Book Review: Corkscrew, by Peter Stafford-Bow

Corkscrew is a rollicking page-turner about a quick-witted womanizer named Felix Hart, whose bawdy, booze-filled escapades propel him up the ranks of the UK wine industry. The dialogue is tight and idiomatic, the characters have flesh, and the situations Felix finds himself in are unique to say the least.

There’s a chase scene with a pack of vicious fornicating ostriches; a hairy hermaphroditic powdered drug alchemist whom Felix sets aflame; a group of sadistic master sommeliers who never use spit buckets; and a death by cesspool.

Yea, Peter Stafford-Bow has quite an imagination.

The story begins with Felix in an interrogation room. He’s done something pretty bad; we don’t know what. As his interrogators press him, Felix gives them (and us) the whole story.

Getting his start in a local wine store, Felix’s career takes off when he bludgeons to death a notorious burglar who’s been terrorizing local shops. He takes a gig as a wine buyer and jets off to Bulgaria, Italy, and South Africa, where he negotiates deals, drinks a lot, and charms an endless stream of women.

I did find it a little too convenient that every wine merchant Felix encounters happens to be a good-looking girl who instantly wants to take him to bed, or exchange sex for wine perks. It does, however, give Stafford-Bow endless opportunity to deploy his considerable talent for euphemism.

In South Africa, Felix meets one of the story’s most interesting characters, Wikus van Blerk, an eccentric but much-sought-after winemaker. Wikus is an opinionated sage who has an entrenched point of view on everything, like the superiority of screw caps over cork or the blasphemy of wine filtration. “A winemaker who filters his wine is like a burglar stealing the family silver.”

Wikus’s “gun-toting African” partner Njongo delivers what is for me the most poignant moment in the novel, for its nod to geographic particularity and the shifting essence of wine. The three of them are out on safari, roasting freshly killed game and drinking bottles of Wikus’s wine. “I taste the stars,” says Njongo of a dark Shiraz, “unhidden by cloud. The African earth, caressing the vine. The promise of distant rain. The breath of the leopard.”

“That’s an African tasting note,” says Wikus, “And that’s why Njongo will inherit my estate when I’m gone!”

On more than one occasion, Corkscrew reminded me of Saul Bellow’s Henderson the Rain King. It think because both novels blend absurdity and poignancy—or maybe simply because Felix, like Henderson, visits Africa.

I don’t want to give away too many of the novel’s best moments, but I will say that Corkscrew isn’t merely a series of random, disconnected happenings. Events build upon each other, as Felix gets himself into some real binds with the law and organized crime—the central dilemma concerns a large, conspicuously-low-priced shipment of Asti Spumante—and the draw for the reader is seeing how he wiggles out.

My Recommendation
Corkscrew is a bit too crude at times for my liking. That said, there were moments when I actually laughed out loud. I’d recommend it for anyone looking for an easy read full of lasciviousness and wine (a la Sideways, I’d say), particularly those inclined toward “cheeky” British humor.

Yin And Yang, Printed Style (August 2018 Wine Product Roundup)

image: Amazon.com

As my pile of (admittedly somewhat neglected) wine book review copies is growing ever larger, this month’s wine product review roundup will focus on two soon-to-be-released bits of printed vinous educational resources. Both of these books will start to see shelf space in September, both are priced at $24.95, and both are about wine, and both were written in English by carbon-based lifeforms… and those are about the only things that they have in common stylistically. So if you’re up for a bit of an interesting Yin/Yang of vinous-related reviews, by all means read on and try not to get too dizzy.

First, we have Master Sommelier Catherine Fallis’s Ten Grapes to Know: The Ten & Done Wine Guide (The Countryman Press, 189 pages, $24.95). Ten Grapes is an unabashed attempt at simplifying wine for the uninitiated, the premise being that learning about ten key fine wine grapes (Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Viognier, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Zinfandel) will provide pretty much all that one needs to know to begin successfully navigating most wine store shelves and wine lists, with the encouragement to branch out from there (provided mainly through recommendations of similar-but-lesser-known grape varieties at the end of each dedicated chapter).

