Posts Filed Under book reviews
Despite having the word “Year” in its title, this article is not another cheesy 2008 recap post. Especially considering that I don’t need another one of those, since I’ve posted about 240 of them in the last several days. Or something like that, anyway.
I will not be recapping 2008 here, but I will be renaming 2008.
In terms of measuring wine blogging success, 2008 was The Year of Dr. Vino, a.k.a. Tyler Colman. Come to think of it, 2007 was nearly the Year of Dr. Vino as well, considering Tyler received a James Beard nod for his writing that year. So, basically Tyler is kicking all kinds of ass in the blogosphere, but what made 2008 the Year of Dr. Vino was Tyler’s superbad onslaught (both on and) offline with the release of two (very good) printed books.
You would probably expect a PhD holder in Poli-Sci to be a decent writer, so it’s no surprise that the books are well-written. What is surprising (to me, at least) was how accessible Tyler’s books are for the novice wine aficionado, and how well his blog writing style, which consists primarily of short articles that focus heavily on interactivity with his readership, translates to his longer format works. Capturing that accessibility is not a skill that most of the academics that I know posses.
While Tyler can be a quiet voice online (case in point, how is there justice in the universe when my twitter account has more followers than Dr. Vino’s??), he was all over traditional media in 2008: in addition to publishing two books, he could be found in the pages of major newspapers and wine mags, as well as on television. For example, Tyler is a semi-frequent guest on FOX Business, discussing the impact of the recent economic downturn on the purchase of luxury items like Champagne (see inset pic for how I might have handled this situation if I were Tyler).
This significance of this sort of credibility (not to mention shrewd brand building) should not be overlooked. Tyler is quietly – and successfully – positioning himself as an erudite opera-goer to Gary Vanyerchuk‘s Joe 6-pack. Both are important, and both are signaling the establishment of a new breed of experts active in the field of wine appreciation.
I won’t go into detail about Tyler’s first book release, Wine Politics, because with a 9-month old baby that will start screaming to be fed at any moment, I simply don’t have the time, except to say that it’s a compelling work that those fascinated by wine should check out, especially considering how dependent the world of wine is (and has always been) on the world of politics.
I will say a bit more about Tyler’s second book, however, A Year of Wine: Pairings, Great Buys, and What to Sip for Each Season, which Tyler sent to me several weeks ago, and which I’ve only recently gotten a chance to read (before you flame me for being lazy, remember: 9-month old!).
It’s not that A Year of Wine presents novel information that has otherwise eluded many of the other excellent books for budding wine geeks already on the market. In fact, it doesn’t really present anything totally new, even though it does have incredibly useful information (for example: how to successfully navigate the wine list when at an important business dinner for the first time).
The masterstroke is that A Year of Wine is a wine intro book penned by someone who has so garned so much credibility both on and offline. Put another way, Tyler speaks both Internet and brick-and-mortar.
While it can be enjoyed by just about anyone who is new to wine, A Year of Wine is probably best suited to those who already know what they like in their wine, but are looking to understand wine more fully and want a different approach then learning the basics and then exploring each region in order of importance / volume of production (which seems the typical layout for most wine reference material). A Year of Wine reflects Tyler’s post-grad writing style, but might also appeal to a much younger audience (see pic below – though this author had to remove A Year of Wine from that reader, as she’d found it compelling enough to begin eating the pages).
Anyway, if I have a criticism to level at Tyler (and of course I do, because I’m incorrigible), aside from a distinct lack of overall mentions to 1WineDude.com on his blog, it’s that Tyler needs to take his focus on interactivity with his blog readership and devote similar focus to his interaction within the community of online wine writers, retailers, and wineries. His voice is quiet within that space – it could benefit significantly from Tyler’s wisdom and experience, and his penchant for keeping things honest. Tyler, we need ya here, man!
(images: amazon.com, foxnews.com)
An alternative title to Christy Campbell’s The Botanist and the Vintner: How Wine Was Saved For The World might well be “How French Politicos Tried to Set Wine Science Back 200 Years, Putting All of the World’s Vineyards in Perilous Jeopardy, Yet Somehow Told Without Conveying Much Suspense.“
To be fair, The Botanist and the Vintner is well-written, impeccably researched, and expertly manages to make the topic of the phylloxera epidemic interesting (even for non-history-buffs, and non-wine-geeks).
Campbell’s chapter explaining the strange reproductive cycle of the phylloxera louse alone is probably worth the purchase price of the book. It’s no wonder that the complicated sexual life of the pest confounded some of the greatest scientific minds of the late 1800s – any species whose short-lived male variant has no anus, no mouth, and no digestive system is so frighteningly bizarre, there’s no way you could dream that up something that odd.
And yet, I walked away from this book feeling oddly underwhelmed and a little unfulfilled.
If you’re a fan of wine, eventually you will come across mention of the tiny vineyard pest that came perilously close to wiping out the world’s supply of fine vinifera. In summary (and this is a very, very high-level summary), the little sucker feasts on the vine, and uses various parts of the vine as breeding ground.
The trouble for European vinifera is that it didn’t evolve with the louse as did the vines in North America, so when international travel and shipping became viable in the 1800s, the pest finally had a means to travel from its native land. Many American vines have rootstock that can recover from the scars left by feeding phylloxera – most European vines didn’t, and they began to die at an alarming rate as the louse spread across Europe. Because of its complex sex life, it took 19th Century scientists years to come to agreement on how to stop the pest (grafting onto American rootstock).
