The holiday season offers the perfect opportunity to consider notable 2017 wine books as gifts—both for others and for yourself. Several fine choices stand out.
Early on in learning about wine, I made the happy discovery of Kevin Zraly’s “Windows On The World Wine Course.” The book’s elegant organization, clear prose and commonsense tips bolstered my confidence as a new wine enthusiast while providing a solid foundation of wine knowledge. It propelled me forward on a journey of pleasure and learning that happily continues. Decades later, his book remains in print after selling millions of copies.
Now Zraly has teamed with popular wine journalists Mike DeSimone (no direct relation except in loving wine) and Jeff Jenssen to write “Red Wine: The Comprehensive Guide To The 50 Essential Varieties & Styles” (Sterling Epicure; $27.95). The book’s superb format deftly presents what otherwise might be an overwhelming cache of useful and intriguing information. In fact, the authors recommend dipping into and out of the volume over time while actually drinking examples of each of the red wines covered. Can’t argue with that sound advice!
Besides most notable varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Pinot Noir, the book introduces more obscure grapes such as Mavrud and Plavac Mali, natives in Bulgaria and Croatia. In each short chapter, Zraly, DeSimone and Jenssen offer tips on their favorite producers of each variety. Quotations from winemakers add useful context for appreciating the grapes. Each chapter also delivers excellent commonsense recommendations on food pairings.
“Red Wine” features plenty of gorgeous photographs throughout to entertain the eye. Kudos to the authors in concisely presenting useful information wrapped in an attractive format that will fit comfortably on any coffee table.
In her memorable 2008 book “The Battle for Wine and Love, or how I saved the world from Parkerization” (Harcourt; 2008), author and newsletter publisher Alice Feiring led the charge for enjoying and extolling naturally made wines. Her heartfelt profiles of artisan French winegrowers toiling with organic farming and “hands-off” winemaking heightened American readers’ awareness of the stakes involved in a wine world awash in industrially produced wines and trophy hunting wine collectors. She continued and elaborated on similar themes in “Naked Wine” (Perseus Books; 2011) and “For the Love of Wine” (Potomac Books–U of Nebraska; 2016).
All the books affirm that the aromas and flavors in truly delicious, naturally made wines should reflect the distinct sense of place that produced the grapes used for the wines. In short, the wines should be products of natural “terroir” rather than industrial process. In her latest offering, “The Dirty Guide To Wine: Following Flavors From Ground to Glass” (The Countryman Press; $24.95), Ms. Feiring teams with long time collaborator, French-born sommelier Pascaline Lepeltier, MS, to dig in and tackle the wide variety of soils underlying the world’s greatest terroirs.
The book divides logically into the earth’s three primary categories of rock: igneous (deriving from solidified ancient molten rocks), sedimentary (coming from dried up seas that once covered the earth) and metamorphic (arising from rocks transformed by millions of years of pressure and heat). In each section, Fiering and Lepeltier delve into the specifics and variations within each category to show the origins of the world’s prominent grape growing landscapes. Along the way, they include entertaining profiles of many natural wine world characters working hard to produce authentic, terroir-focused wines. For example, they describe a terrific visit to the steep, terraced vineyards of slate and granite in Spain’s obscure Ribeira Sacra appellation before offering insights to the emerging trend of “Atlantic Wines.”
Like “Red Wine,” readers can return time and again to “The Dirty Guide to Wine” and learn new nuggets. It is a great book to have at the ready when pondering the fresh aromas, striking flavors and mouthwatering textures of a glass of naturally made wine.
And speaking of natural wines, Isabelle Legeron, MW, has released an updated and revised edition of “Natural Wine: An Introduction to Organic and Biodynamic Wines Made Naturally” (Cico Books; $24.95). It remains the best introduction to the steadily growing, but still relatively miniscule segment of naturally made wines. Legeron’s first addresses the occasionally perplexing, but fundamental question of “What is natural wine?” She argues convincingly that it embodies “living wines from living soil,” and she then celebrates growers producing wines with “nothing added, nothing removed.” In-depth insights from the likes of winegrower Didier Barrel from the Languedoc in southern France, Jacques Néauport in Burgundy, and Tony Coturri in Northern California are particularly informative.
The book’s terrific photography vividly transports readers to the ruggedly beautiful vineyards, wineries and rural villages where natural wines originate. Legeron also delivers useful information on discovering natural wine fairs (including her own RAW Wine Fests). Her section on “The Natural Wine Cellar” gives a road map to leading natural wine producers around the world with Legeron’s buying recommendations on the best wines to drink. Anybody interested in discovering and enjoying the pure pleasures of naturally made wines should read Legeron’s well-written, passionate book.
Other notable 2017 wine books:
“Around the World in Eighty Wines: Exploring Wine One Country at a Time” (Rowman Littlefield; $24.95): Noted wine economist Mike Veseth (who previously wrote the highly acclaimed “Wine Wars” covering wine globalization) takes readers on a fast paced journey discovering wines in both familiar and not so familiar places. Syria, Bali, Thailand, and Tasmania are just a few of Veseth’s seemingly unlikely stops around the world. Along the way, Veseth’s engaging, conversational approach delivers wisdom useful for all passionate, open-minded wine drinkers.
“Wine Revolution: The World’s Best Organic, Biodynamic, and Craft Wines” (Jacqui Small; $35); Talented Decanter Magazine journalist Jane Anson profiles 250 leading producers of hand-crafted, terroir-driven wines. Anson combines her well-reasoned, clearly expressed opinions with charming personal memories of visiting the vineyards of many of the growers that she profiles. She offers particularly good coverage of leading Spanish and Italian growers such as Giuseppe Maria Sesti in Tuscany, Arianna Occhipinti in Sicily, and Eliisabetta Foradori in the Dolomite Mountains in the north. Anson also includes a useful section on terrific off-dry wines such as Oliver Humbrecht’s 2008 Domaine Zind-Humbrecht, Brand Grand Cru Riesling, Selection des Grains Nobles from Alsace. Conversations with with world’s leading sommeliers offering their food paring recommendations add an appetizing, useful touch.