Each of the chapters in Ten Grapes follows a similar pattern: historical/geographical/taste background of wine made from each grape, followed by food pairings and a recommended price-based shopping list, all sprinkled with anecdotes and concluding with a short quiz. While Fallis’s approach might strike the nerdier among you as overly-simplistic, it works primarily because it mirrors how most normal consumers actually start to experience and purchase wine, and if it has a fault it’s in prose that might be too friendly and familiar. Specifically, Ten Grapes has an un-apologetically feminine stylistic bent. To wit: one of the sections of chapter six, on Sangiovese, begins “I had a nearly religious moment outside the Ferragamo shop in Florence.” If you haven’t shopped Ferragamo in Florence (guilty!), you probably won’t be able to relate, but then it’s hard to fault Fallis for losing some of the audience in brief paragraphs, since there are entire wine books whose prose loses most of the potential audience…

Yin And Yang, Printed Style (August 2018 Wine Product Roundup)

Required reading from Goode’s latest (image: Amazon.com)

Next, we have the it’s-such-a-polar-opposite-that-I-think-I-just-got-mental-whiplash Flawless: Understanding Faults in Wine (UC Press, $232 pages, $24.95). Flawless is the latest from the mind of wine-obsessed scientist Jamie Goode, and it might be his driest and most academic wine work to date… which, if you know Goode, is really saying something. In Flawless, Goode tackles the causes, impacts, statistics, and rectification processes behind basically all of the major faults that can ruin wine, from Brett to oxidation to heat damage to greeness to volatile acidity.

Goode approaches each fault subtopic with his characteristic pithy sentence structure and lab-coat-donning thoroughness; personally, despite having spent more time than the average guy researching cork-related wine issues, I learned more in the thirteen-or-so pages of Flawless‘ cork taint section (Chapter 7) than I’d even known before about the causes and remediation of the cork industry’s biggest bugaboo (PSA: cork taint contamination percentages might be as high as 6-8% according to some of the studies cited in Goode’s book). Chapter 8, on smoke taint, should probably be required reading by the entire US wine industry, particularly those in Southern Oregon and Northern CA who will be reading this review during ongoing regional wildfires when their grapes are undergoing verasion, exactly when they are most susceptible to smoke.

Flawless is not without its faults (sorry… you knew that was coming), but it’s very close to being required reading on a touchy set of subjects, and while not exactly an easy read, it’s digestible for both the consumer and those on the inside of the wine biz.

Cheers!

Grab The 1WineDude.com Tasting Guide and start getting more out of every glass of wine today!

Shop Wine Products at Amazon.com

Copyright © 2016. Originally at Yin And Yang, Printed Style (August 2018 Wine Product Roundup) from 1WineDude.com - for personal, non-commercial use only. Cheers!

Book Review: Godforsaken Grapes by Jason Wilson

Many wine nerds have likely heard a similar statistic: about 80% of the world’s wine comes from about 20 grapes. Meanwhile, planet Earth boasts some 1,400 grape varieties used in winemaking, which means there is a whole lot of “obscure” wine out there. Since I’ve been paying close attention to wine, for about a dozen years now, I’ve seen a huge uptick in excitement about wines like Mtsvane from Georgia, Trousseau from Jura, orange wines from Slovenia, etc. Even though I’m still totally happy sipping California Chardonnay, I think this increased attention on lesser known wines has been extremely positive in many ways.

In his new book, “Godforsaken Grapes: A Slightly Tipsy Journey through the World of Strange, Obscure, and Underappreciated Wine,” Philly’s Jason Wilson digs deep into the other 20% of the world’s wine. After focusing on spirits and cocktails for much of his life, Wilson caught a bad case of the wine geek bug, and soon began traveling to Austria, Switzerland, Northeast Italy, and other regions, searching for obscure wines and the interesting people who keep them alive.

In an interview with Wine Enthusiast, Wilson said this about his motivations behind writing the book: “This book is very personal, dealing with my own growing obsession with wine during my late 30s and 40s. I wanted to write about what happens when one goes down the rabbit hole into serious geekdom. I also saw a bigger story. The wine industry is undergoing a massive sea change and the influence of a certain type of ‘serious wine critic’ is on the wane. I wanted to capture this moment.”

