Articles Tagged wine books

Through The Past, Scholarly (March 2018 Wine Product Reviews)

Vinted on March 14, 2018 binned in wine books, wine products

For the most recent batch of wine product sample roundup articles, I’ve been focusing on reducing the pile of wine book sample copies currently littering the floor of my home office. And so for March, I am slowly whittling away at said pile by offering up two more hardcover tomes for your vinous reading consideration. You still read books, right?

French Wine A History

image: amazon.com

Firstly, we have French Wine: A History by Rod Phillips (University of California Press, 319 pages, about $30). That’s an unassuming title for a book with such an ambitious scope. Actually, its scope is bordering on insanity. Beginning from roughly 2500 years ago, Ottawa-based historian Phillips carves up the topical elephant into almost-digestible-sized time period chunks: the period before 1000 CE, the Middle Ages, through to the Enlightenment, the onset of the World Wars, etc. I say “almost” digestible because even each of those chapters is sizeable in terms of the rich historical content and context of the topic (remember, wine involves chemistry, historical events, economics, farming….).

The ground zero / linchpin moment of French Wine if there is one, after which all is forever changed, seems to be the phylloxera epidemic of the late 1800s. Like the rootstocks of its precious vines, nothing in the French wine world was ever quite the same after the country’s vineyards were decimated by that little louse.

All of this is told in dense, matter-of-fact prose, but Phillips isn’t afraid to call out others’ opinions (even somewhat challenging the venerable Hugh Johnson at one point). It’s not a fast or particularly easy read, but ultimately a worthwhile one. And its conclusion is appropriately bittersweet: France is growing fewer grape vines, producing fewer bottles, and drinking less wine than in its historical apexes, and yet the standard-bearer wines (in terms of quality and prices) are still at the top of the global game; and while we may be seeing a dip overall, the country’s vinous development has been anything but uniform, as French Wine dutifully shows us…

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Wine And Place And Threats (February 2018 Wine Product Roundup)

Vinted on February 21, 2018 binned in wine books, wine products

For February’s wine product sample roundup (in which I cast a critical eye on wine-related stuff that isn’t actually wine), we once again hit the book shelves, with some mixed but ultimately geekily fascinating results…

Shadows in the VineyardFirst up is a long-overdue mention of Maximillian Potter’s account of the train-wreck-style-too-crazy-to-look-away story behind the 2010 threat to poison the vines of Burgundy’s La Romanée-Conti, which produce some of the most sought-after and expensive Pinot Noir wines on the planet (interestingly, the vintage under threat was the same one that I reviewed and – SPOILER ALERT! – everything turned out okay). The book is titled Shadows in the Vineyard: The True Story of the Plot to Poison the World’s Greatest Wine (Twelve Books, 289 pages, about $10), and if that subtitle sounds a bit fawning, it’s also an accurate indication of the book’s only real flaw.

Potter’s an accomplished and experienced former staff writer, and he knows both how to spin a yarn and how to meticulously research his topic, both of which come together masterfully in Shadows in the Vineyard. Be forewarned, however, that Potter also falls into the same trap that has snared countless others who’ve mentioned this fabled Burgundian top-tier producer, which is to mention so often that its wines must be the world’s best that your facial muscles might get a bit tired from all of the ensuing eye-rolling. I mean, we get it already. But in terms of entertaining wine-related reads, this is a top-notch tale…

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I’ll Be Here, Hiding Under The Blanket (January 2018 Wine Product Review Roundup)

Vinted on January 17, 2018 binned in wine books, wine products

It’s time for the first monthly wine product sample review round-up of the new year, which means you now have a couple of recommendations for vinous-related things to buy after you’ve returned the crappier gifts that you received during the holidays! You’re welcome!

Since it’s been as cold as Dante’s icy ninth circle of hell around here lately, I decided to focus on reading material, all the better to curl up in front of a fireplace with (drink in hand, naturally) and enjoy while hiding from the real world under a cozy blanket.

