Quill and Quire

REVIEWS

« Back to
Book Reviews

My Travels with a Corkscrew: Memoirs of a Wine Lover

by Tony Aspler

Ford Madox Ford began drinking wine seriously when he was eight; Colette when she was 11. Tony Aspler, Canada’s best known wine writer and educator, was bribed by his foster mother with grapes at age five to persuade him to go to the dentist but didn’t develop his all-consuming passion for wine until he was in his mid-20s, working for BBC Radio in London.

My Travels With A Corkscrew is an entertaining, anecdotal account of his drinking life from the early 1960s to the present – the pleasures, as he puts it, of a third of a century chasing the grape around the world. In this period, he sets up his first wine cellar; studies in Dublin; fends off a pass from Liam O’Flaherty; stages a successful evening with Emlyn Williams in Montreal and a spectacularly unsuccessful one with Brendan Behan; hangs out with Leonard Cohen; takes Jane Asher to meet the Beatles before they become famous; courts his first wife with champagne and kippers; becomes a music producer for the CBC and eventually a full-time wine writer; travels to France, Italy, Australia, French West Africa, and China; learns how to sabre a bottle of champagne (and how to do the same with a kitchen knife and a bottle of beer from his son); survives an earthquake in a vineyard in Chile; meets the world’s most famous (or, at least, most idiosyncratic) winemakers; and drinks everything (as the title of one of Aspler’s previous books puts it) from Aligote to Zinfandel.

The unifying theme of My Travels With A Corkscrew is the “humanity” of wine. A grapevine, Aspler notes, has the life span of biblical man (three score years and 10), and a grape, much like a human being, is more than 80% water. Like us, wines go through stages, developing character with age; and just as human beings have different personalities, so too do wines. Aspler is good on the way we all taste through what he calls “our own cipher” – how and where we were brought up and what taste experiences we have been conditioned to enjoy.

Only 20 years ago, Aspler reminds us, you had to fill out a form to buy a bottle of wine in Ontario (and most other places in Canada) in a dreary, uninviting store with not a single bottle on display. My Travels With A Corkscrew is one man’s account of his own cipher, but it tells us something of Canada’s as well.