Book Reviews: Wine Fraud, Klein Constantia, & Food Adventurers

Brief reviews of three new books that curious wine enthusiasts should consider.

Rebecca Gibb, Vintage Crime: A Short History of Wine Fraud (University of California Press). Reviewed by Sue Veseth.

As long as there had been wine, there has been fraud.  If there is money to be made, someone will figure out how to make it — and then how to make a little more, legitimately or not. Or, as Rebecca Gibb, MW, writes, “A splash of narcissism blended with greed makes for a toxic combination.” Gibb engagingly covers centuries of narcissism, greed, and wine fraud from ancient Greece and Rome to recent history, and efforts to root out and address fraud at all levels of the chain.

Gibb’s writing style reminded me in some ways of the style of another author and journalist I admire: Sarah Vowell. Gibb’s writing is light, breezy, and full of interesting content with contemporary references.

I started noting particular phrases from Gibb’s book that tickled me: a reference to Thomas Jefferson’s “inner wine nerd,” for example, and, in discussing Jefferson’s efforts to recover from a broken wrist, “… so he decided to do what we would all do when we are in pain: cross the Alps on the back of  a mule.” Another treat: using Bart Simpson to tell the story of Austria’s mid-1980s scandal involving diethylene glycol added to wine.

Make no mistake, however: behind the writing style is serious research, scholarship, and analysis. She digs into the numbers, sequences of events, historical context, and principal players. The chapter on the 1911 riots in Champagne — the subject of Gibb’s MW thesis —is particularly deep and wide.

No doubt, people will continue to commit wine crimes, likely with new technological tools, such as artificial intelligence. But, in the end, it all seems to come down to greed. The lesson from the 1983 movie Scarface may apply, as the character Frank Lopez (Robert Loggia) said, “Lesson  number one: don’t underestimate the other guy’s greed.”


Joanne Gibson and Malu Lambert, Klein Constantia: The Home of Vin de Constance. (First Press Editions, distributed by Academie du Vin Library). Reviewed by Mike Veseth.

Wine is good, but wine and a story is better, so wineries everywhere love to tell their stories, often in the form of lavishly illustrated books. Sue and I have a love-hate relationship with winery books. We love to read them and look at the beautiful illustrations, but when we are on the road we fear that our winery hosts will give us copies of their books, which are typically large format, heavy from the glossy stock they are printed on, and nearly impossible to pack.

This new book about South Africa’s most famous winery conveniently arrived in the mail from the Academie du Vin Libaray and we were very happy to receive it. It is beautiful, of course, and tells this winery’s fascinating story with panache. Joanne Gibson focuses on the winery’s rich history while co-author Malu Lambert brings things up-to-date, showing the winery’s recent transformation into both a world-class producer and a wine tourism destination. A final chapter provided by the winery itself looks at the road ahead.

In a way Klein Constantia has grown into the reputation that its wines first established in the 17th century and that persisted through centuries. Once upon a time this signature wine was held in great esteem as one of the most desired wines in the world (and priced accordingly). The Constantia name rings in literature to signify opoulence, taste, luxury.

But, like South African wine in general, Klein Constania suffered from deep decline before rising again in the last 30 years. I was especially pleased to see the contributions of Duggie Jooste, who essentially resserected the winery and put it on the path back to prominence, and viticulturalist Ernst le Roux and winemaker Ross Gower who worked so closely with him. I had the pleasure of meeting Duggie’s son Lowell Jooste and Adam Mason, the winemaker who continued Gower’s work, on my first visit to South Africa. Both are prominently mentioned here.

Duggie Jooste and his team are the heroes of this fascinating story of rise, fall, and eventual rebirth spanning more than three centuries. Eventually the Jooste family realized they lacked the capital to take the winery to the next level and sold to the current owners, who have indeed taken that step and given us a wine, a place, and now this beautiful book that warmly honors its unique history.


Daniel E Bender, The Food Adventurers: How around-the-world travel changed the way we eat (Reaktion Books).  Reviewed by Mike Veseth.

I am pre-disposed to like books that take a global perspective (I guess that’s why I wrote Around the World in 80 Wines!) and I enjoy thinking outside the box, and trying to learn about wine by studying related fields.

So I could not resist Daniel E. Bender’s new book that looks at how around-the-world travel (think Jules Verne) changed the way we think about food. If travel could change food, maybe it could change wine? I was curious to start the adventure.

At first glance, the story is a bit discouraging. You want to hear that, if travel is broadening, then global travel is positively enlightening. But many of the early tourist circumnavigators, whether traveling over land or by ship, seem to become more parochial as the miles accumulate. Foreign food? Disgusting and sometimes even dangerous (don’t drink the water).

There are exceptions to the general rule that global travel tends to reinforce local prejudices about food in these pages. Ristafel, the Dutch-Indonesian colonial feast, always got high marks from travellers, we learn, although more for the elaborate service than for the food itself. And, zooming ahead to the jet age, the fake Polynesian experience of Trader Vic’s restaurants in Hilton hotel around the worlds was both ridiculous and ridiculously popular.  Both the ristafel and Trader Vic’s get full-chapter treatment.

Travel and exposure to foreign food, according to the accounts that form the base of Bender’s book, both open minds and palates and shut them tightly closed, which nicely illustrates Thomas Friedman’s theory that globalization is “everything and its opposite.”

