Wine Tip: 9 Must-Read Books for Wine Lovers

Learn more about wine in the New Year with these entertaining, educational and thought-provoking reads
Wine Tip: 9 Must-Read Books for Wine Lovers
We've got you covered for winter-reading material for those cold, snowy days. (iStock-AlexRaths)
Dec 18, 2017

Note: This tip originally appeared in the Dec. 31, 2017, issue of Wine Spectator, "The Top 100 Wines of 2017."

Champagne: The Essential Guide to the Wines, Producers, and Terroirs of the Iconic Region
By Peter Liem (Ten Speed Press, 328 pages, $80)

Champagne is primarily, and successfully, an in-depth reference volume to the world's most celebrated sparkling wine. But it also offers thoughtful deliberation on many of the issues that are catapulting the Champagne industry toward new frontiers.

"While the twentieth century was about perfecting cellar practices, the twenty-first century is focused on the region's vines," Liem writes, "and it's in the vineyards that Champagne's contemporary philosophical, cultural, and intellectual debates are taking place."

Liem approaches other topical subjects too, mostly as small inserts throughout the book. Topics range from broad issues such as house-produced Champagne versus those made by individual growers to more specific debates such as fermentation practices and aging vessels.

Novices will find the basics well-covered here, and the book's structure makes it easy to home in on a given subject. Anecdotes provide context, and the clear and concise writing is easy to digest, whether reading straight through or in smaller pieces.

The first section, "Understanding Champagne," provides an overview of the region's history, production techniques and viticultural practices. Liem's coverage of the Champagne production method—one of the wine world's most technically intricate processes—is well-organized and detailed.

The largest part of the book is the second section, "The Place," which underscores Liem's belief that greater attention to Champagne's vineyards is an important factor directing the region's future. This section includes careful maps of the region's villages, facts and figures about vineyard acreage in various Champagne sub-regions, and descriptions of soil types. Liem ties it all together by explaining what to expect in the bottle—an invaluable guide for wine drinkers really digging into Champagne's wines.

In addition to the maps contained in the book itself, the slipcase contains a complete set of seven Champagne maps created by Louis Larmat in 1944. I can attest to the beauty and rarity of these maps, having searched for them at auction and online after first seeing one during a visit to Champagne in 2010; the reproductions included with Champagne are a unique bonus.

The final section of the book, "The People," includes short entries on more than 100 producers, with brief histories of and information about the owners and/or winemakers and vineyards. Additionally, Liem covers each producer's entire range of wines, with facts specific to production and descriptors of the wines.

Liem, who lives full-time in the Champagne region, brings insight and remarkable detail and research to his tome. The book's subtitle, The Essential Guide to the Wines, Producers, and Terroirs of the Iconic Region, rings true.—Alison Napjus

The Wines and Wineries of Oregon's Willamette Valley: From Pinot Noir to Chardonnay
By Nick Wise and Linda Sunshine (Overlook Omnibus, 272 pages, $35)

If Willamette Valley doesn't charm you at first sight, you need an optometrist. Certainly the scenic valley, its laid-back people and world-class wines captivated authors Nick Wise and Linda Sunshine. Like the duo's previous wine books (Celebrity Vineyards and California Celebrity Vineyards) this one prefers a good story to deep winemaking details, which makes it a fine read for anyone except the most serious of Oregon wine aficionados.

It begins with an overview of the valley, from its modern winemaking beginnings in the 1960s to its gradual and hard-fought rise to Pinot Noir prominence. The authors profile 22 wineries, selecting a smart list of established producers and newer players.

The first chapters are devoted to historically significant wineries. Eyrie and its founder David Lett earn the lead chapter, rightly so for one of the pioneers of modern Oregon winemaking. Other early Willamette wineries, such as Ponzi, Erath and Adelsheim, come next, followed by the second generation: Beaux Frères, Domaine Serene, Archery Summit and more. Wise and Sunshine did a solid job of selecting next-generation wineries too. Cody Wright, son of Willamette veteran Ken Wright, earns a chapter for his impressive efforts with Purple Hands, as does the late Patricia Green.

The chapter devoted to the French connection spotlights one of the most exciting aspects of Willamette wines: Burgundy has its eye on Oregon. Domaine Drouhin led the French to Oregon in 1988 and more of their countrymen have recently followed.

Julie Wise's handsome photography brings the valley even better into focus and adds to the rich character of this worthwhile book.—Tim Fish

The Dirty Guide To Wine: Following Flavors From Ground To Glass
By Alice Feiring, with Pascaline Lepeltier (Countryman Press, 256 pages, $25)

Wine writer Alice Feiring posits that the wine world is imprisoned by a varietal-first approach. Consumers simply order "Chardonnay" without thinking of what kind of Chardonnay it might be. Feiring wants us to focus on where the wine comes from, and particularly the soil in which the vines grow and how that influences taste.