The title of the book was taken from a now infamous screed posted by Robert Parker in 2014, in which he complained that a younger generation of wine-lovers (which he called a “group of absolutists”) was engaging in, “near-complete rejection of some of the finest grapes and the wines they produce. Instead they espouse, with enormous gusto and noise, grapes and wines that are virtually unknown.” These “godforsaken grapes” (like Trousseau, Savagnin, Blaufränkisch and others), Parker decreed, made wines that were “rarely palatable.”

A lot of people were ruffled by Parker’s post, but I remember feeling a bit sad. It reminded me of an old metalhead ranting about how bands these days don’t make music like they used to. Blah, blah, blah. This thinking also sets up a false dichotomy, pitting what Wilson calls “serious wines” against the “obscure” or “natural” or “geeky” wines. I’ve never felt the need to pick a side in this fight — Napa Cabs are great, so is Schiava from Alto Adige. The world is big enough for everything. Isn’t there enough tribalism in the world already? It’s just wine — right?

The most refreshing aspect about Wilson’s voice is his sense of self-doubt, the way he questions his own assumptions and applies skepticism to his own views when he feels he might be getting ahead of himself. Since wine, as the cliché goes, is a journey, I appreciate how Wilson always checks his tracks to see where he’s been and where he’s going.

“Was all of this just a privileged exercise in geekiness and arcane trivia?” Wilson asks himself. “I’d started to worry I was falling down the same rabbit hole as those hipper-than-thou wine snobs who sneer at people who order chardonnay.”

Several times in the book, Wilson compares extreme wine geekism to bizarre, obscure performance art, and wonders if some of us are seeking out oddity for oddity’s sake: “I occasionally worry that the pursuit of even more obscure and lesser-known wines is sort of like Dada. What’s cool and enigmatic one day — trollinger from Germany or encruzado from Portugal or malagousia from Greece — could very well become boring tomorrow.”

And sometimes we can get so caught up in wine geek navel gazing, perhaps sometimes we miss the entire point. I mean, isn’t this all about happiness and pleasure anyway? Again, Wilson asks: “But has this quest into pleasure led toward some enlightenment or happiness, or has it simply succeeded in making me a miserable person? I occasionally worry about these sorts of things. I am well aware how ridiculous or pathetic that may sound, the ultimate First World Problem.”

Wilson’s book is divvied up into self-enclosed chapters focusing on a certain region or a certain type of wine. I will say, some of the chapters (like the one on Port) seem tacked on, and sometimes Wilson rambles on for far too long about his travel logistics. That said, I genuinely enjoyed this book, learned more than a few things, and finished it feeling invigorated about where we are in this moment of wine’s history.

If you’re still looking for a wine-related summer beach read, this is a great one. I confess that reading this book on a beach in Portugal (while sipping a chilled white made from Antão Vaz) was a delightful experience.

$26, hardcover
Abrams Press

Book Review: Tasting the Past, by Kevin Begos

This book wouldn’t exist had Begos not found himself bored in a hotel room in Jordan. Reaching for a bottle from the minibar, he encountered Cremisan Cellars, and sparked a journey that has culminated in Tasting the Past: The Science of Flavor & the Search for the Origins of Wine.

Begos documents his visits to some of the oldest wine sites in Europe and the Middle East, searching for (but as you’d expect, not conclusively finding) the origins of wine. Along the way he encounters experts, scientists, and passionate winemakers who, each in their own way, are seeking to discover and experience wine in its most ancient forms.

A former MIT Knight Science Journalism fellow, Begos does an excellent job striking a balance between travel writing, history, and science—the science, thankfully, isn’t too heavy handed. What I admire most, however, is his relentless curiosity.

Begos could not shake his desire to learn more about Cremisan’s unusual grapes (Baladi, Jandali, Hamdani) and to understand why, in a world full of thousands of wine grape varieties, each suited to its particular clime, we have limited ourselves to just a handful. Most of it is market driven, of course, but Begos laments how we’ve “rammed the famous [i.e., French] varieties” into so many unsuitable habitats.

