I’m a voracious reader of wine books because they fuel my interest and knowledge, and enhance the pleasures of drinking wine. One of my favorite pastimes is to pour a glass of pinot noir, plop down in a comfortable chair, and immerse myself in a good wine book, preferably the kind I can hold in my hands and finger the pages.
As I’ve aged, my appreciation of fine wine has increased, and I realize I can never learn all there is to know on the subject. In the words of Leon Adams (“The Commonsense Book of Wine”), “Anyone who tries to make you believe that he knows all about wines is obviously a fake.”
Here are four books—published in the past year—that I’ve read and can recommend.
“Why You Like The Wines You Like,” by Tim Hanni, Master of Wine. Ever wonder why you like a wine that a spouse or friend doesn’t? Are you intimidated when someone raves about one that you find only ordinary? Hanni tackles these questions in a lengthy (234-page) soft-cover book intended “to empower wine consumers by providing a new understanding of personal wine preferences …” He identifies four distinct groups he calls Vinotypes, and notes that discovering your Vinotype allows you to discover wines you like, and understand why others may have a completely different opinion of the same wine.
“The New California Wine,” by Jon Bonné, wine editor of the San Francisco Chronicle. The book begins with a comprehensive overview of the complicated evolution of California winegrowing and winemaking post-Prohibition. Bonné then traces the evolution of California wine styles, most recently exemplified by the last decade’s “Big Flavor” wines that are giving way to “New California Wine,” crafted with earlier-harvested fruit that lowers alcohol percentages and is more reflective of terroir. In other words, more subtle wines that offer a more deliberate touch as opposed to full flavor. Several key California winemaking regions are detailed in a historical and current context, plus there’s a guide to producers who represent both the old and new generation at the vanguard of “New California Wine.”
“Sonoma Wine and the Story of Buena Vista,” by Charles L. Sullivan. I’ve written at length in my newsletter, The PinotFile, about the fascinating history of Buena Vista, dating to 1856, and its renegade and colorful founder, Agoston Haraszthy, so I was eager to dive into this 360-page volume written by one of America’s most respected wine historians. Sullivan did not disappoint. The book introduced me to many documents and accounts I was unaware of, and provided many new details about the history of Sonoma wine apart from Buena Vista.
“A Man and his Mountain,” by Edward Humes. This Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, with the full cooperation of the Jackson family, penned this biography of California wine industry entrepreneur Jess Stonestreet Jackson. Humes spent hours with Jackson before he died in 2013, providing uncommon insight into details of his rise from nothing at 51, to the owner of Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates, the biggest-selling brand of premium wines in the United States. This very candid account follows Jackson’s life from childhood to his first winegrowing experience in Lake County, California. Practically everyone has at some time encountered Jackson’s wines, which include such labels as K-J Vintner’s Reserve, Stonestreet, Matanzas Creek, Cardinale, Arrowood, Carmel Road, La Crema, Byron, and Cambria, so it is of considerable interest to read about the titan behind this empire.
Other recently published books I plan to read this year:
“Postmodern Winemaking: Rethinking the Modern Science of an Ancient Craft,” by Clark Smith
“The Green Vine: A Guide to West Coast Sustainable, Organic and Biodynamic Wines,” by Shannon Borg
“Extreme Wine: Searching the World for the Best, the Worst, the Outrageously Cheap, the Insanely Overpriced, and…” by Mike Veseth
“99 Bottles of Wine: The Making of the Contemporary Wine Label,” by David Schuemann
“The Wine Savant: A Guide to the New Wine Culture,” by Michael Steinberger
“Inventing Wine: A New History of One of the World’s Most Ancient Pleasures,” by Paul Lukacs
“Into Wine: An Invitation to Pleasure,” by Olivier Magny
“The Road to Burgundy: The Unlikely Story of an American Making Wine and a New Life in Burgundy,” by Ray Walker
“Winemakers of the Willamette Valley: Pioneering Vintners from Oregon’s Wine Country” by Vivian Perry & John Vincent and Sarah Schlesinger
“Wine Appreciation: 500 Wines for 100 Occasions,” by David Williams and Elin McCoy