Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Books on Wine

If you ask wine geeks to name their favorite wine books, they will often answer as if asked their favorite (i.e., most important, most expensive) wine: they will list the towering, indispensable reference tomes of the wine world, like Hugh Johnson's World Atlas of Wine, or Robert Parker's Bordeaux, or Clive Coates's volume on Burgundy, books that are undeniably great but most fully appreciated by those already in the know. While Johnson, in particular, is a felicitous writer, these are books to dip into for a half hour at a time -- or to quickly look up which vineyard is situated where -- rather than devote an evening's pleasure to. On the other hand, ask the non-specialist reader, and you'll inevitably hear Sideways or A Good Year.

Jamie Ivey in today's Guardian has published his top ten books about wine, and while the list is geared toward the generalist (and predictably features those two books-turned-Hollywood confection), it does have some gems. In particular, readers are directed to Donald and Peter Kladstrup's Wine and War: The French, the Nazis, and the Battle for France's Greatest Treasure, a fascinating account of the Nazi occupation as experienced by vignerons. As Ivey writes, proprietors had to devise ingenious ways of saving their wine, "tricks like ageing young bottles by changing the labels and covering them in cobwebs to fool the Nazis into thinking they were vintage, or building false walls to hide the valuable years."

Yet a book left off Ivey's list that brings a distinctively literary and lyrical sensibility to a rigorous study of wine is Andrew Jefford's The New France: A Complete Guide to Contemporary French Wine. While a reference work ostensibly in the mold of Johnson's Wine Atlas, Jefford's volume is really a book on how to think about wine -- a Tao of wine, if you will. Jefford is an avowed defender of the notion of terroir and brings the soul of a poet to an examination of wine as understood in the context of the land, its history, and the people devoted to it as an agricultural product. It also has some of the best short profiles of the major French wine regions and leading producers to be found anywhere. Highly recommended.

1 comment:

kim said...

Great new blog!

I'll tell you the wine books I have which have survived several decades of triage:

'Wines of France' by Lichine, got this in a used book store, interesting post-war descriptions of wine in France.

'Vintage...' by Johnson, a great long history of wine.

'Wine Cellar Book' by Spurrier, a very good guide to collecting and storing wine.