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.

>>><<<

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.

Publisher’s Weekly & Booklist Review “Around the World in Eighty Wines”

9781442257368Sue and I are back from Mendoza and gearing up for the release of my next book in a couple of weeks. Around the World in Eighty Wines draws its inspiration from the people we have met and the wines we’ve tasted as we have circled the globe in recent years. Can’t wait for my copy to arrive!

Publisher’s Weekly provides pre-publication reviews to alert bookstores and libraries about interesting and important new books they might want to purchase. I was pleased with the Publisher’s Weekly review of Eighty Wines, which seemed to capture the spirit of the book.  Here is an excerpt of the review:

Veseth chooses the wines he profiles based on the ability of each to excite the palate, and the imagination: “Each of [the] eighty wines must tell a story, [but they] must not just each tell their own story…. They must collectively form a picture and tell a story that reveals a greater truth,” he writes. As a result, reading his book is rather like attending a swanky cocktail party: it contains a vast and varied buffet, with loads of interesting conversational tidbits.

PW’s Daniel Lefferts was intrigued by the book review and asked for a Publisher’s Weekly interview about the book’s back-story. Here is my favorite Q&A from the interview:

What surprised you most while working on this book?
If you take this journey with me, you go to places where you expect to find wine, like France and Italy and California, and you go to places that you would never think could make wine, or where anybody would make wine. [You] see how wine inspires people to overcome such natural and political and human odds. … The power of wine … to transform how people think about food, how they think about themselves and the places that they live: it’s inspiring.

Booklist has also published a brief review, which captures the spirit of adventure that drives Eighty Wines and comes close to revealing the surprise ending. Surprise ending? Well, Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days has a plot twist in the final chapter and, inspired by Verne, my book does so, too. I think readers will smile when the twist is revealed — it makes me smile just thinking about it!

I hope my readers will be as inspired by Around the World in Eighty Wines and we were by the people, places and wines we encountered doing the research. November 1 is the official release date!

Eight Flavors of American Wine? Reflections on Sarah Lohman’s New Book

51svceuoerl-_ac_us160_Sarah Lohman, Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine. Simon & Schuster, 2016.

Sue and I have been reading Eight Flavors, a fascinating new book by Sarah Lohman about food products that have transformed the American palate. Once exotic, now they are ubiquitous. Can’t imagine American cuisine without them.

This Changes Everything?

Lohman passes on coffee, chocolate and a few other “usual suspects,” she says, because they have been examined in great depth by other authors. Fair enough. So what are her eight flavors?  They are: Black Pepper, Vanilla (which replaced rose water as a flavoring), Chili Powder, Curry Powder, Soy Sauce, Garlic, MSG (the umami flavor), and the most recent addition, Sriracha

Each chapter presents the history of the flavor along with elements of Lohman’s  personal investigation and a handful of recipes, too. In its approach and deft writing syle Eight Flavors reminds me of another of my favorite food books, Lizzie Collingham’s Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors. rogue_sriracha_stout__32156-1423592442-451-416High praise!

The story of Sriracha is particularly interesting to me because I have watched as this product and its intense flavor have moved from “ethnic” to mainstream right before my eyes. Once upon a time I found Sriracha mainly at Vietnamese restaurants, but now it is everywhere: in ketchup, potato chips and popcorn, jerky, candy canes, lip balm, cans of baked beans, a special Big Mac sauce, and even craft beer (the Rogue brewery makes a Sriracha hot stout beer). Amazing.

Readers are treated to a personal tour of the huge California factory where Sriracha is made, which is also amazing. What’s the next big flavor? There are several possibilities, but Lohman thinks that pumpkin spice might become flavor number nine.

I haven’t seen Sriracha wine yet, but I suppose it is only a matter of time.There is a version of Sriracha from Colorado that is flavored with Ravenswood Zinfandel! Searching the web I discovered someone who added Sriracha to a glass of red wine (not a total success) and an innovative wine-Sriracha pairing event (looks like it sold out).

What About Wine?

Eight Flavors got me thinking (which usually means trouble) about wine. Are there eight flavors that have entered the world of wine and transformed it the way that chili powder and soy sauce have changed food in America? Not particular wines or wine brands (although it is difficult not to think that way), but flavors associated with the wines?

Here are a few half-baked ideas that I have come up with to get things started. I invite you to comment on my choices and to suggest wine flavors of  your own.

Lemonade. This flavor is suggested by the great success of Gallo’s Thunderbird wine in the 1950s. Thunderbird took flight when a Gallo salesman noticed customers adding lemon drink mix to white port, giving it a fruit flavor that appealed to the American palate of that generation and was so successful that it provided a solid financial foundation for Gallo’s growth. Although Thunderbird fell out of fashion in most areas, the market for fruit-flavored wines has hung around in various forms (Google “fruit-flavored wines” and you will see what I mean). You might think of the many Sangria-style wines as falling into this category, too. Authentic Sangria shows that fruit flavoring done right can be delicious indeed.