A recurring theme in the book is the friction between nature and viniculture: what the vine desires to do and what man makes it do. It’s actually what I found most compelling. For instance, I was surprised to learn (so was Begos, when Swiss grape geneticist Dr. José Vouillamoz told him) that “if you plant the seeds from any grape … the new vine will have different flavors and characteristics.” It seems obvious, until you realize what this actually means, that the varietals familiar to us today have all been propagated through the centuries by cuttings alone.

How had I not known this?

Take Cabernet Sauvignon. It was born of a “vineyard love affair,” as Begos calls it, between Sauvignon Blanc (yes, a white grape) and Cabernet Franc, 200-300 years ago in southwest France. Carole Meredith, plant geneticist at UC Davis, puts it simply: “A single pollen grain landed on a single flower and a single seed grew into a single plant. Every Cabernet Sauvignon vine across the world comes from this one original vine.”

The modus operandi of modern winemaking is to “lock in the tastes but shut down any evolution,” says Begos. But this desire for vinicultural consistency comes at a price.

Because today’s most popular wine grapes exist in a state of arrested evolution, they’re particularly susceptible to pandemic disease (which is what happened during the Irish Potato Famine). Climate change, too, will increasingly come negatively to bear on a world full of vines that have been artificially kept from adapting and evolving. For winegrowers, if Begos’s experts are right, it looks to be a losing battle.

The silver lining here is novelty. There exists the possibility for entirely new varietals with new flavors—flavors not merely coaxed out of existing varietals by the next great winemaking process innovation, but flavors born organically of seed and soil. A few winemakers are already on it, say Begos.

Tasting the Past is a rallying cry for the obscure grape and for regional particularity. I’m on board with that. There’s a great big world out there beyond the French grape.

My Recommendation
There are so many great stories and characters contained within Tasting the Past’s 250 or so pages, and Begos’s journalistic style keeps it all moving. I liked, too, that each chapter concludes with information on how to obtain the wines he discusses (although some are unattainable outside of the wineries themselves). Anyone who wants to know what else is out there, beyond even what your local Total Wine can supply, will want to read this book. Those with a bent toward wine history, paleobotany, or grape genetics will be especially pleased.

101 Wines, 43 Wine Regions, And 1 Rosy Picture (June 2018 Wine Product Roundup)

image: Amazon.com

Welcome to the June 2018 incarnation of the ongoing series in which I review samples that aren’t in liquid form. I am so, so, sooooooooooooooooooooo far behind in penning thoughts on various tastings and wine travels, but I’m also so, so, sooooooooooooooooooooo far behind in reviewing the never-ending flood of wine book samples coming my way that I felt compelled to knock off at least a small handful for this product roundup.

First up, we have the small-but-powerful 101 Wines to Try Before You Die (Cassell, 244 pages, about $12) by former Wine Magazine editor Margaret Rand. Generally speaking, I’m not a fan of list-style books, but Rand’s clever ploy here – in which she devotes two pages each to the wines on her list, including a bottle/label shot – is not to introduce you to individual wines per se, but to get people thinking more about things like Savennières, Hunter Valley Semillon, or Bierzo.

101 Wines, 43 Wine Regions, And 1 Rosy Picture (June 2018 Wine Product Roundup)

image: Amazon.com

Rand gets bonus points for employing a writing style that’s equal parts matter-of-fact, personal, and humorous (included with each selection’s vitals, such as trophy vintages and whether or not to chill or decant the wine, is a “What Not to Say” section; my personal favorite is probably “Is it German?” under Hugel’s Riesling Schoelhammer entry). 101 Wines to Try Before You Die is an honest and fun, if not essential, walk through some of compelling bottles.

Next, there’s   (Mascot, 144 pages, about $25) by Michael Biddick. Biddick is a sommelier with an IT background, and his upcoming book is essentially full of vignettes about some of the world’s most important wine regions, accompanied by a sort of info-graphic that displays the area’s major grapes, soils, climate, and recent vintages.

