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OP: Notes on a Cellar-Book

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by George Saintsbury

Much of the wine writing of the early 20th century might be characterized as one particular writer’s take on the beverages they had enjoyed—or not. Books were strongly opinionated and, though they might be limited in scope, they offered thoughtful insight, charisma, and, often, a touch of humor. Chief among those of that caliber was George Saintsbury’s (1845–1933) reflection on his personal cellars, Notes on a Cellar-Book, published in 1920. 

The book was a runaway success and reprinted twice in the first four months. Saintsbury’s fame as a literary critic and scholar couldn’t have hurt sales, and, as we might expect from a critic, there is no shortage of biased erudition. But, as he says himself, “I have never yet given a second-hand opinion of any thing, or book, or person;” we at least trust that Saintsbury speaks from experience without falling victim to recycling popular opinion or catering to elitist sensibilities that were not also his own.

Writing at the age of 75, Saintsbury draws inspiration from a lifetime, much of it lived with a refreshing libation in hand, and does not fail to draw us in with his stories. Not surprisingly, we find a good number of literary references throughout, giving a real sense of culture and intellect to otherwise sundry anecdotes. 

The introduction—a heated tirade against the hypocrisy and ignorance of the temperance movement—is not to be missed. Those who lived through that period of history had no shortage of strong thought on the matter, and it certainly helps to set the scene. Also included are 15 menus with suggested pairings—1887 Romanée with haunch of venison, 1870 Yquem with grilled red mullet, or 1870 Margaux with roast guinea fowls, perhaps.

Our copy is a 1933 reprint, which includes the addition of a preface by American historian Owen Wister. It lacks the dust jacket, though the board design and red cloth spine make for handsome packaging, nonetheless. We have had our copy rebacked with matching red cloth, preserving the gold stamped title on the front and having the title stamped anew on the spine. There is some rounding and chipping of the board corners. The book is otherwise in Very Good condition, the sturdy paper stock clean and unmarked. A nice find.

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