Bender focuses on how these global tourists encounter foreign food, but wine appears frequently in the travel accounts. Not foreign wine, but the familiar European wines (and spirits) that the travelers brought with them. Indeed, alcohol seems to have fueled the commercial around-the-world travel industry. The Franconia, a tourist steamer with 356 passengers, typically left home port with 4000 bottles of whiskey, 4000 bottles of wine, 2800 bottles of Champagne, and 49,000 bottles of beer to be consumed during the circumnavigation.

I suppose the Franconia’s passengers were as suspicious of foreign drinks as they were of the disgusting, dangerous foods they encountered. No wonder they hurried back on board the ship each evening to eat and drink the familiar foods of home (as many cruise ship passengers do today!).

My reading of Bender’s book is that travel hasn’t made as much of a difference in food and drink as I might have hoped. Perhaps travel is too much of a surface phenomenon in most cases? Maybe migration is the more significant source of change?

It seems that the spread of food and wine cultures depends on personal experiences and relationships; the deeper those connections, the more significant the effects. Worth reflecting upon this as you contemplate your next foreign adventure.

Wine Book Review: On the Wine Trail with Lonely Planet

Lonely Planet Wine Trails 2 (Lonely Planet Food, 2023).

The Lonely Planet Guide folks have released a new guide to global wine trails. The big book (320 pages, 2.4 pounds) lays out itineraries for 52 potential weekend wine country visits. It is a colorful book, full of maps and photos, and worthy of consideration if you are planning trips, interested in how wine tourism has developed, or just want to make imaginary vineyard visits.

Each chapter is organized according to a set structure, starting with an overview and map followed by brief profiles of six or seven wineries (a reasonable number to think about for a weekend trip). Accommodations?  A couple of options are provided along with three dining choices and some ideas for non-wine things to do. Just enough to get you started.

Sue and I have visited many of these regions and, in general, I’d give the Lonely Planet itineraries solid marks. They might not always be the wineries we would choose to visit or the hotels and restaurants we’d pick, but they would certainly steer a first-time visitor in good directions. This is not a surprise, since the wine tourism chapters were written by an international team of experts.

Creating a big book like this is an exercise in choice. What do you put in? What do you leave out? You can’t possibly include everything in 300+ pages. Something has to give! This fact became apparently to me some years ago when I was asked to edit a book for a New York Times series. I was given the entire 20th century of New York Times content (all 100 years) and tasked with telling the story of globalization. What I learned was that you have to begin with a story and build around that, which is sort of a top-down approach that prioritizes the narrative. A bottom-up approach, which relies upon the facts to form their own images, is fiendishly difficult to pull off.

The decisions when looking at wine tourism begin with the question of what regions to include. Fifty-two is a big number, but there are many more wine trails around the world. When a French wine periodical published a list of the 35 best wine tourism destinations back in 2012, they found that 29 of them were in France. Zut alors! That’s not much for the rest of the wine world.

The Lonely Planet guide lists eight French itineraries including the “greatest hits” of Burgundy, Bordeaux, and Champagne. Italy and Spain get seven entries each, including the most famous and most-visited regions.  So far just as you might expect. But while Australia has seven entries, big-name Barrossa is not one of them. And Napa is not anywhere on the USA list, which takes you from the Finger Lakes of New York, through Pennsylvania wine country, to Grand Valley, Colorado, and on to Walla Walla, the Willamette Valley, Sonoma, and Santa Ynez.

Other parts of the wine world receive less space. Argentina, Canada, Chile, England, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Lebanon, Portugal, Romania, and Slovenia get one entry each. New Zealand and South Africa get two entries each.

At first this inconsistent treatment of famous regions versus the rest bothered me, but I’ve decided that it is probably OK within the context of this book. Reading about the charms of Colorado wine country, for example, might encourage someone to look beyond the big name appellations when visiting France or Italy. And that would be a good thing.

This method of mixing the famous with the lesser-known continues within the chapters in terms of the winery choices presented, accommodation options, and dining recommendations. Some of the choices left me scratching my head (why list hotels and restaurants in Portland, for example, when there are so many good choices in the Willamette Valley wine country itself?), but in general I’ve decided that the Lonely Planet guide is quite useful. It gives readers the basics and invites them to explore.

Readers who don’t go beyond the recommendations here will have a good time. Curious types who use this as a springboard to dive deeper into the wine tourism pool will have even more fun because when it comes to wine the wines, wineries, restaurants, etc. that  you discover yourself are often the most satisfying.

Book Review: Wine Education for a Diverse Wine World

A comprehensive guide to wine education for a diverse wine world: “Leary’s Global Wineology” reviewed by Pierre Ly.

In “Leary’s Global Wineology: A Guide to Wine Education, Mentorships, & Scholarships” (Hibiscus Panama, S.A. 2022), Charlie Leary presents a clear, comprehensive resource for anyone interested in pursuing wine education from beginner to expert levels. The book is well-organized and covers programs for every budget and purpose, in both academic and non-academic settings, and in many countries.

