Food & Wine

I like food ("too much," sez Ms. Cardiologist). I like wine ("too much," sez Mr. Parole Officer). So it would stand to reason that I'd like Food & Wine, a stylish bible for foodies and oenophiles alike.

But I don't. For this, I blame the October issue's contrived central gimmick. It is, the publication soberly informs us, the "Wine: Special Collectors Issue"; eight variants of the word "wine" appear on the cover alone. Forgive my lack of publishing sophistication, but shouldn't every edition of Food & Wine appeal in large part to wine collectors? They eat too, don't they? I'm going to have to assume that the "collectors issue" shtick was motivated by a line on the editorial calendar, rather than some pressing editorial need.

Which is a shame, because the force-fed gimmick throws the issue off balance. The wine-first story on "rocker and gentleman farmer-vinter" Dave Matthews (their description, not mine) comes across as safer and more calculatingly precious than even Matthews' music -- no small feat. Similarly, the "indulgent barge cruise through Burgundy" offers little that hasn't been written and rewritten in any number of food and travel mags, not to mention zillions of tourist postcards. One or two of the special features hit the mark-- most notably, the "Generation Next" introduction of 26 newbie winemakers. Mostly, though, the supposedly collectible content elicits little more than a shrug and a hiccup.

The issue's best moments are the ones in which Food & Wine attempts to humanize its titular subjects without resorting to grandiloquent prose. The "Well-Being" piece on a father/daughter team who wrote a tome on Italian family dining does more to illustrate the passion of hard-core foodies than do a raft of flowery, Gewürztraminer-addled Sonoma travelogues. "Tastemakers," with its mini-profiles of a maker of wine-soaked chocolates and a dude who crafts tables and chairs from abandoned wine casks, takes a similarly expansive and personal approach.

None of the "Tastemaker" pieces are given more than a few millimeters of column space, though. Instead, the October issue attempts to pull off the advertising-designed-as-editorial short con, saturating the "Kitchen" and "Shopping" sections with semi-relevant products. Wool felt pillows? In Food & Wine?

Additionally, I tripped over a handful of the section titles. "News & Notes" highlights tinted wine glasses and a wine-pimped-out Mini Cooper - nothing newsy or notable there - and "Fast" breeds confusion among halfwits like myself who associate the term with Yom Kippur or Ramadan, rather than quickly prepared confections. And why any print entity would identify seven best-of-breed blogs (and thus divert eyeballs elsewhere) is beyond me.

In his snappy "Always Hungry" romp, Pete Wells begins by writing, "Wine doesn't scare me. Wine and I get along like bears and picnic baskets. What scares me is wine experts." I've got a similar problem: I find it difficult to suppress my impulse to slug food and wine writers, whose practiced snootiness makes me want to wipe the floor with them and their ascots and cravats. Yes, I realize that this is a massive and unfair generalization -- but hey, I've also got a beef with comparably hoity-toity travel writers.

So maybe I'm incapable of appreciating Food & Wine's central mission. Or maybe the October issue just ain't that interesting. Either way, get the bib ready for emergency detail.

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