The Wine Economist Guide to 2017 Wine Books to Give and to Read Yourself, Too

books

The holidays are a great time to give someone you know a book and an even better time to sit down (with a glass of wine) and read one yourself. Wine books are especially welcome this time of year because, well, they are wine books, so how can they not be interesting and fun?

Here are the books we’ve reviewed at The Wine Economist this year. Any of them would make a great gift to that special person. All of them are good reads and worthy of your attention.

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Caro Feely, Glass Half Full: The Ups and Downs of Vineyard Life in France (Summersdale, 2017). The next chapter in the saga of a family who move to France, buy a vineyard,  and struggle to find success and happiness.

Cracking Croatian Wine: A Visitor-Friendly Guide, by Dr. Matthew Horkey and Charine Tan (Exotic Wine Travel). Everything you always wanted to know about Croatian wine but were afraid to ask. A worthy addition to this series of exotic wine guides.

Warren Moran, New Zealand Wine: The Land, the Vines, and the People (Hardie Grant, 2017). A survey of the Kiwi wine industry and its history by someone who has lived through that country’s double wine revolution.

John Schreiner, Icon: Flagship Wines from British Columbia’s Best Wineries (Touchwood Editions, 2017). A guide to British Columbia’s best wines and wineries by the dean of B.C. wine-writing.

Wine Myths & Reality by Benjamin Lewin (Vendage Press). New edition of Lewin’s big book about global wine an how it is changing. Indispensable.

Benjamin Lewin MW, Guides to Wines & Top Vineyards Series. (Vendage Press). A series of very useful and intelligent guides to select wine regions. Unusual analytical depth and detail.

Patrick Alexander’s The Booklovers’ Guide to Wine: A Celebration of the History, Mysteries, and the Literary Pleasures of Drinking Wine (Mango). Irresistible survey of  wine with something for everyone — novice to expert.

Sarah Lohman, Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine. Simon & Schuster, 2016. Not a wine book, but reading about how American food has been transformed might make you think about American wine differently.

Patrick J. Comiskey,  American Rhône: How Maverick Winemakers Changed the Way Americans Drink (University of California Press). Comiskey charts the rise and fall and hopeful rise again of Syrah and other Rhone grape varieties in the U.S.

And last but not least, my new book  Around the World in Eighty Wines (Rowman & Littlefield). Now you know why this post is filed under “Shameless Self-Promotion). Happy reading!

New Wine Books: Lewin’s Intelligent Guides, Caro Feely’s Half-Full Glass

519f2bibmmol-_ac_ul320_sr204320_Herewith brief reviews of a series of regional wine guides by Benjamin Lewin MW and the newest volume in Caro Feely’s series on her family’s wine and vineyard experiences in France.

Not Your Usual Wine Guide

Benjamin Lewin MW, Guides to Wines & Top Vineyards Series. Vendage Press, various dates.

Benjamin Lewin travels the world analyzing the changing character of wine and writing about it in his many books and columns.  A few years ago he decided to re-purpose some of this research into a series of “Intelligent Guides” to the world’s most famous wine regions.

Thus the research for his Wines of France became the raw material for a number of guides to individual wine regions. Satisfied with the results, Lewin moved on other regions. Here is the list of Lewin guides so far (a guide to Mosel and Rheingau is due out next year).

Bordeaux: Left Bank
Bordeaux: Right Bank
Southwest France
Burgundy: Côte d’Or
Chablis
Southern Burgundy & Beaujolais
Champagne
The Loire
Alsace
The Rhône
Languedoc
Provence
Barolo & Barbaresco
Tuscany
Port & the Douro
Napa Valley & Sonoma

These aren’t your usual wine guides. They don’t give tourist-friendly hotel and restaurant recommendations, for example. Your smartphone can do that. But they do dig down in surprising depth given their slim size in the facts and controversies that are key to a region’s wine identity.

Each compact volume, available in inexpensive e-book or paperback formats, first analyzes the region in terms of the key characteristics, dynamic forces, and critical issues and then moves on to analytical profiles of producers and their wines.

The choice of e-book and print-on-demand paperback formats allows Lewin to keep the books up to date. In fact, he is just now releasing updated and expended editions of the guides that include both profiles of the producers he sees as most important and mini-profiles of many others.