The brief introduction defines wine studies and provides informative facts and figures on different types of wine jobs, and average salaries in each. The “Big Five” chapter offers the most detailed program descriptions because it is dedicated to the most famous and highly sought-after trade certifications, like The Court of Master Sommeliers (CMS) and the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET). Beyond these, throughout the book, I found the presentation of each program concise yet detailed enough for readers to assess content, rigor and learning outcomes, so they can decide whether a course is worth exploring further. Many readers, especially those with a more casual interest or professionals on a budget, will be interested in chapter 7, which focuses on free online programs. The author even suggests excellent curriculum ideas to take these courses in an organized way as if you were in school.

While the comprehensive coverage of all types of wine programs alone makes the book worth buying, I was impressed with the author’s treatment of diversity, equity and inclusion in wine education, to discuss issues like bias, racism and sexism. This is important because criticisms of the insularity and lack of diverse representation in the wine industry have gained more visibility in recent years. I appreciated that the author did not include this as part of program descriptions, but instead used it as a framework, encouraging readers to “be aware of any program’s historical background and biases.” These are systemic issues that are not limited to problems affecting a single program, such as the recent CMS scandals, which the author also discusses.

I would recommend that users of this guide take the time to look at chapters 1, 2 and 9, before using the table of contents to explore the specific programs they are interested in. Chapter 1’s history of wine studies offers a concise, yet thorough comparison of different wine education providers’ backgrounds and agendas, as well as reflections on the insularity of the wine trade and its continued lack of diverse representation. As the author notes, this is not to take away from the high value-added of their programs, but to help readers understand the issues they might face if they enter them. Interested readers can go deeper by exploring Leary’s references like wine writers Elaine Chukan Brown and Julia Coney.

Both chapter 2’s presentation of scholarships, and chapter 9’s coverage of mentorship programs, include several organizations focused on increasing BIPOC and women’s representation in the industry, like Bâtonnage, Vinequity, and Wine Unify. Finally, chapter 9 is addressed to wine education professionals as a starting point to reflect on their work to become more inclusive, and to incorporate more discussion of environmental and social issues in their curricula. For the past decade, I have been teaching a college course that Mike Veseth invented, The Idea of Wine, that invites students not just to know more about the product, but also to see how wine can help us understand big picture societal questions. It is aimed at college seniors, most of whom come with almost zero knowledge of wine. While students are excited about vineyard and wine production knowledge, what catches their attention in the end is the bigger picture. In chapter 9, Leary discusses wine’s connection to topics like climate change, the slave trade, fair labor practices and racism, and suggests they could be incorporated in wine education.

Chapter 4’s coverage of other international programs is excellent, if necessarily limited so as not to make the book over a thousand pages long. Given the importance of China (a very important market for WSET), more programs could be included. To make the book more useful for Chinese readers, it would be useful to mention other options, notably university degrees offered by the School of Enology at Northwest Agriculture and Forestry University near Xi’an, and at the University of Ningxia. The School of Enology (which, besides viticulture and enology, offers wine appreciation and wine business courses) is important enough to be included among degree programs in chapter 5 or 6.

The book is written in English, so it includes more programs taught in that language. However, the author did include some programs in other languages, but they are difficult to locate. It would be helpful if future editions of the book could include a list of non-English language programs, organized by language and page number, either at the beginning of the book or in an appendix. Additionally, it would be great if there was interest in translating the book to cater to local interests. Finally, while the issue of program costs is discussed at length in chapter 2 (which is about scholarships), it would be beneficial to include a column in program summary tables throughout the book that shows the prices of the programs.

Overall, Leary’s Global Wineology provides not only a comprehensive guide to just about anyone interested in wine education, from those seeking basic consumer knowledge, to advanced wine professionals looking to boost their credentials. Perhaps any knowledgeable person could have compiled such a list. But what makes the book stand out is the author’s thought-provoking coverage of wine education’s current and future, and its critical eye toward areas for growth, making the book relevant to wine educators as well. Highly recommended for wine enthusiasts and professionals alike.


Pierre Ly is Professor of International Political Economy at the University of Puget Sound and author, with Cynthia Howson, of Adventures on the China Wine Trail.

Wine Book Reviews: Two Perspectives on Italy and Its Wines

How you think about Italy and its wines depends upon how you approach them. Herewith are brief reviews of two recent books that take very different viewpoints.

Italian Wine Unplugged 2.0 by Stevie Kim, Attilio Scienza, et. al. Mamma Jumbo Shrimp, December 2022.

Italian Wine Unplugged 2.0 is a key part of Vinitaly International Academy’s program to draw attention to Italian wine’s wonders through education. As Stevie Kim writes in the Foreword, the idea is to take wine enthusiasts and help them become experts and, I think, also ambassadors for Italian wine to the world.

It is a big job and so this is a big book. More than half the 450+ pages are devoted to “must-know” profiles of the wine grape varieties native or traditional to Italy. We begin with the most well-known families of grapes and move to important regional varieties and, finally to brief profiles of lesser-known grape varieties from Abrostine and Abrusco to Wildbacher and rare varieties from Abbuoto to Zanelo There is a lot of fascinating information here. Not as comprehensive as Ian D’Agata’s Native Wine Grapes of Italy, but clear, useful, and complete

A smaller section provides overviews of each region, linking denominations with associated grape varieties. A section titled “Science” features a major essay by Professor Attilio Scienza on the origins and evolution of Italian wine grapes. Prof. Scienza’s analysis is noteworthy for its interdisciplinary approach, blending DNA data, for example, with information distilled from ancient myths. It is a detailed study — you’ll need to put your smartphone away and concentrate — but very interesting.

