From Sommelier Journal
James Conaway is the author of several wine books, including Napa: The Story of an American Eden and its sequel, The Far Side of Eden, both nonfiction bestsellers about the pioneers who influenced California’s winemaking industry. In his latest work, Nose: A Novel (Thomas Dunne, $24.99), Conaway takes a fictional look at a verdant valley in northern California, where grapes and the wine they produce are the drivers of mystery, love, greed, and snobbery.
One day, an unlabeled bottle of Cabernet is left like an orphan on the doorstep of transplanted British wine maven Clyde Craven-Jones, author of the hugely influential “Craven-Jones on Wine” newsletter. CJ, who is huge in his own right (at 300 or so pounds), and his wife Claire have no clue as to who might have left the bottle, but they include it in their next tasting of nine well-known Cabernets. It knocks the others out of the ball park, and CJ gives it a perfect score of 20—something no other California Cab had ever attained.
Trying to identify the bottle, Claire hires Les Breeden, an out-of-work reporter for the valley newspaper, who is now working as a private investigator while hanging out at the local wine bar, Glass Act—a tacky joint with a stock of high-end wines. His search includes the Hutt Family Estate, a modern wine factory that is suffering cash-flow problems. Jerome Hutt is trying to pull off the illegal sale of a large portion of his land to evil developers for the construction of McMansions. His daughter, Sara Hutt, who lives next door, is opposed. So is Cotton Harrell, an ecologist who produces fine wines from a small, biodynamic plot next to the Hutt Estate.
The real action starts when CJ, being nosy as always, gets stuck in a stainless-steel fermenting tank full of wine at the Hutt Estate and dies. Early on, the reader will guess the provenance of the “mystery” wine, but in the meantime, romance ensues, and lives are set on new paths.
As a mystery buff as well as a wine lover, I read almost any novel that is written about wine. This one is entertaining, but like many in the genre (including those by Tony Aspler and Ellen Crosby), it does not really give us insight into wine or winemaking. Luckily, for that, we have Conaway’s other books.
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