Lewin writes that

The series is partly a response to the view that wine books are becoming an increasingly specialized niche (except perhaps for reference books), and that people are more interested in focusing more precisely rather than reading broadly. The guides are partly oriented towards people who simply want to know about a region (so the text follows a similar approach to my books) and partly for people who may be interested in visiting producers (so there are details in the profiles, using symbols à la Michelin, to help with planning, and maps to show producer locations).

I loaded a couple of the guides onto my tablet for a recent speaking trip to Spain and Portugal. I found the guide to Port and the Douro to be remarkably useful. Clear, interesting, focused, analytical — it helped me understand a region that I was already familiar with in more depth and detail, especially the controversial beneficio system of the 1930s that continues to shape the Douro wine industry today.

The Alsace guide made me sad — but in a good way. We haven’t been to Alsace in many years and reading it made me realize how much we missed on earlier visits and how urgently we need to go back! And it helped me understand the variability I have experienced with wines from different Alsace producers, too. Fascinating!

Lewin’s guides, like his other works, are clear, detailed, and analutical. Lewin constantly asks questions and drives to answer them. He doesn’t hesitate to share his opinions, but always backs up his arguments. The result, for me at least, is a deeper understanding of the region and its changing place in the wine world.

Now back home, I have had time to read several other volumes in the series and I found each to be utterly fascinating. If you want to understand one of the wine regions in the series or contemplate a serious wine tourist expendition, Lewin’s guides are the place to start your research.

France Meets the Archers

51k899bjjnl-_sy344_bo1204203200_Caro Feely, Glass Half Full: The Ups and Downs of Vineyard Life in France.  Summersdale, 2017.

Glass Half Full is the third volume is a series of books where Caro Feely chronicles her family’s struggle to make a life and make a living by making organic wine on a small vineyard estate in France. Caro and her husband dreamed that vineyard dream that so many of us have, but unlike others they took bold action and moved to France with their two small daughters.

Feely’s books should be required reading for anyone thinking about taking such a big step. Really, Silicon Valley Bank and other specialist wine industry lenders should have cases of this book and the previous volumes in their offices to hand out to people who come in looking for start-up winery loans!

What emerges from Feely’s clear prose is a realistic view of the wine business from the perspective of a small French vineyard. It is a positive story: the wines are great and the effort is worth it. But the physical and emotional toll can sometimes be very high. Everything that can go wrong does go wrong at some point (I think Mr. Murphy has a law about this) and stress levels run high.

I enjoy Feely’s books, including especially this new one, on many levels. I fell like I’ve gotten to know the Feely family a bit over the years and the personal stories and accounts of learning to live in France are part of the attraction. But, wait. There’s more.

Caro Feely weaves into these accounts a good deal of practical information about life in France, viticulture, winemaking and the wine business, too. In this regard Feely’s books remind me a little bit of the long-running British radio show The Archers, with its continuing story of rural life. Listeners these days think of it as a radio drama pure and simple, but it was actually created back in the 1950s with farm education to raise productivity and feed the nation in mind. Listeners came for the drama, but left with useful information about new farming practices and technology.

Caro Feely’s books are fun, informative, and moving, too. Highly recommended.

books

Around the World in Eighty Wines visits Natalie MacLean on Facebook Live

Recently I had the pleasure of visiting with Natalie MacLean, editor of Canada’s largest wine review site, on her “Sunday Sipper Club” Facebook Live program.

Here’s a link to the program website, which includes both the video replay and some of the many comments from Natalie’s engaged, informed, and very enthusiastic viewers.

https://www.nataliemaclean.com/blog/mike-veseth-wine-economist-around-the-world-in-80-wines/

As you can tell from the video, Natalie and I had fun talking about my books, including especially Around the World in Eighty Wines (now available in hardback, Kindle and audiobook formats on Amazon.com) and the good, bad, and ugly of writing about wine.

Book Review: Cracking Croatian Wine

croatianCracking Croatian Wine: A Visitor-Friendly Guide, by Dr. Matthew Horkey and Charine Tan, published by Exotic Wine Travel.

The Wine Economist and I (Mrs. Wine Economist) live in a community with a distinct Croatian history, with many Croatian-Americans residents, and a Slavonian American Benevolent Society that dates from 1901. A home nearby regularly flies a Croatian flag. Our city, Tacoma, Washington, and Hvar, Croatia, are sister cities. So Cracking Croatian Wine: A Visitor-Friendly Guide, by Dr. Matthew Horkey and Charine Tan, seemed like a logical extension of our local culture as well as an opportunity to learn more about Croatian wine.