Red Coke.  Cola drinks are typically sweet, with balancing acidity, a nice fizz, and served ice cold. Riunite Lambrusco was developed to be “red coke” for the American market — sweetish, fizzy, low in alcohol. It was for many years the best-selling imported wine in America. Riunite on ice, that’s nice — or at least that’s what millions of consumers said. If you are of a certain age you might remember Cold Duck wine, which is still produced under the André California Champagne label. (Canadian readers might recall “Baby Duck” wine.) This cold, soft flavor, or something like it, can be found in a  host of “chill-able” red wines today.

Butterscotch. I am sure you have already guessed that I am talking about a particular style of Chardonnay that partly fueled the Chard boom, then fell out of favor, and is now experiencing a renaissance in some circles. Buttery, slightly sweetish with lashings of oak, this was the taste of the 80s and 90s. That flavor transformed wine more than you might think. It helped introduce Americans to inexpensive Australian wines, for example, and it created a revolution in American vineyards. Fifty years ago there were only a few hundred acres of Chardonnay vines is all of California. Now it is probably the most-planted white wine grape and Chardonnay outsells all other varietal wines, red or white (although Cabernet Sauvignon is catching up).412bv6vgcoxl-_sx258_bo1204203200_

Silver fizz. After reading science editor turned wine writer Jamie Goode’s new book I Taste Red  I have come to understand that taste is complicated — it is hard to separate color, texture, aroma and flavor. They are all mixed together and it is probably impossible (or at least counter-productive) to deconstruct them the way that wine tasting notes often do. With this mind, I want to propose “silver fizz” as a flavor — the flavor of Prosecco and wines like it, which are sweeping through the wine world today much as Siracha has done over in food world. Is the secret the way that Prosecco (or Cava? or Champagne?) tastes, or how it makes you feel? And does it even matter which it is?

Vino Exceptionalism?

Four flavors — it is a start. Somehow I don’t feel like I have captured that transformative dynamic as well as Lohman did with her food flavors. Is it because my choices are poor? In that case, I would appreciate your critique and suggestions.

Or is it because wine is different? Is wine somehow more rooted in traditional methods and flavors and less able to accept or be changed by outside influences? If so, is that a good thing?

See, I told you there would be trouble. Instead of answers I seem to have questions. Typical!

Book Review: Patrick Comiskey on the Untold History of American Rhône

516ssktyc4l-_ac_us160_Patrick J. Comiskey,  American Rhône: How Maverick Winemakers Changed the Way Americans Drink. University of California Press, 2016.

“My name is Mike and I drink Syrah.” “Hi, Mike,” the members of the group reply in unison.

That’s pretty much the way the meetings begin every Thursday night when my chapter of Syrah Drinkers Anonymous convenes. Some members try to hide their Syrah-drinking habit from family and friends, only “coming out” at the meetings. Others are more open, but cautious nonetheless. Everyone remembers the terrible shaming of people who drank Merlot during the Sideways years.

A Success Story

If you take the long view, Syrah and the other Rhône wine grape varieties are an amazing success here in the U.S. and most of Patrick J. Comiskey’s terrific new book is devoted to this story. Comiskey tells his readers pretty much everything about the grapes (including the “curious case” of American Petite Sirah) and traces their long and fascinating U.S. history.

Comiskey’s account highlights key figures (Randall Grahm, Steve Edmunds, Sean Thackery, Manfred Kankl) and key producers and regions (Tablas Creek, the Walla Walla Valley) as well as the story of the influential Rhone Ranger movement.a-a-732-ds-1

Comiskey really knows his stuff — deep research is apparent here — and he writes with a fluid style, so learning about American Rhône is a real pleasure. You don’t have to like Syrah (you don’t even have to like wine!) to enjoy this book and to learn from it.

Biggest Loser

American Rhône is a success, but Syrah has the blues. The latest Nielsen Company data (as reported in Wine Business Monthly) indicate that Syrah/Shiraz sales are down 11.1 percent in the last year in the sales channels that Nielsen monitors. That’s the biggest decline of any segment and comes after several years of falling demand. (The overall U.S. wine market increased by 4.9 percent in the same period.)

Syrah/Shiraz is now just the sixth best-selling red varietal wine in the U.S. market after Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Malbec and Zinfandel. These figures cause my fellow Syrah Drinkers Anonymous members a good deal of distress, although we take comfort in the fact that Syrah is often a component in “Red Blend” and Rosé wines — two market segments that are experiencing booming growth.

What happened to Syrah/Shiraz? Well, that’s the subject of my favorite part of Comiskey’s book (the section is called “Irrational Exuberance”) where he closely examines the complicated domestic and international forces that turned Syrah’s boom into bust. People often talk about Syrah’s decline as if it were all Yellow Tail’s fault, but that’s over-simplified.

