Wine Book Review & Author Interview: Blinders by Michael Amon
Blinders by Michael Amon is a captivating wine novel.
From the very first pages, you’re captivated. Well I was…
The first chapter, with its short 6 pages, is enough to throw you into an intriguing universe of nightlife, wine, and wonders: a wine bar in New York City, a luxury escort girl, and an unforeseen wine amateur nicknamed Bobby that is able to identify any wines down to the vintage and producer in any blind tasting. The stage is set… and keeps you wondering what’s to come.
2012 Rombauer Chardonnay, California, 2013 Dr Loosen Mosel Riesling, or Austrian Gruner Vetliner. The taste of any wine seems to have no secret to Bobby.
While most of us have for sole super power the ability to make wine disappear, Bobby can not only gulp a glass of wine in half a second, but he can also identify it with the highest accuracy, without seeing the label!
When Bobby meets Trilby, a retired blind tasting prodigy, he is led to enter the underground world of ‘Blinders’. These Fight Club-like wine tasting competitions gather the worldwide attention of rich wine amateurs that can bid online on their favorite blinder.
The awkward Bobby from Nebraska will surprise bidders and Chinese-Mafia tasting-event organizers, earning an invitation to the highest stage of all blind tastings: La Paulée. Will the man from Omaha make it to defeating the best wine experts the world of wine has ever seen?
Filled with accurate references to the world of wine, Michael Amon’s fiction takes twists and turns to surprise the reader and carry us along a decadent universe of sex, drugs, suspense, and Grand Crus.
To learn more about the inspiration and the man behind the book, I have asked debut novelist and sommelier author Michael Amon to tell us more, in one of our world famous Q&A interviews:
Q: What gave you the idea of writing a book about the wine ‘blinders’ universe?
Michael Amon: So I am working my way through various wine certifications, am currently enrolled in the Masters of Wine program with the Institute of Masters of Wine. Obviously as one gets into higher level wine certifications, blind tasting becomes much more important to passing higher level exams. Consequently, I found myself doing a fair amount of blind tasting with different colleagues and friends. One night (I’m sure after too much tasting) we started betting on whether or not we could nail wines. Which led me to conceptually thinking that would be a great idea for a story – the underground world of high stakes gambling on blind tasting. I sat down to play with it, and over the course of about ten days, wrote the first draft of what would become Blinders.
Q: One senses there are some real-word facts in the book, in particular wine facts. One happily believes a French sommelier could be one of the best blind wine tasters in the world, LOL. But the whole underground world around blind tasting competitions and gambling, although captivating, seems somehow fictional. How much in the book is real? Do ‘blinders’ exist in the real world?
Michael Amon: Is it real? Does this actually happen? Who knows! It’s certainly fun to think that somewhere people are doing this sort of thing. Certainly there are a number of blind tasting groups in major cities, but typically they are people who are studying for higher level exams and are working together to improve their skills. Do they ever bet on it? Maybe. Do they talk shit on each other. Most definitely, at least the ones I have been a part of it. But the short answer is that I made up the entire blinding competition, betting, process etc.
Q: One of the main characters has blind tasting superpowers, despite being the son of a farmer in Omaha, Nebraska. Is there a particular reason he comes from Omaha?
Michael Amon: I guess the real question is does Bobby really have tasting superpowers? That certainly is part of his persona, as is being from Omaha. Without giving away too much of the ending, the overall answer is that pretty much all throughout Blinders nothing is exactly as it appears to be. And from all the people who have read the book and given me reviews and/or feedback, no one has ever said that they figured out what was going to happen. The true fun of this book is the way the plot, particularly the ending, evolves in a way that you absolutely wouldn’t expect. My goal in writing it was to have a story like The Usual Suspects, or The Sixth Sense, or Fight Club, where at the end the reader goes “holy shit I never saw that coming”. Which is also why I chose the title Blinders – superficially it relates to blind tasting on wine, but at a deeper level you can imagine that all the readers are operating at some level with blinders on – either emotional or greed or societal.
Q: Have you ever met someone with surprisingly sharp wine tasting abilities without being a highly-trained professional, or what inspired the character?
Michael Amon: I have been fortunate enough to meet people with really exceptional blind tasting abilities. I think though, that across the board these people aren’t born with these abilities. They have developed them over a number of years practicing constantly. Frankly, the whole process of blind tasting is very analytical. I think most people with the proper training, could develop these skills. Will they be perfect? Of course not, and that is part of the joy and mystery of wine. But could they get good enough to enjoy themselves? For sure! I remember when I started blind tasting; I failed over and over and over. But I remember the first time I got one right – not by guessing but by really going through the analytical process. It was really a feeling of elation – like “hey, I CAN do this”. And if Blinders inspires people to go out and give it a try, then that is fantastic.
Q: A large part of the action takes place in New York. Does the city have some of the best wine palates in the world?
Michael Amon: I picked a few venues for the locations in the book. For the most part, all of the places referred to all real. The names, the locations, even in many cases the physical descriptions are all accurate. Much of the action takes place in New York. Does NYC have exceptional wine palates? Not in my experience. The wine people there are no better and no worse than other big cities. I do think however, that one of the things NYC has going for it is variety. Most other cities (Paris, Milan, San Francisco etc) are victims of geography; they tend to be highly focused on what is locally available. Most wine bars in Los Angeles for example have a very high percentage of California based wines on the list. NYC tends to be a little more open, and hence the wine scene there has in my opinion a lot more variety. That said, the main reasons I chose NYC are a) I like NYC and b) NYC seems like the kind of place where this could actually happen.
Q: Now, can you tell us about you? We, wine lovers, all have a story with wine, an affair sometimes. What is yours?
Michael Amon: Like most people who are “into wine” I have a handful of epiphany wines. Wines that changed my worldview. My first was when I was in my early twenties and my father shared a 1975 Gattinara with me. I remember drinking it and thinking, OMG, I finally get it. Now, as a Masters of Wine candidate (there are only 300 in the world and only about 30 in the US) one could argue that my “hobby” has become more like an “obsession”. But the journey has been amazing, and while I believe there is a perception that wine people are “wine snobs” – my experience with people immersed in the world of wine is that they are some of the most generous, open minded, intelligent and overall interesting people I have met. We could all benefit from slowing down and enjoying a glass of Riesling with our friends and family more often.
You haven’t asked about it – but Blinders is on the surface an engaging, fast-paced, funny caper story. But there is a very interesting subtext that not everyone picks up on. The issue is who does Trilby bet on? Does he go with his head or his heart? The book explicitly never tells you. By design. The words I use I had to choose very carefully to ensure that they don’t connote one option over the other. And this I think is one of the fundamental issues everyone struggles with. Do you follow your passion? Or get a high paying job? Do you go with your gut? Or with logic? I don’t know that there is a right answer, but it is awesome to see how people interpret it. I have had readers come up to me and explain in absolute terms to me who they “know” that Trilby bet on. When a reader has that level of reaction, I think it actually is more telling about their personality and how they approach the world than about my little wine story.
Learn more about Blinders book and how buy the Kindle version via Blinders by Michael Amon on Amazon.