Horkey and Tan, the force behind Exotic Wine Travel, explore off-the-main-tourist-path wine destinations. Cracking Croatian Wine follows on the heels of Uncorking the Caucasus, Wines of Turkey, Armenia, and Georgia. For both books, the authors spoke to (and tasted with) wine makers, sommeliers, and others with expertise and experience. The wines in both books are generally not available in our upper-left-hand corner of the United States, but some are available by mail. Even in our Croatian-heavy community, Croatian wines are rarely seen. (If anyone knows if they are available locally, let me know.)

uncorkThe real value is for the visitor to Croatia. Those who are visiting Croatia for beaches or historical cities and just want to enjoy a regional wine with a meal will find several options. Those who want to dive in deeply into Croatian wine will find plenty of opportunities to explore. The lists of wineries, wine bars, and wine shops offer good starting points.

Horkey and Tan write in a consumer-friendly, conversational style that is accessible to both the casual wine drinker and the aficionado. They present “wine and a story,” beginning with descriptions of the regions. Each featured wine includes helpful information about the place, the winemaker, the grape, wine-making techniques, and what they found in the glass.

I especially appreciate that they categorize wines for the connoisseur, the adventurous palate, and “fun and easy.” They also offer suggestions for those looking for budget wines.

It is clear that they immerse themselves not just in the wine culture of a place, but in the broader culture as well. Their brief discussions of Croatian history, cuisine, and geography are helpful — and necessary — for context but do not overshadow the wine-centric focus of the book.

Two aspects of the book were disappointing. The first is that the pronunciation guide does not appear until page 33; by the time you reach it, you already have encountered strings of consonants and accents. The pronunciation help along the way (the grape varieties, for example) is welcome.

Of more concern is the lack of good maps. The only map is a half- page, gray-scale map of the whole country, without showing its neighbors for context. More detailed maps of each region would be helpful to those who are not familiar with Croatia’s geography.

Belated full disclosure: my own ethnic background is half Serbian-American. I hope Horkey and Tan will produce a book on Serbian wine.

— Sue Veseth, Contributing Editor

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Reading through Croatian names reminded me of The Onion’s 1995 classic “Clinton Deploys Vowels to Bosnia; Cities of Sjlbvdnzv, Grzny to Be First Recipients,” read here by Tom and Ray Maggliozzi.

 

Wine Book Reviews: Kiwi Revolutions and British Columbia Icons

Warren Moran, New Zealand Wine: The Land, the Vines, and the People (Hardie Grant, 2017).

John Schreiner, Icon: Flagship Wines from British Columbia’s Best Wineries (Touchwood Editions, 2017).

I’ve always thought that New Zealand and British Columbia have a lot in common. Both are spectacularly beautiful places with warm, welcoming people. The wild areas near Tofino on Vancouver Island remind me a bit of the wild areas on the north coast of New Zealand’s South Island. And both Auckland and Vancouver have a distinctly cosmopolitan feel.

There are some wine similarities, too. Romeo Bragato, the visionary who planted the seeds of today’s Kiwi wine industry more than a hundred years ago fled New Zealand when prohibitionists took charge and cut funding for this research. His new home? British Columbia!

The wine industries in both BC and its Kiwi cousin have experienced dramatic ups and downs over the years and both are on the rise today, inspiring books that survey what has been accomplished.51mpmoifkjl-_ac_us218_

New Zealand Revolutions

There is a strong sense of history in Warren Moran’s book about New Zealand wine. Moran has been in the mix of Kiwi wine since the 1950s and you can tell that he wants to record all that he has seen, the people he has known, and the wines he’s experienced.

I especially appreciate the attention to detail I found here as Moran careful lays out the evolution of the wine industry that brought New Zealand to its current place as one of the world’s premier wine-growing countries.

Moran is a geographer, professor emeritus at the University of Auckland, and pretty good story-teller. He organizes his book around two revolutions that have shaped Kiwi wine, a regional revolution, where winegrowers searched for the best places to grow their grapes, and a varietal revolution, where they experimented with grape varieties.

