The Psychology of Wine: Truth and Beauty by the Glass by Evan and Brian Mitchell sounds like another book from wine experts telling us which wines to love–and which to scoff at. Sounds like exactly what we don't need, right? Taste buds have worked just fine for thousands of years when faced with pressing decisions such as whether to drink or spit.
Fortunately, this isn't a self-help guide for appreciating the flavors of wine, and the Aussie father and son writing duo are not critics. Brian is a psychologist, his son Evan is a former sommelier turned wine consultant with a passion for classic literature. Ergo the book's numerous references to Sigmund Freud and Oscar Wilde amidst lilting discussions of Bordeaux.
The book is divided into three sections. The first explores wine history and the evolution of our experience, the second tackles wine appreciation, the third how what we choose to drink describes something about who we are. (Are you a cork or a screw cap type? Perhaps best not to answer that right away.)
Some of the most refreshing chapters are those focusing on wine criticism without exactly criticizing. Instead, the authors offer open-ended discussions that encourage the reader to develop her own conclusion. A chapter titled “For Better or Worse” discusses how food and wine pairing, for most of us, are rarely just about pairing rules. Assuming a few basic tenets are followed–say, that a Bolognese sauce needs a big wine like a Pinot Noir rather than a fruity Alsatian white–a wine's flavor can be as much about the emotional associations as the taste. Why did that Brunello taste so much better at the trattoria in Tuscany (even with a sub-par osso bucco) than when you buy the same bottle back home and cook up a veal shank in your own kitchen?
Despite the overabundant references to psychologists, which can make the book at times feel more like Who Moved My Cheese rather than a studied reflection of wine, The Psychology of Wine is a fascinating read. Plus, there are plenty of Jane Austen and Søren Kierkegaard mentions to forgive all of the adjunct references to Harvard psychology professors. In literature, veritas.