I especially enjoyed reading Sarah Heller MW’s brief essay on “How to Taste Italian Wine.” Heller argues that Italian wines are misunderstood or underrated because they are simply different from the wines of Bordeaux and the Napa and Barossa Valleys that have shaped wine-tasting standards and expectations.

“This state of affairs is largely the result of the global hegemony of two wine value systems that poorly suit Italian wine.” One system is based upon the virtues British critics see in the best Bordeaux wines. The other derives more from characteristics of New World wines (I suppose we might associate this with Robert Parker’s influence, but I think it is more than that).

Italian wines are easy to overlook because they don’t fit either of these taste profiles. Italy is an exception and Heller proposes that “Italian Exceptionalism” be embraced and promoted by focusing on an appropriate value system. Fascinating.


Rick Steves Italy for Food Lovers by Rich Steves and Fred Plotkin. Avalon Travel Books, January 2023.

Italy for Food Lovers is also Italy for Wine Lovers. Why? Well, it is hard to think of Italy or Italian food without the wine that naturally goes with it. Wine is food in Italy, don’t you think?

But there is also this: the core of this book, co-authored by Rick Steves and Fred Plotkin, is Plotkin’s classic 700+ page guide to Italy for the Gourmet Traveler, which takes Italian food and wine very seriously indeed.

The idea is to take Plotkin’s book, first published in 1997, which has not been revised in almost a decade, and both update and streamline it for today’s Italy-loving audience. Plotkin knows Italian food and wine like the back of his hand. Rick Steves knows Italy, too, offering his list of 100 favorite restaurants alongside Plotkin’s list of fifty. Steves is especially good at helping people take the first step, gaining confidence along the way so that they can learn and love the journey.

Wine is pretty much everywhere here. There’s a chapter on wine, of course, and major sections on local wines in each of the regional profiles. The treatment is not nearly as comprehensive as in Plotkin’s classic guide or — obviously — as  Italian Wine Unplugged 2.0. But that’s not what this volume is about. This book is all about getting started in some cases or taking the next step in others. It will help travelers to Italy embrace local wines with unfamiliar names and appreciate the whole experience.

If you already know the wines of Italy very well, you might not learn much here, but you will probably still find it interesting. If you don’t know Italian wines, well here’s a fun place to start. Either way, this is a good gift idea if you have family or friends heading off to Italy for the first time.

Wine Book Review: History on a Plate (and in a Glass?)

Andreas Viestad, Dinner in Rome: A History of the World in One Meal. Reaktion Books, 2022.

All roads lead to Rome, they say, so the idea of a history of the world centered in Rome is not ridiculous. And, for food writer and activist Andreas Viestad, all pathways in Rome lead to his favorite restaurant, La Carbonara, so it is the only logical place to begin.

When in Rome …

Viestad (a favorite in the Wine Economist household for his television series New Scandinavian Cooking), takes us through a meal at La Carbonara, reflecting upon the experience as the courses follow their traditional sequence.

Viestad’s stories are not as intentionally global as the “history of the world in one meal” subtitle might lead you to expect (note that this is “a” history, not “the” history). Instead he talks mainly about Rome and Romans, and then Italy and Italians, leaving it mainly to the reader to connect dots to the world-wide implications and insights.  It’s fun! You learn a lot reading this book. And you get hungry, too.

The chapters are organized around the familiar elements of the Italy meal. Bread, antipasto, oil, and salt. Pasta, pepper, meat, fire, and lemon. And wine, of course, because this is dinner and this is Italy, so of course there is wine.

The best thing I can imagine would be to share a table at La Carbonara with Viestad and work through the  phases of the meal with him, listening to the stories he tells. (There would be room for a guest — in the book he dines alone!) And then, stuffed with pleasure, we would take the stroll around Rome he describes in the final chapter, ending with a soothing/shocking scoop of intense lemon sorbetto (lemons being the last topic discussed).

Since this first-person experience is unlikely to take place, I guess the second best thing is to take up the opportunity to read this creative and interesting book.

The Problem with Wine

But there’s a problem. Taken as a food book or a history book or a cultural guide for anyone who loves Italy or Rome, it is hard to deny Dinner in Rome‘s charm. But from a wine perspective it is hard not to be disappointed.

This may be because, as I read other parts of the book, I was mentally writing the chapter I hoped Viestad would write about wine. That chapter, I thought, might mirror in some ways the chapter on pasta, which invokes the Italian idea of “the civilization of the table” that Viestad suggests might easily be confused with the idea of civilization itself.

Is there a civilization of the glass that we might raise up along with the civilization of the table? Some think so, I believe, and there is even an Italian journal devoted to the idea. It is called Civilta del Bere (the civilization of drinking). So, you see, I was thinking about a chapter that might stress the ways that wine brings people together and both shapes and reflects relationships, both at the table and in other ways.

While the chapter that Viestad writes addresses many aspects of wine, his main point is that wine is alcohol and the point of alcohol is inebriation much of the time. The idea that wine is just the local alcohol makes me sad, since I think wine has much more to offer than that, but it is a problem since there are many who have this view.  My latest book Wine Wars II finishes with a section on “Wine’s Triple Crisis,” which examines the wine = alcohol syndrome and concludes that it is a threat to the future of wine as we know it. If wine is just alcohol, who needs it? There are cheaper ways to get numb!