Wine Spectator’s Matt Kramer predicted that Syrah would be the next big thing back in 2003, and it looked like he was right for a while until the bottom fell out of the market. Yellow Tail does figure in Comiskey’s analysis, of course, along with Southcorp/Penfolds, two Roberts (Mondavi and Parker) and, inevitably, Sideways. This chapter alone is worth the price of the book to anyone who is interested in wine market trends or history.

American Rhône is a terrific book, well-written and informative. It deserves a place on your wine bookshelf. Highly recommended.

>>><<<

This is the final Wine Economist column for 2016. See you next year! In the meantime, here’s a Lone/Rhone Ranger blast from the past. Hi-yo, Silver. Away!

 

Wine, Food and Cheese — Oh, My! Oxford Companions Compared

p1120119

Oxford Companion to Cheese (edited by Catherine Donnelly), 2016; Oxford Companion to Food 3rd edition (Alan Davidson, edited by Tom Jaine), 2014; Oxford Companion to Wine 4th edition (edited by Jancis Robinson & Julia Harding), 2015.

The Oxford Companion to Wine is one of my favorite wine reference books. Interesting and authoritative, it balances breadth and depth very well indeed. A great source if you need to look something up and a pleasure to browse, too. I am a big fan.

Nobody can live on wine alone (although I have a few friends who might have tried) and apparently Oxford cannot live by wine reference books alone, either. They publish a whole range of reference volumes including Oxford Companions to both food and cheese.

Wine, food, and cheese? I could not resist the opportunity to compare and contrast when a copy of the new Oxford Companion to Cheese arrived at Wine Economist world headquarters at about the same time that a colleague offered me a copy of the older second edition of the Oxford Companion to Food he recently received as a gift from his OUP editor. How do they stack up?

Pizza, Poutine and Venezuelan Beaver Cheese

I found all three of the books interesting and useful, but the food volume suffered a little by the comparison, which I now realize was unfair. Food is such a huge topic — where does  it begin and end? It is impossible to get the breadth/depth balance on such a huge topic adjusted to everyone’s satisfaction. Although it is a terrific reference, I often found myself wanting more detail. But maybe that’s what the internet is for!

The cheese volume, on the other hand, was a perfect fit for me. Lots of great detail about cheese varieties, processes, cultures, issues, history and so on. Famous cheesemakers are profiled, notable cheese shops reviewed, and cheesy foods (pizza, poutine) analyzed.

There is even room for a bit of fun as the entry for Monty Python makes clear. Yes, you are correct, it is the famous Cheese Shop sketch (see below), which mentions 41 different actual cheese varieties and one fake one (Venezuelan beaver cheese).cheese

What About the Wine?

Browsing both books was fun, but my focus was on wine. Wine has obvious connections to food and cheese — how would the authors and editors approach the subject?  The “wine” entry in the food volume, located between “wild rice” and “winged bean,” was almost shockingly brief. Wine is treated here as an ingredient in cooking, not as food itself or part of a shared cultural experience. How disappointing.

Wine does not even appear in the index, which is intentionally “noncomprehensive” and “highly selective” in my older edition.

Wine enthusiasts will find more to like in the cheese volume, where a very informative  entry on  “wine pairing” is wedged between “Williams, Jesse” (a farmer and cheesemaker who opened the first American cheese factory in Rome, NY in 1851) and “Winnimere” (a raw cow’s milk cheese made by Jasper Hill Creamery in Greensboro Bend, Vermont). “See also Beer Pairing,” we are advised. Good idea.

The cheese volume has a comprehensive index and so it is easy to find information about wine as a component in the cheesemaking process (used to color the cheese, for example, or to wash the rinds of some varieties). Wine also appears in a number of the entries for particular cheese varieties, generally in the form of cheese-wine pairing recommendations. This is very useful, but not all the entry authors find wine pairing to be important. The otherwise comprehensive entry on Stilton, for example, fails to mention its potential pairing with 20-year old Tawny Port. What a pity!

The Wine Perspective

My examination of the food and cheese companion volumes made me curious about how the wine companion deals with culinary connections. A quick glance at the index revealed … that there is no index. I searched the online version of the book that is available to subscribers to Jancis Robinson’s website and found 15 mentions of “cheese.” The entry on wine-food pairing was very good, on a par with the wine pairing entry in the cheese book.

All three of the Oxford Companions are useful and interesting additions to your bookshelf. The wine companion is essential for wine lovers and, having spent some time with it, I think the Oxford Companion to Cheese is a “must-have” volume, too, especially for travelers who want to explore local food, wine and cheese. Don’t leave home without checking out the wine and cheese cultures you will encounter on the road!

But you don’t have to get out of town to enjoy these books. Global markets increasing make a wide world of wine available to us and this is also true of cheese. Upscale supermarkets offer dozens, sometimes hundreds, of cheeses.

The Oxford Companions can help open the door to fuller enjoyment of the wines and cheeses that lie waiting on our doorsteps. Enjoy. (And enjoy The Cheese Shop sketch, too!)

>>><<<