Now, at this point, you’re probably asking yourself “why the f–k did he pick 43 regions?!?” and the answer has to do with Biddick’s IT geekdom, and is the kind of thing that’s just begging for controversy…

Being an IT guy at heart, the author basically created a matrix/spreadsheet for each potential wine region in the mix for inclusion, scoring for categories such as composite vintage score 2000-2016″ and “weather and climate.” A total point score was then calculated for each wine region, with 50 points being the cutoff for making the book. I can feel you points-haters cringing at this (hey, I’m one of you, and I did, too). For sh*ts and giggles, here are Biddick’s top 20 and bottom 10, based on his algorithm:

101 Wines, 43 Wine Regions, And 1 Rosy Picture (June 2018 Wine Product Roundup)

Biddick’s Top 20…

101 Wines, 43 Wine Regions, And 1 Rosy Picture (June 2018 Wine Product Roundup)

…and his Bottom 10

Whether or not 43 Wine Regions will be your particular cup o’ tea when it comes to wine reference books will depend in large part on how you feel about this kind of full embracing of the American penchant for list-making, categorizing, and ranking.

101 Wines, 43 Wine Regions, And 1 Rosy Picture (June 2018 Wine Product Roundup)

image: Amazon.com

Finally, we have a cute reference focusing on one and only one category of wine – Drink Pink: A Celebration of Rosé (Harper Design, 128 pages, about $12) by Victoria James (author) and Lyle Railsback (illustrator). James is a somm and beverage director, and, presumably, a big fan of pink wines. The pink-all-over cover and the clever/whimsical illustrations throughout will almost certainly have the more cynical among you (myself included) thinking that James and Railsback are capitalizing on the current boom in Rosé popularity; and while I don’t think that’s an incorrect conclusion, it doesn’t mean that Drink Pink should be overlooked. On the contrary, there’s a lot to like about this book: it’s unpretentious, gets into cool levels of detail (for example, in discussing the Cassis, Palette, and Bandol sub-regions within Provence), and offers Rosé-focused food pairings/recipes, and even Rosé cocktail ideas that don’t actually sound disgusting. A bit of Rosé history and production overviews round the book out, and it’s a solid gift idea for those who are not necessarily wine geeks but are enthralled with pinks.

Cheers!

Grab The 1WineDude.com Tasting Guide and start getting more out of every glass of wine today!

Shop Wine Products at Amazon.com

Copyright © 2016. Originally at 101 Wines, 43 Wine Regions, And 1 Rosy Picture (June 2018 Wine Product Roundup) from 1WineDude.com - for personal, non-commercial use only. Cheers!

Wine Book Reviews: The Wandering Vine

It’s hard to imagine what the “Old World” wine maps would look like today had the Roman Empire never existed. So many lives, cultures, religions, and independent groups of people were crushed under the heel of Rome — but vineyards and wine spread out to almost all corners of Rome’s reach.

To cover the entire history of vineyard expansion under Roman rule would be a daunting task, and likely result in a heavy read. Luckily, Nina Caplan’s travel and wine memoir, “The Wandering Vine: Wine, the Romans and Me,” is a joy to read.

In the introduction, Caplan says her goal is to trace the path of the Romans, “back from England to France, Spain and Italy… an attempt to understand how they conquered the world through wine, and to look at some of the more unlikely consequences of that conquest.” She manages to weave together historical and modern wine stories expertly. Caplan travels from her home of England to Champagne, to Burgundy, to the Rhone, to Provence. She covers lots of Spanish and Italian regions (Barcelona, Tarragona, Seville, Palermo, Naples), and finishes up in Rome.

The story of wine, like the story of people, Caplan writes, is a story of displacement, of constant movement and adaptation. “How much duller our dinner tables would be if people and vines had ever learned to stay still!” she proclaims. “If we are lucky enough to happen on the right soil and left to inhabit it peacefully, we can root ourselves and flourish, to the benefit of all.”

Everywhere Caplan goes, she looks for historical traces of the Jewish people who once inhabited the specific area she is exploring. She incorporates Jewish history, and their connection to the particular area’s wine and vines, searching for remnants and finding common themes of oppression, expulsion, and forced conversion by Christians. I found these aspects of the book the most fascinating, as I feel many of these important stories are overlooked in the history of the Roman Empire.