New Zealand’s most famous wine, Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, is the result of this double revolution, but it is a mistake to identify Kiwi wine with this one grape variety and winegrowing region.  Indeed, Moran’s detailed account highlights the great (and sometimes underappreciated) diversity of New Zealand wine.  I especially appreciate the maps and historical photos found here. 51rnkdsfagl-_ac_us218_

Canadian Icons

I have several of John Schreiner’s books on my shelf and I consult them whenever I head north to visit the British Columbia wine country. Schreiner’s knowledge of B.C. wine is every bit as deep as Moran’s Kiwi wine expertise.

Icon‘s focus is on what has been achieved in British Columbia wine, leaving the full story of how it happened to Schreiner’s other books. Because B.C. is less well known that New Zealand in the wine world, this focus is quite useful and hopefully this book will draw more attention to the region and its wines.

New Zealand wines are everywhere here in the U.S. market whereas B.C. wines are mainly represented by Ice Wine. If you want to know what else B.C. has to offer you pretty much have to go to the source. This volume just might be the nudge you need to book that ticket!

Shreiner identifies about 100 noteworthy wineries, focusing in most cases a single iconic wine. Schreiner provides a few paragraphs about the winery, the winemaker, and the wine followed by tasting notes, which are sometimes Schreiner’s own but often taken from the winery’s release notes (I wish Schreiner had written all the notes, but that wasn’t practical, he tells us).

Each winery gets two pages for the story, the notes, and a bottle shot and, while I can see the logic of this structure (all icons are equally iconic), I sometimes felt like the editorial format got in the way of the story.  I wish Schreiner could have drawn upon his deep understanding to tell us more — giving more space to particular influential wineries, for example, or perhaps organizing them regionally or historically rather than according to the alphabet.

The book is already 300+ pages, however, so something would have to be cut — some of the wineries or Christopher Stenberg’s beautiful photographs. A difficult decision.

Icon ends with a list of wineries that have the potential to join the icon list in the future, which is appropriate. British Columbia has achieved so much when it comes to wine and its future looks especially bright. You can bet that Icon will be in my backpack the next time I point the GPS for B.C.!

 

It’s Here! “Around the World in Eighty Wines” Now Available

9781442257368I have been waiting for this day for a while! My new book Around the World in Eighty Wines is officially released today in hardback, e-book, and audio book formats.  If you pre-ordered your copy it should arrive very soon. Can’t wait to hear  what you think of it.

Actually, if you pre-ordered on Amazon.com you might already have your copy — those sneaky guys started shipping a few days ago. But the Kindle and audio versions are officially released today. Hooray!

A few early reviews have already appeared on Amazon and elsewhere. Many thanks to Tom Mullen for his favorable review on Forbes.com.  I think Tom really captured the spirit of the book and I appreciate his kind words.

Wine-Fueled Adventure

Sue and I have been on a wine-fueled adventure for the last several years, circling the globe to speak at wine industry conferences and to do research for The Wine Economist and my books. At times I guess we felt a little like Phileas Fogg and Passepartout, hurrying from one fascinating place to another.

And so, inspired by Jules Verne, I decided to collect our adventures in this new book. The book’s path and Jules Verne’s itinerary are a bit different, although they do intersect in several interesting places. Here’s a map of Phileas Fogg’s route in Around the World in Eighty Days, starting and ending in London.

80days

And this is the Around the World in Eighty Wines route. London is the start and finish line for this race, too.

As you can see, the wine route is much more complicated. That’s because Jules Verne was interested in speedy travel, so straight lines and direct routes were best, whereas I am intrigued by the stories that wine tell us, and I am willing to go to some trouble to track them down. So detours, interruptions and a bit of back-tracking are inevitable.

A Surprise Plot Twist?

globeFogg and I both face strict constraints, however. Eighty days. Eighty wines. And we both beat the odds to achieve our goals, albeit with the help of a last-minute plot twist that produces a surprise ending.

Surprise ending? Well, I told you I was inspired by Jules Verne, so I could not resist following his example to assure a happy ending for my readers just as he did for his. Can’t tell you what the plot twist is — it’s meant to be a surprise!

