If Sotto Voce were a textbook, enology students wouldn’t fail exams!

I love wine, and I’m picky when it comes to what I drink. Just the other day, having dinner with my dad in one of the Engadine’s best mountain restaurants, we shared a bottle of delicious red wine from Sardinia, a wine they source simply for him and his guests. I guess, my love of wine began a long time ago, as my parents were wine aficionados, collecting good wines from all over Europe. Sadly, they never drank as much as they bought and now my dad is forced to part with hundreds of bottles of wine that are only good for cooking, vinegar or being discarded.

Here's an amazing bottle of wine. Yes, I love New World wines, and we drink lots of wines from Napa and Sonoma, but also from places like the Barossa in South Australia and elsewhere, as Europeans, as described in the novel, had a long dip in quality, living on reputation more than quality. It's changing, and just as Ms Finnegan describes, new talent and new ideas are reshaping the Old World's wine making. This is one stellar example.

Here’s an amazing bottle of wine. Yes, I love New World wines, and we drink lots of wines from Napa and Sonoma, but also from places like the Barossa in South Australia and elsewhere, as Europeans, as described in the novel, had a long dip in quality throughout much of the eighties to the late nineties, living on laurels past, more than quality. It’s changing though, and just as Ms Finnegan so eloquently describes, new talent and new ideas are reshaping the Old World’s wine making as well. This is one stellar example from Sardinia, Italy. My wine tip for you today…

Why am I telling you this? Well, I just read this amazing book about wine and wine making, Sotto Voce, by Erin Finnegan. Playing out in the California wine districts of Napa and Sonoma, places I have visited a few years ago with my husband, Sotto Voce is more than just a novel about wine. There is love, romance, but above all, there is that love of wine. I’ve read loads of books, and I’ve reviewed many here, and elsewhere, and in the past three weeks I’ve read two really amazing and one – well not so amazing – novel. Sotto Voce is a gem, a book as good as the wine that it is named after.

Let me begin with Ms Finnegan’s amazing understanding  of enology, you can tell she’s an expert, knowing what she’s writing about. It’s pure joy to read a book, as entertaining as Sotto Voce, and to be able to learn so much about wine making. Trust me, if college text books were like this, no students would ever fail. Alas, sadly they’re not. I found this aspect of the novel immensely satisfying and Ms Finnegan’s descriptions of the locale, the landscapes, as well as the people were so well written that I immediately found myself transferred back to the rolling hills of the two sister valleys.

The characters are very well drawn, and as unlike as our main protagonists, Tom and Greg may be, they are likable, and incredible credible. Remember last week? Me throwing fits at turning points and what not? Well, there is that, here, too, but there is a difference. There isn’t a turning point per se, it’s unavoidable, much unlike some of the others I’ve endured in my reading career, and having behaved similarly in my life, and having seen friends behave in that very same fashion as Tom and Greg, I know perfectly well just how easily something good can go south. Kudos to Carmen (read the bloody book to know why) for kicking sense into the boys. Boys and boys, guys, men really. The portraits of these men is almost photographic, they are real flesh and blood modern gay men, just as they should be, deserve to be (not your frequently depicted women with penises and what not that have us gay men running for cover…)

Sotto Voce by Erin Finnegan

The cover of this delicate gem of a novel. Can you taste the tannins? Put this on your reading list, pronto!

Sotto Voce by Erin Finnegan

Vines, wine, grapes, this is what Sotto Voce is all about. Photo: Private

The romance aspect of the book only leaves one potential ending, but for the longest time, I was unsure if the book was really going to end the way it did, and there are twists and turns that are very much unexpected, and as a reader, I certainly like to be surprised. It could very well have ended the way it did for Brooke and Carmen (no spoilers.) I like to be engaged, and I like to be enraged (at stupid behavior), and I was angry with both Tom and Greg more than once, and yes, I wanted to lash out at Tate, too. What an idiot! I also like to be emotionally engaged, and I still remember when I cried for the first time, that first scene when Greg’s shell cracks, and there were several passages throughout the book that made me cringe and shed a tear or two, including the passage about Appoggiatura in the end. Being married to a man similar to Greg, I certainly appreciate his gesture. Don’t ask, just read the book and you’ll see what I mean.

After last week’s review, I’m sure a few of you will wonder why I suddenly like this book and didn’t the other, this is, after all, about romance, too. It is, but the difference is the plot. Last week, romance was the plot and nothing but the plot. In Sotto Voce, romance supports the plot, this amazing tale of California’s and the U.S.’ most important and famed wine districts. Make no mistake, this book is about wine, drinking it, making it, and above all, the love of wine. Ms Finnegan is a wine maker, a vintner, and it shows! If you don’t want to spend time reading about grapes and pruning, yeast, mildew or oak barrels, harvests and what not, then this is not a book for you, but if you like a (very) good glass of wine, and if you are annoyed at bar keeps who simply ask you about your choice of Zin, Cab or Merlot (honestly, a grape says exactly what about the quality of the wine?) then this is a book you mustn’t miss. The fact that there is a real plot, love and a dash of romance, that there is a great ending quite to Her Majesty’s liking, and amazing writing, makes this book exactly what the doctor ordered for the pure romance novel weary reader.

Sotto Voce by Erin Finnegan, Napa Wine

Ms Finnegan’s descriptions of the “faux” castles and replicas of European houses reminded me of our trip through the two counties, where we saw, among other things, this tacky thing. I hope their wines are better… We had been tasting all day already and couldn’t drink any more and still be driving with a sense of decorum. Next time I think we’ll take the Town Car, just as Tom and Greg do. Sensible precaution… Photo: Private

Ms Finnegan’s writing is subtle, delicious, the cover art beautiful (I sooooooo prefer a decent cover to the tacky naked torso ones) and even her descriptions of sex (which I normally scroll through with my fast forward finger) had me linger and slow down my scrolling just a bit, which is high praise, just in case you don’t get it… Sotto Voce means “low voice” in Italian, and it’s a great way to describe the writing. There is no screaming, Ms Finnegan has no reason to exaggerate, to paint with broad strokes. It’s all very fine tuned, excellently edited. A beautifully crafted novel, one I’ll return to! Needless to say, this is one of those books that every gay man should read, a book that every gay youth should read, just as I mentioned the other day. This is exactly the sort of book I would’ve loved to read when I was young and lost, not knowing what to be, what to do. A wine maker wasn’t on my list, nor being a wine journalist. Point is, we can be anything, really, and Sotto Voce makes the case for it.

Sotto Voce is published by Interlude Press and is available on their website, Amazon and other book sellers. You can reach Ms. Finnegan on her website, her Facebook page or Twitter. I’m sure she’d enjoy your feedback on her book, particularly if you end up loving it as much as I have.

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Have a wonderful hump day and make the best of the rest of your week.

Hans

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