Her writing style is playful yet precise, poetic with dashes of an academic historian. And her book is littered with little nuggets of wisdom and joyful proclamations: “We must live our lives, and honour with wine and with every sense at our disposal the roots and stems from which we sprang, taking our encounters, with the living and the dead, as we find them. Nothing – not grapes nor shades nor stories – is entirely irrecoverable…”

I think this book could appeal to serious wine geeks by adding a bit of historical context to regions we’re all quite familiar with. For casual wine fans and lovers of travel, this is an accessible and pleasant read that would pair perfectly with a sunny beach and, preferably, a chilled glass of wine.

Available now
$25, hardback
Bloomsbury Publishing

Book Review: Napa at Last Light, by James Conaway

With Napa at Last Light, James Conaway brings his trilogy on America’s most iconic wine region to a close. His conclusion, based on decades of experience in the region, is that Napa, like so many other once-pure places in America, has been despoiled by commercial interests, and perhaps irrevocably so.

But Conaway does more than state the obvious. He does an excellent job of exploring some of the specific instances of self-interest and political and legal maneuvering, if not outright corruption, that drove Napa to this place.

In 1968, the powers that be in Napa County voted unanimously in favor of the Napa County Agricultural Preserve, an ordinance that established agriculture as the “highest and best use” of land in Napa Valley. Conaway homes in on a “small change” to the ordinance from 2008 that “seemed innocuous but was in fact as potent as an aggressively metastasizing cancer cell.” That change was an eight-word addition (see italics) to the long-held definition of agriculture: “Agriculture is defined as the raising of crops, trees, and livestock; the production and processing of agricultural products and related marketing, sales and other accessory uses.”

This new definition said, in effect, that the activities of wine tourism were just as much a “highest and best use” of Napa land as grape growing.

Napa at Last Light looks at both sides of this battle between agriculture and commercialism, preservation and development, through the stories of individuals and families living in valley. Conaway’s account is, however, highly biased; it’s by no means objective journalism. (He actually describes it as a combination of “narrative journalism and personal reflection.”) Conaway distinctly aligns himself with the farmers and preservationists who hold to the spirit of the original ordinance and the old definition of agriculture, not the “drifting one percenters” who flock to Napa to develop the land and become “lifestyle vintners.”

I understand Conaway’s protective stance toward the place he holds dear and once labeled an American Eden, but I grew tired of his negativity. He tends to draw stark good-vs-evil contrasts, and even gets nasty with the people he dislikes, referring to a group, at one point, as “lucky spermers.” There’s no need for that.

It’s hard to keep track of all the characters in the book, but perhaps the most interesting, even admirable, and foremost among those whom Conaway glowingly profiles, is Randy Dunn, winemaker and owner of Dunn Vineyards. It was Dunn who, in 2005 and 2006, led efforts to acquire and preserve a 3,000-acre parcel of land on Howell Mountain known as Wildlake, even putting up $5 million of his own money. Conaway, who appears to be a friend of Dunn’s, admires the winemaker’s mix of sentimentality, agricultural know-how, and self-determination, and shares the story of the time he helped Dunn safeguard his property against approaching wildfires.

Conaway has a flair for the dramatic. In the wildfire story he imagines a scenario in which the fires have encircle them and he and Dunn are forced to stand in the middle of the property’s pond and listen to the fire consume all that Dunn had built.

You can tell what Conaway dislikes by what he renders absurd. Most notable are his belabored descriptions of Napa’s more opulent attractions, like the Red Room at Raymond Vineyards. But the root of his ire are the wealthy individuals, particularly from Texas (which made me laugh), who, having accumulated their fortune elsewhere, move on Napa like they would any land ripe for development and profit taking.