Civilization of the Glass

Would it be possible to write a history of the world that framed wine and the civilization of the glass in a different way? Yes, I know it is possible because it has already been done. Economist editor Tom Standage’s 2005 book A History of the World in 6 Glasses uses beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, and Coca-Cola to trace an outline of global history.

It is interesting that Standage and Viestad focus on the same places and periods when it comes to wine: ancient Greece and Rome. But Standage tells very different stories. The Greek symposium, which in Viestad is all about getting drunk, is for Standage all about philosophy and, if the alcoholic temptation of drink is there (and it is), it is a passion to be resisted and controlled — a process that we might call civilization.

As Greek trade took wine throughout the Mediterranean, Greek culture and civilization tagged along. The civilization of wine and civilization — hard to tell where one ends and the other begins.

Wine in Rome, in Standage’s telling, has many layers. Taste, class, power, and empire all appear. If wine were just its alcoholic component it would not have been so important. I guess I stand with Standage in my thinking about the civilization of the glass and I feel a little bit sorry for Viestad that he doesn’t find more interesting stories in his half-full glass.

Highly Recommended

I wonder — would it be possible to write a book that tried to tell a history of the world in one wineglass the way that Viestad has done with one meal? Yes, I think it might work, although you’d need to break things down a bit so that the grapes, glass, bottle, cork, and the forces that spread them around the world and then brought them all back together wineglass could tell their stories.

But deconstructing your glass of wine wouldn’t be enough, as Viestad demonstrates with his Roman dinner. You also have to consider the whole and its significance. The civilizations of the table … and the glass.

Dinner in Rome by Andreas Viestad is highly recommended. A fine addition to your food and wine bookshelf.

Two New Guides to Global Wine

Two new guides to the global wine scene are scheduled for release next Tuesday, October 11 and this coincidence of release dates provides an opportunity to compare their different approaches and to consider the problems that such books necessarily confront today.

Hugh Johnsons’s Pocket Wine Books 2023 (general editor Margaret Rand) is  the latest annual edition in this best-selling series. The new third edition of Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil is as big as Hugh Johnson volume is slender. Both books are jam-packed with information and insights.  Both are addictive page-turners that reflect all the creativity, attention to detail, and pure hard work that has gone into their production. No wonder they are so successful.

A global wine guide has got to be exceptional to succeed these days. Consider the challenges that authors and editors face. First is the vast domain of the topic. Fifty years ago the world of wine was pretty big in theory, but much smaller than today in practice. New Zealand wines existed, for example, but you might not need to talk much about them. Who would ever encounter a kiwi wine outside of kiwi-land?

Now, of course, wine production takes place in more places and efficient wine trade brings an enormous number of the bottles to our doorsteps. More wines from more places made in more styles with more different wine grape varieties. Incredible.

How is a book supposed to approach such a huge topic? And how can a book compete with the internet, which can provide smartphone-equipped wine enthusiasts with vast storehouses of wine data? A physical book simply has to have a lot going for it to find a market in the smartphone era, don’t you think?

And then there is the problem of readership. Physical books and e-books there to be read, but more and more people want to listen to information instead of reading it. Podcasts and audiobooks are very popular today. When I checked the Amazon sales figures for my wine books back in August, for example, and I think the audio-book versions usually topped the tables.

My books might have had more listeners than readers during the peak summer weeks, but my books have lots of stories and so lend themselves to audio narration. Reference books and guides might not be as easy to transform from printed word to spoken voice.

You probably have earlier editions of both these books on your bookshelves, but it is worth considering their different strategies for capturing the world of wine in print.

The Hugh Johnson Guide takes a sort of pointillist approach, with lots and lots of very short entries in each of the major sections such as vintage reports, wine grape varieties, food and wine pairings, ten wines to try in 2023, and so on.  The chapters on wine producing countries take the same approach, featuring lots of  star-rated thumbnail producer reviews. The classic Old World regions — think Burgundy and Bordeaux — get special attention.

The Wine Bible takes a more broad-brush approach, with many of the same topics and topics covered, but in a more flowing narrative style with many of colorful illustrations. The Wine Bible encourages deep reading and focused study more than browsing. The Hugh Johnson chapter on Washington State, for example, has short sketches and star ratings of more than 60 wineries while The Wine Bible focuses on the stories of just eight iconic producers that help define the region. Both approaches are useful — it depends on what you are looking for.

Both books confront the inevitable question of where do you stop? The world of wine is so broad today, how much coverage should emerging countries and regions receive given the obvious constraints of the book format? There is no right answer to this question, but I admit that I was a little disappointed in the Hugh Johnson treatment of Asia and especially China, which received less space on the page than New Jersey. The Wine Bible’s treatment was more in line, in my view, of China’s current and potential position in the wine world.

The Wine Bible and Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book both have a lot to offer and much that is new. Wine enthusiasts are fortunate to have these great guides to global wine.

Wine Book Review / North Adriatic: Three Countries, One Terroir

Paul Balke, North Adriatic: Friuli Venezia Giulia – West Slovenia – Istria – Kvarner.   Wine & Travel Atlas.  Order the book via email:

Anyone who has seen Charles & Ray Eames’s famous 1977 video of “Powers of 10” (see below) understands that the way you see the world depends in part on how you choose to look at it.