Brief explanations of various soil types, growing practices and a "how to taste" section make this book accessible for beginners. But this is no general introduction; Feiring has a case to make, and makes her values clear. For example, she purposefully omits any producers who farm conventionally (using pesticides or herbicides) versus organic or biodynamic practices.

The book dives headfirst into dirt. Beginning with igneous or volcanic soils, it takes us to far-flung locations such as the Canary Islands, and Etna in Sicily. Here Feiring's penchant for esoteric producers might trip up fledgling wine lovers. Proffering the varietal Nerello Mascalese as an ideal grape to express volcanic soils, Feiring recommends six producers that most American consumers will never find. Meanwhile, Tenuta della Terre Nere, arguably Etna's most prominent producer (which also farms organically) is not included.

When it comes to Bordeaux, which she argues has been "nearly castrated of soul," Feiring's polemic gets in the way of the facts. She uses St.-Emilion as an example of limestone soil, but incorrectly groups Figeac and Cheval-Blanc (which are on gravel soils) with Ausone (which is on limestone).

Elsewhere, the author has done good research, consulting with renowned vineyard soil specialists Claude Bourgignon and Pedro Parra. The "tasting box" portions at the end of each section give readers well-described and thoughtful information on how wines from various soils actually taste and feel.

When Feiring writes from the heart about producers and areas she knows well, she is an effective advocate. But many important regions, from the Sonoma Coast of California to South Africa, are entirely absent from her coverage. Her ideology gets in the way of her survey, and leaves wine lovers with an incomplete map of the complex territory of wine.—James Molesworth

Around the World in Eighty Wines: Exploring Wine One Country at a Time
By Mike Veseth (Rowman & Littlefield, 224 pages, $25)

It's become a truism that the whole world is now producing fine wines. Mike Veseth explores the nooks and crannies in his new book, taking us from the famous (Bordeaux, Napa) to the remote (Bali, Shangri-La) in a hunt for "eighty precious bottles to answer a simple question: Why wine?"

Veseth is professor emeritus of International Political Economy at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Wash. More relevantly, he blogs as "the Wine Economist," and has published several books about wine and the global wine trade.

Around the World in Eighty Wines pulls together research from his extensive travels and highlights wines that tell stories about the world's vintners and vineyards.

The premise—inspired by the 1873 Jules Verne novel Around the World in 80 Days—is a bit of a red herring. Ultimately Veseth's journey does not follow the route of its protagonist, Phileas Fogg. In fact, Veseth himself doesn't visit all the wine destinations he covers. Nor does he accumulate 80 wines—only 56. Many are rarities and obscurities that few of his readers will ever taste; they range from Château Pétrus and Penfolds Grange to a Malaga Blanc-Colombard blend from Thailand's Monsoon Valley and South Africa's Four Cousins Sweet Rosé.

But Veseth uses the wines to explore interesting questions of history, economics, terroir and taste. And his enthusiasm for the people he meets and the stories they tell should encourage wine lovers to take a voyage of their own, pushing beyond their comfort zones to explore the vast and surprising world of wine.—Thomas Matthews

The Wine Lover's Daughter: A Memoir
By Anne Fadiman (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 272 pages, $25)

In The Wine Lover's Daughter, bottles form the lens through which acclaimed essayist Anne Fadiman profiles her father, public intellectual and media personality Clifton Fadiman, whose love for literature was matched by his abiding engagement with wine.

In prose that is humane but not sentimental, erudite but not pedantic, Fadiman deploys a mix of remembrances, close readings of her father's books and articles, and a handful of reportorial excursions—a late-chapter exploration of the science of taste is particularly compelling—with the goal of rendering a portrait of Clifton Fadiman in the varied shades of his beverage of choice.

Wine was a key marker in Fadiman's path from his lower-class Jewish upbringing in Brooklyn to considerable wealth and status as a writer and speaker, best known as host of the popular radio program Information, Please!

With his friend Sam Aaron, Clifton Fadiman compiled the seminal volume The Joys of Wine. "I had never seen him happier than he was during the years he spent assembling this eight-pound compendium—as one reader described it, not just a coffee table book but a coffee table," the author recalls. The man's exhaustive and rigorous approach to wine mirrored his professional and intellectual alacrity.

But Fadiman's moonshot trajectory was underscored by an implacable current of self-doubt and shame. Although it was a source of mental and sensory stimulation, the author writes, "Wine wasn't Jewish." The daughter conveys her father's sense of fraudulence, irreducible by accomplishment.

But a different shortcoming nags her: She doesn't like wine. Exposed to the greats from a young age, Fadiman acquires the vocabulary but not the love: "As other women fake orgasms, I have faked hundreds of satisfied responses to hundreds of glasses of wine: not a difficult feat, since I could toss around the terms I learned as a child at the Fadiman dinner table."