Conaway’s crosshairs here fall on Craig Hall, owner of HALL Wines and one time part owner of the Dallas Cowboys. Conaway laughs at the décor at Hall’s winery, calls his wine “another overripe cabernet sauvignon reaching for cult status,” and delivers a selective biography with emphasis on Hall’s shortcomings. But Hall’s principal sin is Walt Ranch, a vineyard project, potentially including some other development, which would level thousands of oak trees and steal the water supply from a community of innocent retirees.

While I take issue with Conaway’s unwillingness to take a serious look at opposing viewpoints and his tendency to disparage those he disagrees with, I ultimately come down on his side. Napa is a finite resource and there has to be a line drawn when it comes to development.

A few final comments on the structure of Napa at Last Light.

I admire Conaway’s non-linear approach, but it jumps around a bit too much. The storylines converge and diverge, characters appear and disappear, making it hard to keep everything straight—although the moments when everything clicks together are rewarding. There’s something to be said, too, for simple expression. There’s no need, in my view, for opaque sentences like this one from the first chapter: “The essence of a thing that by virtue of excellence testifies to an aspirational ethos promptly loses it by embracing brand, which is primarily the assertion that one has arrived, whether or not one really has.“

My Recommendation
Napa at Last Light is one-sided and pessimistic, but strangely, still a great read. And few books are timelier. With a major vote on what some consider the fate of Napa to occur in June (for a great overview, see Esther Mobley’s recent article), Conaway’s book is essential background reading that’ll give you at least half the argument.

Book Review: Around the World in Eighty Wines, by Mike Veseth

When a copy of Mike Veseth’s new book hit my doorstep, part of me was hoping for a clever retelling of Jules Verne’s classic novel. (Perhaps featuring the bawdy misadventures of a drunken-yet-loveable Phileas Grogg?) Instead, I found the book to be an interesting if selective exploration of the global wine scene, as well as—much more interestingly and of greatest value—a look ahead at how incredibly dynamic the world of wine will be ten or twenty years from now.

To be clear, Around the World in Eighty Wines isn’t a novel. But Veseth uses Verne’s tale skillfully as a framework for taking readers on a fast-paced, anecdote-filled journey to wine regions at all corners of the globe.

Here are a few of the more memorable stopping points. In Lebanon Veseth introduces us to the Saadé family, Orthodox Christians making wine in the heart of the Middle East, who count inbound rockets among their vine-tending struggles. Off the coast of North Africa we visit Lanzarote, where the winds are so strong that vines are planted in conical depressions in the island’s volcanic ash. In Kenya and Bali—well, have you ever even considered that wine is made in Kenya and Bali? Then there’s Tasmania, which Veseth calls “one of the hottest emerging wine regions on earth.”

Veseth seems to me like the guy who knows all the good bands before they get famous. In fact, you could treat Around the World in Eighty Wines as an insider’s guide to the wines you should seek out and buy now, before their extremely marketable stories hit the global audience and their availability dwindles even further.

You can trust, too, that Veseth knows what he’s talking about, as a prolific author on topics in wine and economics, editor of the blog The Wine Economist, and professor emeritus of international political economy at University of Puget Sound. And in most cases he’s actually visited the places he features in the book.

On a critical note, I think he devotes too much time to America, and the final chapters feel a bit rushed. Also, at the end he deploys a bit of deus ex machina to fill the remaining slots in his imagined 80-bottle case of wine. I would rather have seen him insert another chapter, another visit to a unique wine region, to fill that case.

To sum Around the World in Eighty Wines in one sentence: it’s a concise guidebook, as educational as it is entertaining, to some of wine’s most curious and iconic expressions.

My Recommendation
If you’re interested in expanding your horizons beyond the traditional New and Old World, Veseth will accommodate you with a glimpse at what else is out there. He’s written a wonderful preface to global wine, but you’ll need to grab another resource if you want to go deeper.

Book Review: The New Wine Rules, by Jon Bonné

In naming his book The New Wine Rules, Jon Bonné has essentially asserted the authority of his own line in the sand. But hey, someone has to do it. Because in a world of 24-hour opinion sharing, sometimes we need to hit the pause button, collect ourselves, and establish basic guidance for those who, amidst so much noise and a lack of objectivity, are just trying to enjoy a bottle of wine.

