In Claire's quest to identify the wine, readers meet a collection of misfits, villains and unlikely heroes.
Helping Claire is Les Breeden, an unemployed journalist who decides to advertise himself as a private investigator after losing his job at the local newspaper. He spends virtually all his free time at the local dive bar, a wine geeks' paradise called Glass Act.
As the investigation unfolds, readers become well acquainted with two others: Jerome Hutt, a developer-turned-winery-owner whose wines are as opulent as his lifestyle, and Cotton Harrell, an ecologist-turned-winemaker who is dedicated to biodynamic farming.
Like the cheerleader and the band geek in a classic high school drama, these men serve as foils to one another. Hutt is the symbol of all that's wrong with California's “cult” wines and Harrell represents all that's pure about viniculture.
The book hints at some serious issues, from the madness of wine ratings and the changing media landscape to the alcoholism and class divisions that quietly exist in every winemaking region. But at its heart, “Nose” is a straightforward mystery novel. Predictable, to be sure, but with enough twists and turns it's nearly impossible to put down.
David White, a wine writer, is the founder and editor of Terroirist.com. His columns are housed at Palate Press: The Online Wine Magazine (PalatePress.com).