Red wine bookFirst up is Red Wine: The Comprehensive Guide to the 50 Essential Varieties & Styles, (Sterling Epicure, 288 pages, $27.95) by three people that I happen to know personally (consider yourself full-disclosure-warned): the affable World Wine Guys Mike DeSimone and Jeff Jenssen, and the legendary Kevin Zraly (who might actually still owe me some money). This well-designed book has been getting serious positive press lately, and I’m happy to report that it’s well-deserving of all of it. The subtitle is apt, as Red Wine focuses on being comprehensive rather than exhaustively deep. Having said that, for 98% of wine lovers, they will not need (nor are they likely to find) a better guide to world’s fine red wine grapes than this one. Each grape gets at least a two-page spread that includes wine color, a tasting profile scale that focuses on the wine’s acidity/body/tannin combo, tasting notes and food pairings with at-a-glance icon references, a photo, a brief write-up, and a list of recommended wines to try (from bargain through to splurge price-levels). More ubiquitous grapes get a longer treatment, focusing on stylistic variances between countries, as well as winemaker quotes, and a handful of obscure red varieties (Teran, anyone?) get short highlights. Mad props to Christine Heun, who is credited as the designer, for putting together one of the easiest to navigate references I’ve ever seen in the wine world.

Drink ProgressivelyClosing out this month’s roundup, we have the gorgeously-photographed (think major food-porn style) Drink Progressively: From White to Red, Light- to Full-Bodied, A Bold New Way to Pair Wine with Food (Spring House Press, 240 pages, $27), by Hadley & TJ Douglas, the husband-and-wife owners of Boston’s The Urban Grape. This is a food-and-pairing-focused wine guide, and includes recipes by Straight Wharf’s Gabriel Frasca. The main idea behind Drink Progressively is to focus on wine body above all else, and then suggest wines and recipes to match that body accordingly. The Douglases do this by moving wines through an increasing body scale of 1 to 10, which leaves us with shorthand terms like “5W” (to describe whites from Burgundy and Mosel, for example) and “9R” (e.g., for bolder reds from Dry Creek Valley, Mendoza, and Barossa). It’s a clever, seemingly-simple conceit that I found gets confusing very quickly. Having said that, this book might be worth the cover price for the recipes and wine recommendations alone, though the latter tend towards the geekier (and therefore probably more difficult to find) end of the spectrum. The unsung hero here is Beatrice Peltre, whose photographs are downright stunning.

Cheers!

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All Reference Books, Great And Small (November 2017 Wine Product Roundup)

Vinted on November 8, 2017 binned in wine books, wine products
Hugh Johnson's Pocket Wine 2018

image: amazon.com

This month’s wine product review roundup requires you to get your reading glasses, as we’re taking a look at two upcoming wine reference book releases, one of them tiny (and insanely useful), the other heavy and large (and maybe a lot less useful).

First up is the venerable Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine, 2018 edition (Mitchell Beazley, 336 pages, about $17). This tiny marvel is updated annually, and at this point I struggle to say anything about it that I’ve not already said in my usual yearly boot-lickingly obnoxious recommendation of this mighty mini-tome. No wine reference book series even comes close to packing as much utility into such a small package, and doing it so consistently. That I know so may of the contributors probably only makes my endorsement seem even more boot-lickingly boot-licking, but that won’t stop me from highly recommending it. Again.

In the interests of offering a balanced appraisal, I will say that the supplemental material in last year’s 2017 40th Anniversary edition is, in my view, superior to this most recent release; so if you own that one already, you may want to skip this one and see what the 2018 edition has to offer.

Next up is a new edition of the much larger, heavier, and visually impressive Larousse Wine (Hamlyn, 656 pages, about $60). Headed by technical consultant Master Sommelier Georges Lepré, with a team of contributors that are primarily French-based or French-wine-focused, you’d think that a book with 800 photographs and 37 maps would be insanely useful. And you’d be half right…

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