In the video an everyday scene is examined first from steadily expanding scales (rising by a power of ten each ten seconds) and then deconstructed by repeatedly drilling down (by powers of ten again). Which view is correct? Why all of them, of course, it just depends on what you are looking for.

Bigger and Smaller

One view makes things seem bigger and the other makes them seem smaller (an Alice in Wonderland situation). It is important to keep perspective along the way.

The bigger/smaller problem applies to wine in many ways. Tasting notes, for example, have for a long time focused on breaking down wine flavors and aromas into their elements, like the second part of the Eames video, which is useful enough unless you are more interested, as many consumers may be, in how it makes you feel (a higher-level perspective).  The whole, we hope, is greater than the sum of its parts, but that doesn’t always come through.

Here in the United States one trend has been to try to break the terroir of wine=-growing regions into smaller and smaller American Viticultural Areas as wineries and regions seek to communicate their distinctive features and to build solidarity among producers. But deconstructing terroir in this way is not the only story and sometimes not the best one.

Or at least that is Paul Balke’s argument in his colorful and informative book, North Adriatic, and he makes his case in a way that will remind you of the Eames film. First, he steps back repeatedly, probing what connects the people and territory of the North Adriatic, with chapters on the trans-national regional history, geography, climate, and gastronomy (this volume is meant to double as a travel guide, so food is never far from the surface!)

Central to this section of the book is Chapter 4, which is a very short essay on borders. Its purpose is to make you think about borders, fences and divisions in an age of globalization.

Down the Rabbit Hole

The book soon reverses course with very detailed chapters on the wine regions of the North Adriatic. Each chapter is an enticing rabbit hole (another Alice metaphor) full of photos, maps, facts, and analysis.

The wine regions are Colli Orientali, Collio and Brda, Isonzo, Grave, Aquileia, Karst, Vipava Valley, Istria, and Kvarner. There are also chapters on the many grape varieties and orange wines, which are very much a thing here. Wine is the focus here, but not just wine. Given the first part of the book, it is impossible to see wine without taking in elements of the broader context.

It is not a criticism to say that these chapters are so full of interesting images and ideas that it is possible to get lost. The images of chefs and their food made me hungry.  Balke intends the book to be both a reference resource and a travel guide and I think he achieves his goal. I learned something new on each page.

What you won’t find here are detailed reviews of individual wines and profiles of specific wineries. That would require another book. This one is already bursting at the seams.



The Road to Wine Wars II (and a 30% Discount Offer)

My new book Wine Wars II will be released in just a few days on July 1, 2022, and so. in the spirit of shameless self-promotion, let me remind you that you can order Wine Wars II in paperback or e-book format from Rowman & Littlefield,, and other online and bricks-and-mortar book sellers.

Rowman & Littlefield is offering a 30% discount on Wine Wars II publisher-direct purchases for a limited time. Scroll down to the bottom of this page for details.

Tantor Media will release the audio-book version of Wine Wars II (read by Jonathan Yen) on July 19, 2002. It will be available everywhere audio books are sold. Ten hours of fascinating stories about where global wine is going and how it got there.

A Tale of Two Glasses

Paperback, e-book, audio. Wine Wars II is everywhere!

Wine Wars II updates and extends the most important arguments I made in the original Wine Wars and then adds a new set of chapters on Wine’s Triple Crisis. Each “flight” or set of chapters ends with suggested wine tasting so you can consider the arguments using all your senses. What fun!

Here is a brief excerpt from chapter 1 “A Tale of Two Glasses” for your reading pleasure. It talks about the origins of Wine Wars and the development of Wine Wars II. I think it is interesting that the road to Wine Wars II began with a winery visit about forty years ago, when the problems facing the wine business and the economy more generally were a lot like those we confront today.


People often ask me how I became a wine economist, an economist who studies the global wine markets. The answer is rooted in a particular time and place. Sue and I were still newlyweds, taking a low-budget vacation in the Napa Valley back in the day when that was still possible. We were headed north on the
Silverado Trail late on our last day, pointed toward our economy motel in Santa Rosa, when we decided to stop for one last tasting.

The winery name was very familiar, and I had high hopes for our tasting. If I had known more about wine back then, I would have recognized this as one of the wineries that kicked French butt in the 1976 Judgment of Paris wine tasting. We pulled off the road and went in to find just the winemaker and a cellar rat at work. No fancy tasting room back then, just boards and barrels to form a makeshift bar. They stopped what they were doing and brought out a couple of glasses. If I knew more about wine back then, I would have been in awe of the guy pouring the wine, but I was pretty much in the dark. So we tasted and talked.

I started asking my amateur questions about the wine, but pretty soon the conversation turned around. The winemaker found out that I was an economics professor. Suddenly he was very interested in talking with me. What’s going to happen to interest rates? Inflation? Tax reform? He had a lot of concerns about the economy because his prestigious winery was also a business and what was happening out there in the financial markets (especially interest rates and bank credit, as I remember) had a big impact on what he could or would do in the cellar. Wineries, especially those that specialize in fine red wines, have a lot of
financial issues.