We need, in Bonné’s words, a “framework for embracing this weird, wonderful wine world that we get to live in.”

There’s something for everyone in Bonné’s book, which consists of 89 rules. But it will be especially helpful for beginner wine folks in need of a confidence boost—the two words I think best capture the sentiment of the book. From the five essential wine tools you should own, to the basics of malolactic fermentation, to starting a wine collection for under $300, you’ll get practical information, concisely presented.

Bonné has an impressive resume: senior contributing editor at Punch, author of The New California Wine, wine consultant for JetBlue Airways, and former wine editor and chief wine critic at the San Francisco Chronicle. But he won’t overwhelm you with knowledge. Each rule is pared down for quick consumption and broad understanding.

I particularly enjoy Bonné’s aggressive attempts to wrest wine from a past marked by pretentiousness and exclusivity—“Screw that. Fear was the guiding principle of the past. We’re officially done. Wine is too great a thing to be limited by fear”—and a present drowning in an abundance of choices—“Endless fretting takes place over this simple question: what do I drink with what I eat? … In any case, stop worrying. There is no single perfect pairing. Drink what you like. … We’ll all get out of this alive.”

The New Wine Rules is a sharp book. It’s small (roughly 5”x7”) with a stitched binding and full of crisp, colorful diagrams and pictogram-like illustrations.

My Recommendation
As Bonné says, “Certainly the world doesn’t need another ‘drink this, not that’ book.” I think he’s succeeded in giving us something else: an expert’s compilation of practical advice for the average drinker who wants to talk intelligently with friends and make semi-educated choices for Friday nights and special occasions. It’s an ideal read heading into holiday party season. On that note, I’ll leave you with Rules 81 and 82: “Don’t be the guest who brings the cheap stuff” and “Don’t assume your bottle will get opened.”

Book Review: Italian Wine Unplugged – Grape by Grape

When I began studying wine as an overzealous 22-year-old, I bought a copy of “Italian Wine for Dummies.” It’s actually a good overview of Italian wines, and I sometimes reference it when I forget grape names or legal blending requirements.

But for serious students of wine, and those in the trade who work closely with Italian wines, “Italian Wine Unplugged: Grape by Grape” has everything you could possibly need.

Italian wines, grapes and laws are a labyrinth for wine-loving mortals (like myself), and this book is a master key. It’s written by Stevie Kim, director of the massive trade event Vinitaly, and a lineup of other Italian wine pros. The beta version is now available in e-book for $10, and they’ve set a December 2017 date for the launch of the paperback version.

Basically, this is an encyclopedia of Italian wine grapes (more than 430 of them), which is broken into three sections. The “Must-Know Grapes” section will challenge most serious Italian wine fans. Sure Nebbiolo and Sangiovese are in there, but don’t forget Ciliegiolo and Schioppettino. “Lesser-Known Grapes” gets even more in-depth, with grape names that could cause any Italian wine student to scratch their head — Susumaniello, Tazzelenghe, Uva Rara.

If you still have room in your brain for more, there’s the “Rare Grapes” section, which could give an MW candidate a migraine — Bubbierasco, Notardomenico, Paradisa. Don’t worry, if you’re cramming for a wine exam, the book comes with nifty flash cards that you can print out.

The grapes are described in much detail — the authors include information on what makes each grape unique in the vineyard and in the cellar. In each grape bio, the authors provide details about where the grape is grown, what makes it thrive in specific areas, and the Italian wine appellations that pertain to the grape’s production.

Lastly, there’s a “Wine Visions” section, which is jam-packed with grape photographs, memorization tools, and other images that may help you understand and remember Italian grapes and regions.

This book is heavy on the detail, but it’s also accessible in the sense that you can choose how deeply you engage with the information. Each small piece of the giant puzzle is digestible, so you can dig as deep as you’d like, and you can gloss over the inevitable grape or appellation you’ve never heard of and will surely never remember.

The grape-by-grape breakdown makes this is an incomparable reference tool for Italian wine grapes. I’m holding onto my “Italian Wine for Dummies” book for nostalgia purposes, but this is now my go-to guide for all things vino Italiano.