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DAVID BAKERBook clubs, of course, are about books. But they’re also about the wine. If your book club resembles mine, members rarely cross the $7.99 Trader Joe’s boundary line, and finishing the book is mostly aspirational.


One month the wine might be served with rosemary flatbread and goat cheese dusted with spices. Another month the noble rot is served with Pirate’s Booty or Goldfish dumped from a bag. But it’s the getting together and the sharing that matters.

This makes “Vintage” (Simon & Schuster, $25), an unsnobby wine thriller by David Baker, an excellent pairing with just about any book club, whether its members have refined or unrefined tastes. The entertaining and comic novel has a boozy, bearded (at least I pictured him so) hero at its center who knows that life is meant to be enjoyed from both high and low angles.

But our bon vivant, Bruno Tannenbaum, has rested for too long on the laurels of his first book, “Twenty Recipes for Love.” His nose for wine leads him on extravagant benders, and his relationship with his estranged wife and two daughters becomes more endangered when he loses his job at a magazine after being 86ed from his favorite bistro.

Baker's wine thriller.The plot accelerates when Bruno embarks on the trail of an elusive “lost” wine vintage that may or may not have been smuggled out of France by the Nazis during World War II. He bumps into Russian mobsters in storage vaults, and he’s trailed by unknown foes in shadowy wine cellars.

“Don’t be vinegar, don’t be vinegar, don’t be vinegar,” Bruno whispered as he prepared to pull. He grabbed a dusty glass from a shelf, then tugged the cork out. It was more of a slurp than a pop, and for a moment he was concerned about the seal. But when he poured the gold-brown liquid and breathed in the layers of confection, citrus, honey and vanilla that rolled from the glass he knew he was in for a life-altering experience. He seized the stem of the glass, so certain of the coming bliss that he didn’t hear the scuff of shoes on concrete behind him.

Read the book to learn what happens next. Bruno thinks if he can win the race to find the vintage that he can write his next bestseller and be redeemed.

On his quest for the famous vintage he meets an eccentric French winemaker, “an enthusiastic lover and wickedly funny,” who may or may not be the real love of his life, and takes a detour to not-so-dreary Moldova, where the townspeople match Bruno glass for glass. Readers learn along with Bruno that in the late 1800s two young Americans saved the French vineyards, which were dying all over France from a louse infection. The Yanks discovered that by grafting a particular American rootstock immune to the bug that the vineyards could be saved.

The book takes playful jabs at the pretensions of wine critics and their boring rating systems. For Bruno, it’s wine that lights his elegiac soul, and it contains answers to life’s great swirling questions. Cooking is an exalted and humble art and the best way to express love of life and family.

In “Vintage,” various characters call on Bruno when they need to know how to cook a meal that will save their marriage, rekindle an old love, or apologize.

Baker lives in the Willamette Valley and will be in Portland on Sunday, Dec. 6, to read and sign copies of his book at Caveau, a wine club at 2537 N.W. Upshur St. The event will focus on burgundies and champagne, and costs $15 for non-members.

In other news:

• Oregon Battle of the Books is heating up in Portland Public Schools. “BOB,” as it’s affectionately called, is a competition during which teams of students compete in a game show format. During the timed event, teams are quizzed on nitpicky details of the books. The book lists can be found at www.oboblsta.pbworks.com.

• Our fair city is all laid out in “Portlandness,” a cultural atlas that uses graphic design and modern cartography to map (and remap) fascinating bits of Portland history and fable. Peruse 150 different infographic maps based on such things as street emotion, sounds and smell. Co-authors David Banis and Hunter Shobe will present “Portlandness” at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 23, at Powell’s City of Books, 1005 W. Burnside.

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