‘Tis the season of lists! And no reviewer worth their weight doesn’t have a few good end-of-year roundups. In fact, forget about writing stories: Let’s make this the month of lists. First up: wine books by the pros.
Big Macs & Burgundy, Vanessa Price with Adam Laukhuf (Abrams, 2020). Maybe in any other year, some of these “wine pairings for the real world” would be a little kooky, but in this year of “WTH, drink down the cellar and raid the larder,” they are downright delightful. I mean, when a pandemic shuts down half the world, why not have Moscato d’Asti with a lumberjack breakfast? In 16 chapters, the sommelier (Price) covers pairings with fast food, junk food, takeout, healthy choices and more. But she also includes educational material for beginners, and the Cheap Wine Cheat Sheet for people with Champagne tastes and beer pocket money. While some of the pairings are a little daft (which, again, hello, it’s a mad, mad, mad pandemic so why not?), the writing is breezy and the explanations are solid. Fun stocking stuffer for the millennial wine drinker in your life.
Gold in the Vineyards, Laura Catena (Catapulta Editores, 2020). Catena comes into wine naturally: her father, Nicolás Catena Zapata, is largely credited as the father of modern Malbec, having elevated that variety in Mendoza, Argentina, to world-class standards. Daughter Laura, the fourth generation of the family to make wine, has also been an ER doctor based in San Francisco, an ambassador for her family winery Bodega Catena Zapata, and a book author. This is her second, an homage to 12 of the world’s most celebrated vineyards and the backstories of their families. Richly illustrated with steam-punkish woodcut-like drawings, infographics, charts and a variety of typography it’s part graphic storybook, part primer and wholly fun to hold (non-reflective recycled paper with a rich beige undertone) and behold.
The Goode Guide to Wine, Jamie Goode (University of California Press, 2020). Subtitled “A Manifest of Sorts” this is a rather heady contemplation of the culture of wine drinking, for all its pleasures and pretensions. Goode, a British author with a PhD in plant biology is well known in wine circles for his writings deconstructing wine faults, sense of taste, and other wine science. This small book borrows concepts from some of his previous work, but is really more of a personal compendium of philosophies ranging from what makes a wine authentic, the concept of quality, how we drink (and why) and fads like celebrity wines (”yawn,” he says). He doesn’t hesitate to make fun of wine culture’s propensity toward the preposterous, and reminds readers to find the small, lovely stories in each bottle.
How to Drink: A Classical Guide to the Art of Imbibing, Vincent Obsopoeus; edited and translated by Michael Fontaine. (Princeton, 2020). If you can escape the world for a couple of days, bring this delightful book with you and cue up your Pandora “Circa 1500” playlist. Penned by Renaissance humanist and neoclassical poet Vincent Obsopoeus (ca. 1498–1539), this compact volume covers three long chapters or “books” on the art of drinking (sustainably and with discrimination); excessive drinking (and what it looks like); and how to win at drinking games. The advisory on the excessive drinking warns against using filthy language, which, as Fontaine translates for modern times, leads to “disgraceful hookups and sex.” (He also says that’s OK every once in a while.) Other sage advice includes “make haste slowly in drinking your bubbling wine…” and when guests are with us, we should “be fine enjoying wine more liberally and living life more freely.” Amen to that. Editor Fontaine is a professor of classics at Cornell University and his translation appears opposite the original Latin, giving this book a balance of elegance and boisterousness.
MORE FOR YOU
Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book, (Octopus Books, 2020). In its 44th year of publication, this compact encyclopedic reference book covers nearly every commercial wine region in the world and includes hot tips on some 5,000 wines. (Full disclosure: I have written several sections of the book for four years.) The front portion includes a helpful vintage chart, a short list of top wines to try and an explanation of varieties and production terms. An all-new back chapter tackles the topic of terroir. In between, readers will find countries and recommended wineries, minimal tasting notes on top recommendations, complete with star ratings. It’s a handy book to throw in your backpack (I am recommending the Samsonite Konnect-i Backpack with Jacquard by Google integrated technology—whew!—which connects your backpack with your smartphone. Once connected, everything is done with a swipe on the backpack strap, leaving your hands free for reading, swirling and drinking.)
The New Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia, Tom Stevenson (National Geographic, 2020). Updated for the first time since 2011, and considered essential reading for serious wine students, this is more than an encyclopedia: It’s a reference book/database/atlas for anyone who wants a straight-forward resource on wine. Stevenson, considered one of the world’s foremost experts on Champagne (and other sparkling wine), writes in a clear narrative style without stuffiness or editorial attitude. Each chapter is laid out with key factors such as geography, climate, soil, grapes and accompanied by maps, label jargon and appellation descriptions. I find this goes into more depth while remaining highly digestible than the other standard, The World Atlas of Wine (I use both, and they complement each other). While too hefty for a stocking stuffer, the wine student or oenophile in your life will be happy to welcome in 2021 with this in hand.