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A woman of mystery is determined to demystify the world of wine.
Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl, who in her day (actually, mostly night) job has to don a disguise to review restaurants, just released "Drink This: Wine Made Simple," which lives up to its title.
"If you're really going to make wine simple," she said, "it's basically a two-part relationship. It's your taste and the world."
Grumdahl, 36, decided to pitch the book after winning four James Beard Awards at the local weekly City Pages (she has since joined Minnesota Monthly). She got the go-ahead when she was eight months pregnant with her second child.
Her food background -- she was a sous chef at age 19 and started reviewing restaurants straight out of college -- definitely informed her approach to the book: What has happened in the past decade in the culinary realm, she says, can and should now occur in the wine world.
"Ten years ago people weren't comfortable with lardons and arugula and all these things, and now we can get them at Byerly's," Grumdahl said. "Now I just want to zoom people forward 10 years with wine."
We caught up with her over lunch at Cafe Barbette last week.
Q Were you writing this book basically for "Dara, when she didn't know so much about wine"?
A Yeah, pretty much. It's for twenty-somethings, basically, people who want to learn about wine really fast. I saw one review that said, "Seasoned oenophiles will enjoy this." Well, no they won't. They will not enjoy this at all. This will be like reading "See Spot run" for them. This is about how to teach yourself about wine. So it's basically how I taught myself about wine.
Q So it's really geared for twenty-somethings?
A One of the things about being a twenty-something today is that they really don't get to travel to Europe. When Robert Parker or Kermit Lynch were that age, they could just go. Now you've got $1,500 tickets and they all have student loans. I think one of the reasons twenty-somethings love wine now is that it does give them that access to travel that they basically don't have.
But I also want to help my mom and all her friends who are always so intimidated. Every time they confront a sommelier, they feel like they're not educated enough.
One thing that drives me crazy about wine is that, if there's something you don't like, there's something wrong with you. You don't like wine, you don't get it, you didn't try it right. It's like the customer is always wrong.
Q Was it hard to organize the book or did it fall into place?
A We started off with "Everything you want to know about wine but were afraid to ask," and it was going to be like 475 answers to your most vexing questions, and ... I think I delivered a million words to my editor. And she was like, "Nope, I don't want everything made simple. I want one main problem."
And I thought, "I can't make it that simple. Wine is this universe of stuff." So it was like, 'What is the absolute bottom level of things you need to know?' And it was incredibly helpful, because the only thing you really need to know is your taste.
Q After writing the book, are there varietals that you feel differently about than when you went in?
A Zinfandel, definitely. The uniform quality of the bottom of the market, I wasn't aware of. For the book I went and bought 10 zinfandels for $10 to $15 and just uniformly was impressed.
Q What was the hardest thing to leave out of the book?
A Merlot, without question. I question that even today. But if we added merlot and pinot grigio, the book is over $30.
Q Reading about wine is great, but you emphasize that the way to really learn about wine is to drink it, and to try at least two similar bottles at the same time.
A Oh, yeah, it makes all the difference in the world. I think wine people know that, but people who don't know it, I think, are just hop-scotching. "Tonight I'll have a syrah, tomorrow a Spanish blend," and you never remember what you liked and why.
One of those things I try to keep in mind when talking about people tasting is that $100 is a lot to spend for a night of drinking with your friends. You're not going to be able to understand Bordeaux or Burgundy without splashing out on a couple of meaningful bottles. The Italian wines, too, so I just worked around Piedmont, because that can be like a $400 night.
Bill Ward • 612-673-7643