The Botanist and the Vintner takes you through this journey of vine destruction, and exposes you to the frustrating world of European politics (which, by most accounts sadly has made little appreciable progress since the 1800s), which delayed action on recognizing and then implementing the final root cause solution to the deadly invasion.
Not to mention the sizable financial prize that was due to those that found the real cure, most of which never got paid out by the French government (let’s not go there).
The book handles all of this well, but during the telling suggests a potentially dire future facing the vineyards of the present day that are grafted onto seemingly “safe” American rootstocks. It appears that some of those rootstocks are again becoming susceptible to an evolving phylloxera.
But after teasing us with the potential of another winemaking Dead Zone, The Botanist and the Vintner decides not to go there. Which is a shame, because the book starts there in its Prologue, which begins by describing an aerial surveillance of spreading phylloxera infestations in California in 1994. We are taken back to the present in the Postscript… to take a look at wine conisseurs chasing after wine from ungrafted viniferia vines as if they were the El Dorado treasure of the wine world.
No modern phylloxera update. Why start there if you’re not going to finish there? It felt like a bit of unrealized suspenseful potential to me.
So, if you’re looking for the history of the first world phylloxera louse epidemic, The Botanist and the Vintner is your book. Just don’t expect a full-circle treatise on the topic for modern times.
(images: amazon.com, avenuevine.com, calwineries.com)
I really wanted to hate this book.
I was sent a promotional copy of Wine (edited by Andre Domine, who has authored a number of wine- and culinary-related books), and form the moment that it arrived, I was primed to hate it.
It’s huge. It’s impossible to comfortably read it in bed (trust me, I’ve tried it). At well over 900 pages and what feels like nearly 20 lbs of weight, it seemed better suited to my workout routine crunches than my wine education.
But a funny thing happened on my way to hating this book – I fell in love with it. And now this post is going to be precariously close to sounding like an advertisement for Wine. But I don’t care so much, because the book Rocks…
When I cracked open this book, I was thinking that the world needs another wine reference / introduction / tome like I need a hole in the head.
The first chapter states “Wine… has also become more egalitarian in that never before in its history has such a hige, high-quality range been available to so many people.”
You could say the same thing about wine books, I thought.
The truth is, if you’re a wine novice, you have dozens of decent choices when it comes to finding books to increase your wine know-how. If you’re a wine expert, there are a few key resources that you will undoubtedly tap into from time to time (especially the Oxford Companion). Newcomers to the wine world also have a good many wine resources available to them on the web, and most wine blogs are in some way geared towards the newbie.
Those of you who are past the point of being a beginner, but are not in the trade, or are otherwise someone with an ‘Intermediate’ level of wine knowledge, you have far fewer resources available to you.
Which is why most of you who fall into the “Intermediate” camp will probably dig Wine. It combines lucid and informed writing about all aspects of vino with some beautiful (but mostly functionally relevant) photographs, useful maps, and information on most of the world’s winemaking regions. In a way, it’s a bit like a one-stop-shop combination of the excellent Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia and the fabulously-illustrated World Atlas of Wine.
Worth a look – even if you might need to hit the gym and bulk up before being able to lift it…
I figured that it was about time for another book review on 1WineDude.com, so I’m jumping back into the book review swing of things with my take on Debra & Keith Gordon’s Wine on Tuesdays: Be a Serious Wine Drinker Without Taking Wine Too Seriously.
[ Full disclosure: I received a media copy of Wine on Tuesdays. Not that Dude doesn’t buy his own books, but… ]
The Low Down
Co-author Debra Gordon is no stranger to wine writing, having penned material for Wine Enthusiast, Wine & Vines, and Wine Adventures. She and husband co-author Keith are also dabbling in blogging.
Wine on Tuesdays reflects the Gordon’s writing experience – it’s well-written, accessible, and at turns funny and engaging. The tone of Wine on Tuesdays is lighthearted and its target is squarely on the wine novice, which puts it into the now-very-crowded field of wine introduction texts.
Which is the main problem with reviewing Wine on Tuesdays – it’s good, but (for me) lacked any real “wow” moments to give me a clear picture of its ideal target audience. While I found some topics covered superbly well (it has one of the best intro chapters on Champagne that I’ve ever come across), other topics (usually the more complex ones, notably dessert wines) are casually treated and maybe a touch oversimplified – which could be confusing for some readers, especially those new to wine… who theoretically happen to be the target audience…
Buy It or Skip It?
Given the tone and overall style of Wine on Tuesdays, If you’re a budding wine lover you could do a lot worse than this well-written guide. Whether or not you will enjoy it is largely a matter of presentation – with so many great overall wine introduction guides available in the marketplace, the one best suited to you may really be down to writing style preference and the order of how the topics are presented. If you want to get into wine in a very structured way, starting with grape varietals first, then try Wine on Tuesdays. If you prefer a less structured approach, then there are better options.
It won’t replace my current favorite wine intro book, Oldman’s Guide to Outsmarting Wine, and it probably won’t make its way into my list of Essential Wine Reads, but Wine on Tuesdays is certainly a viable alternative for budding wine enthusiasts – enjoyable, and packed full of relevant and helpful wine info.