never-ending rant, with Klink, who rides a Moto Guzzi when he visits vintners, you risk a permanent midlife crisis. So, after all, it’s best to counterpose them this way. What unites the two is their love for wine. At bottom both are connoisseurs. They just don’t care to make a big deal of it. They might miss a chance to get drunk.
How do you illustrate a kitchen bull’s snorting autoeroticism without spoiling the innocent charm of the whole thing? You dig down deep inside your creative footlocker and pull up a painting of a wine bottle that walks on pigeon legs between which sway a pair of spike-haired human testicles. This is the work of graphic artist Nikolaus Heidelbach, Wein’s third contributer. If you were still having doubts, Heidelbach’s paintings will make finally clear how seriously, beautifully demented this book is. Golgotha in a wine bottle. Corks that dance and hump each other like dogs. Bizarre portraits of people, bottles, and animals, singly and sometimes all together. Heidelbach recalls the moods and talents of Maurice Sendak and Wilhelm Busch, often surpassing them. Even if German isn’t your favorite conversational tool, Heidelbach’s pictures are worth having on your coffee table, especially if you are skipping the coffee and pulling another cork. They make the visual joy of a children’s book re-available to grown-ups.
A sharp but loving dig in the ribs, Wein reminds wine lovers to smile as they sip and to adapt Oscar Wilde’s sage quip about art to their vinous concerns: Wine may be the only serious subject in the world, but the true wine fan is the only person who is never serious.