August 12 2011
It weighs in well over five lbs. measures nearly a foot in length and contains over 2500 pages.
Bed time reading? Only if you have the energy to wrestle the massive tome into bed.
While it’s odd to consider such a book in an age where reading the newspaper is quaint, magazines are building their proverbial bridge to cross the digital divide and e-book sales are skyrocketing at the expense of their paper-based brethren, I’m here to encourage you to not only buy a relic of the 20th century, but to buy a used 1980s version before it’s too late; they won’t be available forever.
The Bern’s Steakhouse wine list is the stuff of legend and a worthy addition the wine enthusiasts’ book collection.
Bern’s boasts the largest wine list of any restaurant in the world and not so coincidentally they have the largest private wine cellar in the U.S. A winner of Wine Spectator’s Grand Award every year since the award’s inception in 1981, they have earned their wine bona fides.
The wine list itself has grown in legend comparable to the cellar.
The story goes that as Bern Laxer’s wine cellar and wine list at his eponymous restaurant gained notoriety, the lists intended for patron perusal would frequently go missing by diners who wanted a souvenir of their meal (albeit a very large and unwieldy souvenir). Out the door these wine lists went covered by a dinner jacket or (in)discreetly tucked into a purse or satchel.
To combat the nicking, Proprietor Bern Laxer started publishing the wine list in book form and selling them complete with plenty of personally written wine region overviews, photos from travels and hand drawn maps.
Discontinued in its gargantuan form with the 1994 edition when the updating process became too cumbersome in an already cumbersome process, the handsome, large format leather-look books are entirely charming, comprehensive, personal in authorial style and, dare I say, a must have.
But, to repeat, you need to buy a used, vintage copy.
I only recently purchased my copy from Amazon.com. The 1984 edition came to me in nearly perfect shape for the absurdly reasonable price of $23 plus $4 in shipping and handling. The foldout maps are clever, the prose is folksy and to the point and the unpretentious historical perspective on the regions of the wine world and the great vintages dating to the mid-to-late 1800s is nearly impossible to find in other books.
It’s a tough sell these days to advocate buying a wine reference book. Who has the time to read a doorstop? These books are better used for occasional review and even then it’s better to know where to find the information then to have the book, or so goes conventional wisdom. Where do you even put it? It’s something else to collect dust…
Perhaps that perspective is valid, but there’s a lot to be said for looking at wine books, particularly vintage wine books, as equivalent to snatching up classic greatest hits of musicians in LP form – the recording as the artists intended it, a snapshot of a time and place that is entirely authentic.
You may want to buy a dictionary stand for it (another quaint relic of a bygone time) in order to have it at-hand and handsomely displayed near your wine, and you’ll have to sleuth out used versions on Amazon.com, eBay or your local used bookstore, but I can confirm definitively that having a copy of Bern’s Steakhouse Wine List from the 80s or 90s won’t be the most important wine book you own, but it will become your most treasured.