Sommelier Roundtable: What Are You Reading?

From historical sagas to atlases to frank dissections of wine culture's problems, here's what books 13 somms have their noses in

Sommelier Roundtable: What Are You Reading?
"Wine and War" and "Godforsaken Grapes" certainly sound dramatic—and both have enthralled somms. (iStockPhoto)
Feb 7, 2020

Wine does not have to be a niche subject. It intersects and intertwines with history, science, the arts, health, politics, economics and more. That's part of why there are so many wine books out there: It's edifying to learn about the soil distinctions in the communes of Barolo, but also the heroics of winemakers thwarting Nazis in World War II.

It's a job requirement for sommeliers to be able to absorb and communicate both the mundane and fascinating about wine to their guests, so it's no surprise that when they don't have their noses in a glass, they have them in a book. From scientific tomes to personal essays to spirits primers, here's what 13 wine pros from Wine Spectator Restaurant Award winners are reading right now (along with Wine Spectator, of course).

Wine Spectator: What are you reading right now?

Sandy Block, vice president of beverage operations of the Boston-based Legal Sea Foods, with eight Restaurant Award winners

I’m a historian at heart, and one of the courses I teach at Boston University is "The History of Wine," so I’m always reviewing books that give a historical perspective. I’ve been reading Drink by Iain Gately, reading Elin McCoy’s The Emperor of Wine again—a story with which younger wine lovers are relatively unfamiliar—and a book that touches briefly on wine but is about the European encounter with exotic substances, including spices, from the Middle Ages onward: Tastes of Paradise by Wolfgang Schivelbusch.

But mostly I’ve been reading through Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson’s eighth edition of The World Atlas of Wine, which is so much more than an atlas, and has such amazing nuggets in every section. I remember the first edition, which was a bible to me when I was learning the basics, and it was all about Europe, and France in particular, while “the New World” in its entirety merited just a few pages. This reinforces how amazingly recent most of the wine industries outside of Europe are.

Victoria James, beverage director at Best of Award of Excellence winner Cote Korean Steakhouse in New York

Vignette by Jane Lopes. I wish more sommeliers were writers, and Jane is such a shining example of the best in both of these categories. Her real-world experience behind the scenes at three-Michelin-starred restaurants and fancy cocktail bars gives her cred to talk about things like vintage Chartreuse, but it's her unflinching honesty on mental health and alcoholism in the industry that makes this part memoir, part textbook so engrossing.

Angela Gargano, wine and spirits director at Best of Award of Excellence winner Triple Creek Ranch in Darby, Mont.

I’m in the middle of Godforsaken Grapes: A Slightly Tipsy Journey Through the World of Strange, Obscure and Underappreciated Wine by Jason Wilson. It’s an entertaining travelogue that has me laughing out loud about his journey to discover the most obscure and underappreciated wines of the world. I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who loves to travel or who’s in a wine-drinking rut, as it will have you putting down your glass of Chardonnay and calling your local wine shop to find a bottle of Blaufränkisch.

Stephen Blevins, director of wine of Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar, with 69 Restaurant Award winners

I just revisited Wine and War again about a month ago. My passion for wine has long been about the history in each bottle; they all tell a story. Sometimes that history is told in the latest release, or it can be told from a selection of vintages past. Now more than ever, a story about a community of winemakers working together to overcome what is in their path is a story I want to read.

Jonathan Adkisson, beverage director at the newly opened Riddler in New York, sibling to Award of Excellence winner the Riddler in San Francisco

Wine and War: The French, the Nazis & the Battle for France's Greatest Treasure is always great to revisit every so often.

Jeff Lindsay-Thorsen, wine director at Best of Award of Excellence winner RN74 in Seattle

I just dove back into Jamie Goode’s Wine Science: The Application of Science in Winemaking. It flows shockingly easily for the depth of information and makes what can be incredibly dry information wholly digestible [for those] without a biochemistry degree. It should be required reading for anyone serious about a career in wine or just wanting scratch below the surface of understanding wine.

Evan Danielson, beverage director at Best of Award of Excellence winner City Winery Nashville in Nashville, Tenn.

I've been making my way through Neurogastronomy by Gordon M. Shepard, Understanding Mezcal by James Schroeder and For the Love of Hops by Stan Hieronymus. All of them are pretty in-depth and heady. They're great!

Richard Healy, wine director of the Sydney, Australia,–based Rockpool Dining Group

I’m reading Italy's Native Wine Grape Terroirs by Ian D'Agata. This has helped provide much more depth to satiate my nerdiness when researching for new wines to list, or just provide more clarity into some of the areas I’m not super-familiar with.

I teach WSET classes for the restaurant group, so I’m always surrounded by those textbooks. I’ve also got my desk cluttered with my subscriptions to Wine Spectator, Gourmet Traveller Wine and Decanter.

Ted Rink, beverage director at Award of Excellence winner BLVD Chicago in Chicago

I recently read Rajat Parr's latest book, [The Sommelier's Atlas of Taste], and it made me taste wine with more excitement, deciphering the elements of terroir and how the wine itself is built. I now find myself asking: If I were to make this wine, where would I do it and how would I do it? It's a different thought process.

Brahm Callahan, corporate beverage director of Boston-area Himmel Hospitality Group that includes Grand Award winner Grill 23 & Bar and Best of Award of Excellence winners Harvest and Post 390:

Right now I am again reading through A Wine Atlas of the Langhe: The Great Barolo and Barbaresco Vineyards by Victtorio Mangnelli while I drink through a bunch of Nebbiolo—'tis the season, right?

Ashley Broshious, wine director at Award of Excellence winner Zero Restaurant + Bar in Charleston, S.C.

I am actually reading the book Sherry: A Modern Guide to the Wine World's Best-Kept Secret by Talia Baiocchi. This book has some wonderful storytelling and lots of great information without reading like a textbook.

James Bonner, sommelier at Award of Excellence winner Red Pump Kitchen in Charlottesville, Va.

I am currently reading Champagne: The Essential Guide to the Wines, Producers, and Terroir of the Iconic Region by Peter Liem. This book is great for anyone from professional to home consumers of Champagne. As a Champagne lover myself, this book takes me back to my travels through the region. This book is one that you can read through time and again, but also acts as an easy-to-use reference guide when trying new wines from the region.

Kevin Bratt, wine director of Best of Award of Excellence–winning Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab locations in Chicago, Las Vegas and Washington, D.C.

One of my coworkers recently recommended Godforsaken Grapes, which has been an adventure in exploring the varieties that don't typically flood the headlines. On the spirit side, I've been reading Amaro: The Spirited World of Bittersweet, Herbal Liqueurs by Brad Thomas Parsons. I've always been an amaro fan, and this is a great read for beginners or those looking for cocktail ideas.

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