Subject: An Unauthorised Book Review

Date: September 24, 1999 2:09 PM

By William Spohn

Albert - I have been enjoying the book and was moved to post something -

thought you should read the foul calumnies straight from me rather than

second hand!


<<This is a book review of a recently published volume on wine experiences

written by Albert Givton, an inhabitant, like me, of Vancouver, British


I should preface this by saying that Albert is not aware that I am doing

this, nor am I normally given to writing reviews of other than scholarly

works much drier (in all senses) and less interesting than this one.

The book is entitled CARTE BLANCHE - A Quarter Century of Wine tasting

Diaries and Cellar Notes: 1974-1999.

It begins with an interesting introduction detailing the author's awakening

to the world of wine while serving as a soldier in the Israeli army in 1967,

a rather busy time in Jerusalem. The details, aside from being both

interesting and sometimes amusing, provide some insight into the author's


Bargaining with a Moslem shopkeeper in Jerusalem, between battles, for such

things as an old bottle of Danziger Goldwasser (the liqueur with the bits of

gold leaf in it), by criticising the product as having "a lot of junk

floating in it", somehow epitomises Albert's pragmatic approach to life and

wine. Many other details are disclosed, both wine related and personal. I

was unaware, for instance, until I read the book, that Albert was a cellist

(though more akin to Rostropovich than Harnoy, judging by physique, at least).

The book is arranged as a series of extracts, in chronological order, from

the author's record books, starting with a tasting of 1974 American cabs from

February 4th, 1980 and ending, suitably enough, with a tasting of American

rarities (which I was fortunate in attending) on June 24th, 1999, which

started with a 1969 Heitz Martha's Vineyard, and went backward from there.

While it might make interesting reading in the manner of a Waugh diary (a

mentor and friend of Albert, by the way), its usefulness is greatly enhanced

by the index of wines as well as a separate index of people.

In addition, after the diary entries end, the author has assembled under

specific and limited headings, by commune, for instance, a chronological

history of certain selected wines, so that if you want to know about 1970 Ch.

Palmer, for example, you can scan the development of the wine as reflected in

12 separate notes, arranged in chronological order, from June 1976 to

September 1995.

There are 3 sections of photos, mirroring the rather nice cover shot of

Albert in a garden drinking an early vintage of Heitz Martha's Vineyard. I

suspect, though haven't asked, that it may have been taken at the American

rarities tasting mentioned above, from whence came the sadly empty bottle of

1968 Heitz that sits before me as I type this (yes, I know I should put the

bottles away before my wife recycles them - I have been unable to convince

her of the utility of distinguished empties as decorator items).

There is also a short section on the development of selected Bordeaux,

perhaps Albert's first love, that reveals some of his personal philosophy

about those wines gained from experience, and the whole book is salted with

interesting comments and titbits of information. The iconoclastic approach

taken in these comments should be particularly interesting and enlightening

to habitual readers of the Wine Speculator.

The book was recently published and released in Vancouver only last week,

unfortunately while I was away on my annual buying pilgrimage to the interior

of BC (I missed the party!). It sells for $57.50 Canadian, or $39.95 US, and

my strong recommendation of it is not induced by the fact that I am quoted in

it or that I have shared some of the tasting events in the book with the

author. If any of you recall reading my notes in the past, you can compare

them with Albert's more erudite and informed versions in this book.

Anyone interested can contact Albert at He

will likely agree to sign the book for you, just as Robert Parker does

(though Parker oddly refused to endorse my copy of his latest "To Bill Spohn,

who taught me all I know about wine"), and I would note that the binding

appears to be of much higher quality than Parker's recent Bordeaux tome,

which self-destructed, unassisted, while sitting quietly on my sideboard.

Perhaps if print this note out and leave it where your significant other can

find it, before Christmas…