In addition to the initial investment in vineyards, winery facilities, equipment, and so forth, each year’s production ages for two or three years, quietly soaking up implicit or explicit interest cost as it waits to be released from barrel to bottle to marketplace. The wine changes as it ages, but the economy changes, too. It’s impossible to know at crush what market conditions will be like when the first bottle is sold. Wine economics is a serious concern. Few winemakers are completely insulated from the business side, and sometimes the economy can have a huge effect on what winemakers get to make (if they have the resources to stick with their vision) or have to make (if they don’t).

And so a famous winemaker taught me to think about wine in economic terms and to consider that supply and demand sometimes matter as much as climate and soil when it comes to what’s in my wineglass. I should have known.

Although my interest in wine and economics merged on that Napa day, it sat on its lees for a long time, as I waited for an opportunity to link my personal passion with my professional research agenda. The two naturally converged a few years ago when I began writing what turned out to be a four-volume series
on the global economy. My 2005 book Globaloney: Unraveling the Myths of Globalization includes a chapter called “Globalization versus Terroir,” my first attempt to write about wine economics for a general audience. Globaloney argues that complex global processes shouldn’t be reduced to a few simple
images. Globalization and food are more than just McDonald’s, for example, and globalization of wine isn’t just McWine.

The wine chapter in Globaloney gave me confidence that I had more to say about money, wine, and globalization, so I launched a website called The Wine Economist (, where I could work out my ideas in public, make connections, and develop a wine voice. After several years and nearly
200,000 words of blog posts, The Wine Economist evolved into the first edition of this book.


I wasn’t sure if anyone would want to read about the business of wine, but I was wrong. Wine Wars was warmly received by both critics and readers. It turns out that while wine is good, wine and a story is even better, and stories about the business side of wine can be very interesting. A number of wine industry readers have said that Wine Wars helped them connect the dots and see things more clearly. Consumers, who have no particular business connection, say they just like knowing the backstory of their favorite drink.

I’ve spent the last decade on the wine road speaking at wine industry conferences around the world and learning more about wine and the people who make it. It is a tough job, but someone has to do it, and apparently I am that lucky someone! I have recorded my impressions and experiences in hundreds of columns on The Wine Economist.

Wine Wars has been joined by three other books that continue my analysis of global wine: Extreme Wine (2013); Money, Taste, and Wine (2015); and Around the World in Eighty Wines (2017). Wine Wars celebrated its tenth birthday in 2021, and that occasion made me stop and think (as round-number birthdays sometimes do).

The powerful forces that I identify in Wine Wars are still important, but they’ve changed in ways both big and small. Environmental and demographic shifts, for example, re now much more clearly understood as wine industry challenges. There is a lot to think about and to write about. And so I have written this new book, Wine Wars II, which updates the first edition and extends its argument to address wine’s global crisis.

In a way, this journey has brought me back to that dark cellar on the Silverado Trail in Napa Valley, the great wines we sampled that day, and my “aha!” moment when I realized that wine and economics are a perfect pairing. I’ve learned much more about wine and wine economics, and I appreciate now more than ever the many challenges that the world of wine faces. But I remain an optimist, as I show in this book. I still have grape expectations.


Wine Book Review: Britain, Imperialism, and the Wine World They Created

Jennifer Regan-Lefebvre, Imperial Wine: How the British Empire Made Wine’s New World. University of California Press, 2022.

Imperial Wine is a serious academic study of how imperial economic, political, and social relations between Great Britain and three of its colonies — South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand — shaped their wine industries and New World wine more generally from the time of the first plantings through to today.

This is an argument that I am glad to see examined in depth. In my books Wine Wars and the forthcoming Wine Wars II I nominate Great Britain as the center of the wine universe, so powerful, I think, is its influence on wine and the wine trade.

Australia and New Zealand were British colonies that developed wine industries that were shaped to a great extent by the ebb and flow of trade with the United Kingdom. Although South Africa and its wine industry have roots in Dutch colonial trade, the decades under British rule had powerful effects.

It is a fascinating study, but I admit that I struggled at times because I really wanted this to be a book about wine first and foremost and the author is really focused on imperialism, with wine used as a lens. I think that authors earn the right to define their works, so I cannot really complain. This is a story that can be told several ways.

Most people will be surprised at the poor reputation of Australian wines in the UK market in the early post WWII period, for example, given how popular they are today. There are many ways to demonstrate this, but the author highlights a lame Monty Python joke that compares and aroma of Aussie wine to the smell of an Aborigine’s armpit, which invites a discussion of imperial racist attitudes in the post-colonial era.

“Some wine lovers might protest that colonialism is a distant historical footnote to the history of wine, and that dredging up colonial history is a buzzkill, a weary intrusion on our enjoyment of wine,” the author writes in the concluding chapter, suggesting that she’s run into people like me before. “Can’t we just enjoy a glass of wine without someone introducing controversy?  Is colonial history designed to make wine lovers feel guilty?” Imperial Wine, the author argues, makes the case that ignoring the history of wine distorts our understanding of both it and the complicated processes that have shaped it.

Fair point. Understanding the forces that conditioned what is in your wine glass, how it is made, and who it is made for deepens the wine experience, don’t you think? And that includes the forces of empire and the long shadow that they cast.

