Reading for Wine Lovers

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in: Book Reviews

It’s the holidays, wine lovers — time to find something to wrap.rnrnOf course there’s always wine. All you have to do is choose one or six of the 30 billion or so bottles produced annually around the world. Virtually any bottle this side of Two Buck Chuck is welcome – chasing away Christmas cheer makes about as much sense as sleeping through New Year’s Eve. But I’d like to recommend a few gift ideas with nicely squared off corners for easy wrapping and an edifying, satisfying weight to them: wine books.rnrnA wine novelrnrnIt has been a good year for wine publications: As interest in wine ferments across the country, more books than ever are hitting the market to instruct, enlighten, inspire and entertain. Never have the offers been more diverse and wide-ranging. Rex Pickett looked to build upon his success with “Sideways” by introducing “Vertical” (Loose Gravel Press; $15), a book about a novelist, — Miles — whose world changes after he writes a novel with a close resemblance to “Sideways,” which is made into a movie that rhapsodizes one variety (Pinot Noir), which launches Miles into the center of “IPNC,” a little understood Oregon cult whose worship of the Pinot Noir borders on the unnatural. Miles frets about holding forth on its incantatory powers without a great deal of experience (beyond drinking it, often) in front of a horde of red-thirsty zealots – leaving us all to wonder whether the vinous roman à clef is meant to have a long finish or a short one?rnrnThinking regionallyrnrnFor the most part it was a year of regional exploration. Charles Olken, with an assist by Joseph Furstenthal, produced a new edition titled “The New Connoisseurs’ Guidebook to California Wine & Wineries” (University of California Press; $27), a worthy overview of the state’s regions, appellations, and wines. Olken has been publishing his slim, feisty newsletter, “The Connoisseurs’ Guide,” since 1974, as well as editions in this vein since 1979: He knows the players, the regions and stories as well as anyone, resulting in a very personal compendium of California wineries, a solid leg-up for the aficionado.rnrnNot one but two books were devoted to deciphering the Pacific Northwest: Cole Danehower’s “Essential Wines and Wineries of the Pacific Northwest” (Timber Press; $25), and Paul Gregutt’s “Washington Wines & Wineries – the Essential Guide” (University of California Press; $35). Both make the claim of their essential essentialness. Danehower, longtime editor of Northwest Palate and contributor to a number of regional publications, offers an attractive, comprehensive survey of one of the most compelling wine regions in the country (and throws in British Columbia, Canada, too!).rnrnGregutt, who writes about Washington wine for the Wine Enthusiast and contributes to the Seattle Times, is more of a critic’s critic by contrast – this book, in its second edition, reads more critically than its first edition, with the author’s opinion taking a more central role, holding forth on regional strengths, cru-vineyards, and of course, wineries, which he ranks as five-star, four-star and three-star – rather like a Hollywood producer sizing up starlets.rnrnOf course each of these books take just a slice of the world. One ambitious tome published this year offers up all of it – the wildly ambitious “Opus Vino” (DK Publishing; $75). At 800 pages and nearly 8 pounds, it is the size and weight of a baby boy.rnrnThe big picturernrnThe editors of “Opus Vino” (headed up by editor-in-chief Jim Gordon) lead with the premise that the world of wine has gotten too big for one author. And they may be right: That Robert Parker’s wine guide is now the work of seven hands may serve as proof and precedent for this assertion. The editors of “Opus Vino” have called upon no less than 30 authors to elucidate wine’s global reach, encompassing more of the earth in one volume than perhaps any other book of its kind. No less than 40 countries are represented, with regional explorations rarely attempted before. The U.S. chapters alone include sections on the Midwest, New York and New England, and the emergent Mid-Atlantic regions of Virginia, North Carolina and Maryland, in addition to the better-known areas in California and the Western States.rnrnAs for the rest of the world: You’d expect hefty explications of Australia, South Africa, Chile and Argentina – and you’ll get them. But nascent Asian regions are covered too, like China, Japan, and India, as is Uruguay, Georgia (the country) Moldova and Tasmania. Even less-trammeled regions in California, like Temecula, Lake County and the Central Valley are given their due. It is a massive effort: in a word, an opus.rnrnOf course, not even the best editor in the world can make 30 voices speak as one. Despite excellent overviews by some of the world’s regional experts (Peter Liem on Champagne, Jamie Goode on Australia, Tara Q. Thomas on Greece, Stuart Pigott on Germany and Austria and Wolfgang Weber on large portions of Italy) there are inconsistencies of style and skill between chapters that can be hard to adjust to.rnrnThe book’s organization is also a shortcoming. Regional coverage amounts to a compendium of the top wineries that make it up (as well as rising stars) but little about the region itself. In other words, the context as to why these wineries are important is often thin or wanting. The depiction of Napa Valley, for example, is dispensed with in a single page (plus a map) while its inhabitants are given 17. Page for page, this leads to a wearying sameness to the coverage, as if the editors were intent on sharing a great global picture pixel by pixel – a map of the world the size of the world – though perhaps it is just this sort of Borgesian excess that will serve to introduce the reader to a vast if bewildering snapshot of the state of wine in the world today.rnrn


Zester Daily contributor Patrick Comiskey is a senior contributor for Wine & Spirits Magazine, where he serves as chief critic for non-California domestic wines and contributes articles on the wines of California, Oregon and Washington.rnrnPhoto: Wine books. Credit: Patrick Comiskeyrn

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