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The Latest: Engaging 'Memories'; Thrill lives up to name

March 21, 2013
(Courtesy The Natural…)

Wine Memories

Lenard Davis

AuthorHouse; 146 pages

Poor Merlot. After Paul Giamatti uttered that now-famous line in the 2004 romantic comedy "Sideways" — the one about not drinking Merlot. Seriously, do I even need to quote it? — news outlets reported that sales of the popular wine had begun to slip. According to recent articles, the lull has since ended, but the phrase "the 'Sideways' effect" has entered wine lore, and maybe consumer lore in general, to signify the power a catchphrase can have on spending habits.

It's a small but telling moment in Lenard Davis' book "Wine Memories" when the author recalls attending a "Sideways" party with friends and savoring a glass of that maligned beverage. After all, whatever impact Giamatti's words may have had on commerce at Trader Joe's, they comment mostly on his character — Miles Raymond, a divorced and failed novelist who uses his academic wine expertise to hide a mass of insecurities.

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In the film, we get very little sense of the unpublished novel that sits in Miles' drawer, but I somehow doubt it's as warm and relaxed as "Wine Memories." Davis, a Newport Beach resident and columnist for the Lido Islander, comes off in this collection of essays less like a man who would fit "quaffable" and "transcendent" into one sentence (to quote my own favorite line from "Sideways") than a neighbor who would coax you into his kitchen and beam as he poured you a glass. Maybe even a glass of Merlot, which he terms "delicious."

As a writer, Davis sometimes resembles Roger Ebert in his nonfilm essays: candid, unpretentious, eager to share memories and sometimes arriving at moments of quiet truth. Musing about his own mortality, Davis recalls a time when a woman gaped at the wine bottles in his cellar and asked when he would ever find time to drink all of them. He then gamely addresses the reader: "I have to say I don't have the answer to that one except that on my very last day on Earth I hopefully will be able to still have a glass of wine and select it from a wide range of choices."

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