…for which I am very proud.
I’ve said often enough that I find the book recommendations from Audible (My main source of audiobooks) a little bit rubbish. But occasionally it comes through for me — like, I never knew I needed to read a biography of the HMS Erebus, but that turned out to be a fantastic read that readily started spruiking to everyone.
I also didn’t know that a book about potential wine-crime might also pique my interest, but here we are: I cut through Stalin’s Wine Celler like a hot knife through butter, and I have to say I found it a very entertaining few hours.
You don’t have to be much of a wine snob to really get into Stalin’s Wine Celler, although the stakes might be a bit higher for those people who do have a discernible palate and a good slug of wine-knowledge. I personally wouldn’t consider myself a wine snob, although I’m probably a step above Danny Bhoy’s ‘I just have wine in my glass!’ But I do have a weakness for rollicking adventure stories, and that certainly helped keep me engaged.
However, John Baker (who co-wrote the book, along with journalist Nick Place) is a man who does know his wines. During the late ’90s, John was a wine merchant based in some of the nicest Sydney suburbs. He and his then co-worker, Kevin Hopko, are approached by a sometime friend and wealthy magnate, Neville, who’s been getting involved in gold mining in post-Soviet Georgia
It turns out that gold is not the only thing that’s caught his attention. Apparently, he’s learnt of a rather extensive winery nearby one of his operations. This, he thinks, might be a big deal for two reasons: the rather obtuse cellar wine list that, once decoded, suggests that there are some breathtakingly expensive and ancient wines to be found; and the rumour that Josef Stalin himself was once the owner.
This was simply too much for John and Kevin, and next, we know, the two of them are off to Tbilisi, Georgia to check things out for themselves. Here they are met by the locals—including the almost larger than life George— and they set to work trying to establish whether or not this bounty of wine is genuine. But it soon becomes clear that even if everything they ever wished for the wines turns out to be true, there is going to be …complications. And while both John and Kevin are more than a bit suspicious as to what’s going on in Georgia, it turns out that some of the other players closer to home might be a bit suspect as well.
I didn’t think I could become so invested in the idea of potential wine fraud, the stakes behind it, and the skills you would need to pull it off, but here we are. It’s a surprisingly complex business and there’s far, far more money involved than I would have (perhaps naively) believed. There were also some really interesting historical leads here that really caught my curiosity. And I guess that that does lead me to one of the main downsides of the book. Because it is mainly told from John’s perspective, and not even he learns the truth of all the goings-on behind the cellar, there are some serious gaps in our knowledge that never end up being filled. It’s mildly frustrating, but I also guess it cannot be helped. We are reading the story of two men and the consequences of their trip to Tbilisi, not a history of post-soviet Europe
Although, I might move in that direction with some of my free Audible credits.
But overall, Stalin’s Wine Cellar is a very fun read that gave off a very Indiana-Jones-traversing-through-the-vinyards kind of vibes. I’m handing it 3.5 stars and I’ll cheerfully recommend it to adventure fans and wine snobs alike.
This is obviously going under Libations in Bingo. And I’m only sorry I have no photos of my phone with a nice glass of wine I could add!
(I also feel a bit bad that this is my first review in 3 months, but I did drop everything to secure my next placement. Which, due to the pandemic, got—and still is— complicated *sad face*)