The author’s deep dives into historical documents drew me in again and again. During World War II, for example, Old World wine pretty much disappeared from store shelves, replaced for the most part by “colonial wines” from South Africa, Australia, and Algeria (not a British colony, but a colony nonetheless).  The author traces changing wartime wine patterns though a study of the detailed records of the King’s College off-license store, called the buttery, which provided wine for fellows and sold it to students. Algerian red wine and South African sherry sold well to penny-pinching students, who would turn their backs on colonial wine after the war in favor of the French wines returned to the market.

Imperial Wine teaches wine enthusiasts about the role of empire in shaping the wine world of the past, present, and probably the future, too. And it teaches students of imperialism that the influence of those forces continues even in something as seemingly simple as a glass of wine.

Interesting. Well-written. Thought-provoking. I learned a lot. Did Imperial Wine change the way I think about wine? Yes, at least a bit. Well worth your consideration.


Curry: A Tale of Cooks & Conquerors by Lizzie Collingham is one of my favorite books about cultural globalization. Imperialism is a strong force in this account (which includes historical recipes at the end of each chapter). I was reminded of Curry when I noticed that Collingham wrote one of the cover blurbs for Imperial Wine. 

Wine Book Review: Grassroots Perspectives on Portuguese Wine

Simon J. Woolf and Ryanb Opaz, Foot Trodden, Portugal and the Wines that Time Forgot. Interlink Books, 2021.

Portugal is having a much-deserved moment at present. For a long time Portugal wasn’t really on the radar for most people. The situation was so bad that some folks couldn’t find Portugal on a map — I saw a headline that proclaimed Portugal as a Mediterranean destination! It was enough to make Henry the Navigator cry!

Portugal Discovered

Now Portugal is high on the list of popular destinations for travelers of all stripes. Many of our friends have visited Portugal as tourists, for example, one has bought property there and is moving permanently, and another is seeking Portuguese citizenship.

What is the attraction? The people, their culture, food, wine, climate — the list goes on and on. The question isn’t so much why people love Portugal as what took them so long to discover it!

You can say pretty much the same thing about Portuguese wine.  For a long time the wines of Portugal have been sort of filed away a couple of niches. Port and Madeira? Check! Vinho Verde? Check! Lancers and Mateus? Check! Check!

But the world of Portuguese wines beyond the niche categories was essentially uncharted territory. What would it take for get wine drinkers to try Portuguese wines from unfamiliar regions made with unfamiliar grape varieties? It seemed like an impossible challenge.

Portuguese Charm Prevails

But the challenge is being met these days and Portuguese wine sales have been strong in the United States market, due in part to the popularity of Portugal as a travel destination, but also the rising profile of the country and its people more generally. Portugal has become a little bit like Italy in the sense that warm feelings about the place encourage consumers to give the wines a foot in the door, which is all they really need.

Walking into Costco recently, for example, I was met by a giant haystack wine display right by the entrance featuring colorful bottles of wine labeled simply “Portugal Red Blend” from the Lisboa region. It is an honest red wine, not too complicated, and a very good value. Shoppers happily filled their giant shopping carts. Would that have happened five years ago?

Grassroots Portugal

Foot Trodden, the recent book by Simon J. Woolf and Ryan Opaz, comes at an opportune moment when many wine enthusiasts are thirsty to learn more about Portugal. The book is appealing in part because it approaches Portuguese wine from a different angle than many wine books.

The standard format of “Wines of XXX” books is to survey the landscape from the perspective of the grape varieties, the wines they produce, the regions where they are made, and the wineries that make them. It is essentially a top-down approach, which is appropriate for a survey volume. Richard Mayson’s The Wines of Portugal, for example, applies this template to Portugal very successfully.

Foot Trodden breaks the mold a bit by focusing on the people and their stories, letting the other elements appear as part of the human tale. This is a bottom=-up perspective, which I find especially appropriate in this case because, as I noted above, so many of the sources of Portugal’s current success are essentially grassroots characteristics.

The book is well written, the stories, which mainly focus on family wineries, are well chosen and told, and the result a feeling of the place and the challenges that wine makers faced in the past and confront today, too. Excellent book. It deserves the success and recognition it has received.

All in the Family

Because stories are the driving force here, breadth is sometimes sacrificed for depth. So, for example, we are introduced to far fewer wine makers than in the survey books and these tend to be smaller multi-generation family affairs. The big wine producing houses are mentioned, but the focus is elsewhere.

I especially enjoyed the chapter on the Alentejo, which was organized around the tradition of making wines in large clay pots called Talha.  The rise, fall, and now rise again of this tradition is very interesting and deftly connects several family wine stories. These wines certainly honor the book’s sub-title.

I was also pleased to see so much Portuguese history woven into the book’s tapestry.  It seems to me that it is impossible to understand Portuguese wine today, for example, without taking into account the long shadow case by Prime Minister Salazar’s policies and the reaction to the Carnation Revolution.

The book features many colorful photographs, which support the grassroot perspective by highlighting the families, their land, and work. There are a few missed opportunities. The one map included in the book is pretty, but doesn’t answer many questions. More is more when it comes to maps, especially in this case because they can help connect the top-down and bottom-up perspectives.

Which is the better approach — survey or grassroots? Each is useful and interesting. Why choose? More is more when it comes to perspectives on Portugal and its wine!