Pairing these twin journeys—one Fadiman's from poverty to fame, the other from pampered childhood to self-examining adulthood—The Wine Lover's Daughter interrogates the bonds that form family identity, and the nuances of a relationship that, as with one of Clifton Fadiman's esteemed Bordeauxs, only the pasing of time can reveal.—Ben Lasman

Drink Pink: A Celebration of Rosé
By Victoria James, illustrations by Lyle Railsback (Harper Design, 128 pages, $20)

Rosé All Day: The Essential Guide to Your New Favorite Wine
By Katherine Cole, illustrations by Mercedes Leon (Abrams Image, 288 pages, $25)

With the rise of rosé's popularity has come endless chatter around this latest wine trend, and now a number of books on the subject are weighing in. Drink Pink: A Celebration of Rosé by Victoria James and Rosé All Day: The Essential Guide to Your New Favorite Wine by Katherine Cole are both worth a read.

James is the wine director at Cote in New York City (and formerly its now-closed sibling restaurant Piora). Cole is the wine columnist for The Oregonian and author of three previous books about wine. Both recount how they came to love rosé as a simple drink, but throughout their books, they make the case that rosé should be taken seriously.

The two books touch on similar themes when it comes to the basics, but differ in their technical detail and their exploration of the rosé wine world.

James concisely outlines the three main ways of making rosé: saignée, skin contact and blending. Cole goes more in depth, explaining the distinction between short maceration and direct press, for example, and detailing other cellar practices and how they relate to rosé winemaking.

James emphasizes France in her roundup of her favorite regions. She tells compelling stories of the people behind the wines, and her historical references add color and context. But her perspective tilts toward a few select voices. Sommelier-turned-vintner Rajat Parr and importer Kermit Lynch are cited one too many times. (The illustrator of Drink Pink, Lyle Railsback, does national sales for Lynch and is also the author's life partner.) The book also includes recipes for rosé-friendly dishes and rosé-inspired cocktails.

Cole's book offers a more encyclopedic view of rosé. The big players of Provence are mentioned prominently, Italy's rosatos and Spain's rosados each get their own chapter, and the New World enjoys its fair share of the pie, as do "exotic rosé regions" such as Morocco, Eastern Europe, Lebanon and India.

Drink Pink and Rosé All Day cover much of the same ground, but each book is essentially trying to achieve something different. James offers a personal perspective of rosé, one that recounts her first taste of the drink and how her experiences in the industry shaped her perception of it. Cole's book is a comprehensive primer for a rosé wine lover who wants to learn more and pick up some solid recommendations along the way.

With their whimsical illustrations (Cole's by Mercedes Leon) and engaging design, both are charming coffee-table books that make great gifts.—Emma Balter

Wine. All the Time: The Casual Guide to Confident Drinking
By Marissa Ross (Plume, 304 pages, $20)

Marissa Ross dropped out of college, pursued comedy, then produced a Web series about drinking wines that cost less than $10. This unlikely path led her to "Unfiltered," a monthly column in Bon Appétit magazine.

Ross is eager to set herself against an anonymous, ominous group of wine snobs and the "subjective" 100-point rating system. She emphasizes that she's had no formal wine education and peppers the book with anecdotes that often take place—and are best shared—in a college dorm room.

Colorful wine descriptions are Ross' specialty. Here's a typical tasting note for orange Godello: "smells like rich Golden Delicious apples drenched in maple syrup, tastes like silk crêpe strewn out of lemon-pineapple SweetTarts, and feels like you're going to drink a whole bottle and need a siesta." There are laugh-out-loud moments in sections like "Buying Wine for Family" and "How to Drink Wine Anywhere."

Ross turns earnest as she advocates for natural, low-intervention wines and urges wine lovers to avoid large-scale, presumably chemical-ridden commercial productions.

Young (or young-at-heart) readers can enjoy this book for the brazen attitude and frank advice—and maybe learn a bit too.—Samantha Falewée


In Vino Duplicitas: The Rise and Fall of a Wine Forger Extraordinaire
By Peter Hellman (The Experiment, 272 pages, $26)

The rise and fall of wine counterfeiter Rudy Kurniawan took place in public, detailed as it happened in the pages of Wine Spectator. Peter Hellman reported every twist and turn in the story, keeping readers informed as the young Indonesian streaked across the collector party circuit, then fell under FBI investigation and was ultimately convicted and sent to prison.

The curtain fell, but Hellman kept digging. He researched deeply, interviewed widely and even attempted to visit Kurniawan in prison. In Vino Duplicitas is the result. While not much new information has surfaced, the book offers a deep dive into the culture that nurtured Kurniawan, and the forces that destroyed him.

The forger's role may be finished, but many of his forgeries remain in collectors' cellars, and the full scope of their impact on the wine world remains to be seen. One thing Hellman makes clear: Counterfeiters can't succeed unless their victims are in some ways their collaborators. If it's too good to be true, it's probably fake.—Thomas Matthews


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