I hope you enjoy reading Around the World in Eighty Wines as much as Sue and I have enjoyed the journeys that produced it and the wonderful people we met along the way. Cheers to wine, travel, adventure, and Phileas Fogg!

amazon3Around the World in 80 Wines by Mike Veseth

Table of Contents

Part 1: From London to Beirut

1.      London: The Challenge is Made and the Journey Begins

2.      France: Which Bottle? Which Wine?

3.      Italy: Batali’s Impossibility Theorem

4.      Syria, Lebanon and Georgia: The Wine Wars

Part 2: Rounding the Cape

5.      Spain: El Clásico

6.      Any Porto in a Storm

7.      Out of Africa

8.      India and Beyond: New Latitudes, New Attitudes

Part 3: High and Low

9.      Shangri-La

10.  Australia: The Library and the Museum

11.  Tasmania: Cool is Hot

12.  Southern Cross

Part 4:  Sour Grapes?

13.  Napa Valley Wine Train

14.  A Riesling Rendezvous

15.  Cannonball Run

16.  Back to London: Victory or Defeat?

The Wine List

Book Reviews: Lewin on Modern Wine + Alexander’s Wine for Literature Lovers

lewinI want to draw your attention to two new wine books. They are as different as different can be, but both are valuable additions to your wine bookshelf.

Indispensable Guide to Modern Wine

The first book is Wine Myths & Reality by Benjamin Lewin MW and I think it is more than just valuable — indispensable would be a better word! Technically this is the second edition of a volume that originally appeared in 2010, but in fact the book is completely rewritten. Lewin says that he thought about re-naming it Modern Wine and I think that alt-title works.

I really admired the first edition of Wine Myths & Reality. When I started teaching a class called The Idea of Wine at the University of Puget Sound I struggled with readings for my students. I wanted something that would go beyond the usual facts and that would allow my students to really engage with what’s dynamic and conttroversial about wine today. Wine Myths & Reality was the perfect choice and it formed the basis of the class along with Tyler Colman’s Wine Politics and my own book, Wine Wars.

The new book (or edition) is even more appealing and compelling. The breadth of topics is amazing — it really is sort of a mini-Master of Wine course in a single volume. Interesting insights seem to jump off each page. Lewin gives us the facts, but they are always in the context of a question he is trying to answer or an argument that he wants to make, so that the book drives forward with great energy.

Attention to detail is obvious throughout the book, but perhaps especially in the illustrations, which include photos, maps, and diagrams that raise the bar for books of this type.

Lewin has organized the book in a very interesting way. He begins, as you might expect, with growing grapes and making wine, but then he pivots to the business side — selling wine and the global markets. His discussion of wine regions is also distinctive — he begins with New World producers before circling back to the Old World, not the other way around as is the usual practice. A final set of chapters examine manipulation in wine in its many forms.

Wine doesn’t make itself, even though we like to think of it that way. Human intervention is always a factor. So what do we want wine to be? And  how can we get there? These are the bottom line questions that drive Wine Myths & Reality and make it an indispensable resource for wine enthusiasts everywhere.

Irresistible: Wine is for Booklovers

bookloverThe second new book is Patrick Alexander’s The Booklovers’ Guide to Wine: A Celebration of the History, Mysteries, and the Literary Pleasures of Drinking Wine. Every glass of wine tells a  story and so it is no surprise that people who love books and stories are drawn to wine. Patrick Alexander seems to be the perfect guide for booklovers who want to enjoy wine even more through story-telling.

Alexander is a literary guy (he has also written a book on Proust) who developed the wine appreciation curriculum at the University of Miami and eventually took his signature course to a local bookstore, where it has been a hit (and where Proust book sales coincidentally zoomed). Now his course is available to the rest of us through this book.

Two things set Booklovers’ Guide apart. The first, of course,  is the emphasis on story-telling. While the topics and organization are fairly conventional, the choice of stories to illustrate different points plus the wonderful writing really bring familiar topics to life. I have read dozens of wine guides over the years and I can’t think of one that is so much fun. Simply irresistible!

Alexander’s literary references are the second distinctive factor. His abundant quotes from famous authors are clever and really made me think. And the chapter on wine grape varieties — where grapes are compared to famous authors — is both fun and informative.

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So here are two valuable books — well written, informative, and utterly engaging. Lewin appeals more to the head (like Bordeaux, they say) and Alexander to the heart (like Burgundy?). Indispensable and irresistible: I like them both and recommend them to you with enthusiasm.