It’s been a slim year of wine-book publishing, but thankfully, the pros stepped up to take us around the world of wine or inside a personal journey. Here are five worth your while (or, in the last few hours of shopping/online ordering, might make it under the tree or in a stocking!).
The New French Wine, Jon Bonné (10 Speed Press). Just when you didn’t think there was anything new to say about French wine, there is, and in a beautifully photographed two-volume boxed set by the former wine critic at the San Francisco Chronicle and author of The New Wine Rules (2017). Bonné has turned his attention largely to the new generation of producers, and some myth-makers, to whom one of the volumes is devoted. The subtitle of the set is “Redefining the World’s Greatest Wine Culture,” and that pertains to both the vignerons and Bonné’s task. The volume titled “The Narrative” is a discussion of patrimony—somewhat of a French obsession concerning not only cultural heritage but also inheritance—and topical issues such as natural wines, climate and regenerative farming, which is increasingly being embraced by the even the old guard. Fourteen chapters are dedicated to the major production regions. The set does a good job humanizing France’s wine history, culture and commercial operations.
The Wines of Australia, Mark Davidson (Infinite Ideas). Full disclosure: I wanted this book for two reasons: 1) I am studying for an intensive wine exam and there is no current book that covers Australia’s vast dynamicism 2) and I am dying to go there. Though many consumers associate those cute animal labels with Australian wine, the country has a long and storied history and culture that, unless you’re in the business or a collector, is an untold story. Davidson, a longtime industry insider and the head of education development for Wines of Australia in North America, is just the guy to tell that story. This volume might be more academic than most titles in the category, but for anyone wanting to know more about the wine heritage, get a handle on a huge country, as well as the challenges the country faces (water resources, intense climate among them), this is a topical book.
Message in the Bottle: A Guide to Tasting Wine, Tim Gaiser, MS (NetWorlding). Master sommelier Tim Gaiser is known for his approachable online tasting lessons that have helped hundreds of wine students unlock the secrets of what’s in the glass. And in this book, he helps you, too! The problem with wine tasting is a lack of understanding about what consumers want to know or their capacity for understanding insider terms and descriptors like pear drops, garden hose or river rock (because who goes around sniffing or licking such objects?) Gaiser provides practical instruction to understand things like wine faults and markers—and you can skip over the super geeky stuff like compounds—but really focuses on the sensory profiles so you can pick up a glass of Chardonnay (because you do drink Chardonnay, don’t you?) and say with confidence, “this tastes like apples and pears” and comment on the richness or the austerity, instead of just tossing Chard—one of the world’s great grapes—under the bus. I also appreciate the explanation of why the same variety tastes different, depending on where it’s made. Get this book after you’ve graduated from Wine Folly.
The World in a Wineglass, Ray Isle (Scribner). Even as I write, I believe the author is just finishing his tour of this new book, a nearly 700-page volume of what to drink now. Isle doesn’t position the book as such an umbrella advisory, instead, focusing on the smaller, but growing segment of sustainable, environmentally friendly wines. It’s a category many are talking about, in the era of small-batch production, “know thy farmer” and a general concern for environmental stewardship, but this is the first comprehensive book written by an expert to address the most topical issues. Isle, as most know, is the long-time executive editor of Food & Wine magazine and recipient of several honors for his writing. Though it’s a hefty volume, the writing is approachable and amiable, and this is a great book to give to your wine-adjacent friends—those who want to know more about wine without getting clobbered over the head with geeky details. Chapters are weighted more toward the Old World—after all, they’ve been making wine a helluva lot longer—but about one third covers the New World, mostly Southern Hemisphere. Isle includes producer recommendations, a helpful list of importers and a “Wine 101” glossary.
Wine Witch on Fire, Natalie MacLean (Dundurn Press). Being a memoir, this is a bit of an outlier in this theme, but Natalie MacLean is a longtime Canadian wine writer and winner of four—count ‘em—four James Beard Foundation Journalism Awards. So, I couldn’t resist getting to know her a little better in this new, highly personal book subtitled “Rising from the Ashes of Divorce, Defamation and Drinking Too Much.” But this isn’t a tell-all revenge tale: it’s an honest two-pronged story about the challenges of being a woman in the wine world and the journey to reclaim one’s self personally and professionally, and demonstration that coming of age stories aren’t just for teen-agers.