Reflections of a Wine Merchant

Neal in Calabria
Neal in Calabria

Sometime in the middle of the first decade of this twenty-first century I was asked by a senior editor at the august publishing house of Farrar, Straus and Giroux if I was interested in writing a book about my experiences in the wine trade.  I was delighted to be asked, intimidated slightly by the task but, in 2008, the book was published.  Although presented to the public as a “memoir”, the book really is more about a set of values and a series of observations about our time and place, shown through the prism of the business of wine.  If you would like to purchase the book, you can do so through this website.  For further introduction to Reflections of a Wine Merchant, you can read the description (following) that appears on the inside front and back jacket of the book and peruse the “blurbs” that were quoted on the back cover as well.

“In the late 1970s, Neal I. Rosenthal set out to learn everything he could about wine.  He opened a small wine ship and, shortly thereafter, a wine-importing business.  Today he is one of the most successful importers of traditionally made wines crafted at limited-production, family-owned vineyards in France and Italy.

In Reflections of a Wine Merchant, Rosenthal shares the experience of learning his trade: the friendships, the adventures, and the challenges of convincing others to love what he loves.  He introduces us to his growers, steeped for generation in the lore of their land, who make wines of pronounced character using time-honored and “unscientific” methods of grape growing and vinification.  We travel with Rosenthal into their homes, cellars, vineyards and family circles and listen to them muse on their work and speak of their traditions.  Among this exceptional range of personalities, we meet the formidable Madame Jeanne Ferret in the Maconnais, the now celebrated Giampiero and Paolo Bea of Umbria, the amiable Luigi Ferrando in the foothills of the Alps, the humble aristocrat Cyrille Portalis at his ancestral Chateau Pradeaux on the Mediterranean, and many others. Although each comes from a different background, geography, and history, all are passionate about their land and vocation and are colorfully opinionated in their views.  We learn how they unveil the subtleties of the individual terroirs and discover the mystery of how their wines express not only they are produced but the personalities and principles behind them.

With Rosenthal as our guide, we voyage through the great wine regions of France and Italy, parse the peculiar mind-set of the Burgundians, view the dramatic shifts in Bordeaux, and confront the obstacles posed by globalized marketing and the media’s blunt-edged ratings systems.  We witness, from his unique perspective, three decades of remarkable controversy, hype, and change.  Above all, we share the joys – and pitfalls – for growers and merchants alike of an often enviable business that goes back to the beginnings of civilization and that, as Rosenthal deftly explains, can connect us with our deepest values.”


Charles Simic, U.S. Poet Laureate
“There have been many books about wine, but rarely one as absorbing and as wise as this one.  Rosenthal tells of his travels in France and Italy, of his friendships with wine growers, and of his growing understanding of this ancient business that combines both art and commerce.  He writes so well, one can taste the wines he loves.”
Victor Hazan, author of Italian Wine
“Neal Rosenthal is a source of the kind of wines that I have always looked for, wines that speak to me not of marketing trends but of the places where they were grown and the people who made them.  Whether rustic or elegant, Neal’s wines are wines of character, of taste.  His lively book, which displays the spunky personality of the author, shines light on how character and taste may be bred into wine.”
Gabrielle Hamilton, chef and owner of Prune Restaurant
“The experience of wine is habitually hijacked and then ruined by, you know, that guy in the silk tie saying embarrassing things like ‘angular yet bouncy’ while swirling his ruby fruit bomb around in his balloon.  Thankfully there is Neal Rosenthal, who understands wine as the agricultural labor it is.  For me, the outstanding pleasure of this book was to be for several hours immersed in the company of people, including the writer himself, who are dedicated to excellence and quality throughout, even when it is not convenient, glamorous, or profitable.”

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