Here’s how this “Best Wine Book” list was made. BookAuthority uses an algorithm to rate the popularity and influence of hundreds of thousands of books in many categories. According to the website:
Every day, our site scans the web for notable books on various topics.
It then collects dozens of different signals about each book (such as public mentions, recommendations, ratings, sentiment and sales history) and uses a proprietary algorithm to rate each book. Only the very best books are featured in BookAuthority’s lists.
To keep our site objective and unbiased, ratings are calculated based purely on data. We do not accept authors’ requests to feature a book, nor do we charge any money to be featured.
There are thousands of wine books available according to Amazon.com, so I guess it is unusual to get the sort of attention that the algorithm looks for. I’m just happy that people read my books and find them useful. Awards are the icing on the cake.
I would like to thank BookAuthority (especially whoever wrote their algorithm) and all the people who made 80 Wines a success. Look for a paperback edition of 80 Wines in a few months and maybe another translated edition, too. Cheers!
(Basketball fans might remember that 22 was Elgin Baylor‘s number — a good omen!)
Războaiele Vinului, the Romanian version of my 2011 book Wine Wars, has been short-listed for the 2019 Gourmand International award for best wine book translation. Here are the books up for this prestigious award.
Austria: Georgischer Wein, Anna Saldadze, Claudia Tancsits (Leopold Stocker)
China: Dictionary for wine lovers, Bernard Pivot (East China Normal University) 9787567575172
France: L’anglais commercial du vin, Laetitia Perraut (Cafe Anglais)
Italy: Viaggio in Anfora, Kato Keiko. Masuko Maika, P. Bellomo (Velier)
Macedonia: Xinómavro, Stravroula Kourakou, Translation Alexandra Doumas (Foinikas)
Netherlands: Beer, Tadeáš Hájek, Translation Lander Meeusen (Createspace)
Portugal: Glossário Ilustrado do Vinho, Jorge Böhm (Dinalivro)
Romania: Războaiele vinului, Mike Veseth (Aser – Vinul.ro)
Russia: Madeira o vinho dos czares, Siiri & José Milhazes
Sweden: Cava, Spain’s Premium Sparkling Wine, Anna Wallner (Grenadine)
The bronze, silver, and gold medalist in this category, along with other winners, will be announced on July 4 at the gala Gourmand Awards ceremony in Macao.
Congratulations to the Romanian team who made this volume possible including especially Cătălin Păduraru, Lucian Marcu, and Radu Rizea. Here is a photo of Cătălin, me, and the world’s largest copy of Războaiele vinului taken in Iasi last fall.
And thanks to Gourmand International for this recognition of my Romanian friends’ efforts. I am grateful to Gourmand International for previious awards including Best Wine Blog (for The Wine Economist in 2015) and Best Wine Writing (for Money, Taste, and Wine in 2016).
The Wine Economist will take a break next week. Sue and I will be in Sardinia where I am speaking at the Porto Cervo Wine & Food Festival.
Sue and I had never visited Romania and there was much I wanted to learn about the country and its wines. Besides, Catalin (along with Lucian Marcu) had somehow managed to publish a Romanian version of my book Wine Wars. So we headed to Iași, Romania’s cultural capital, where this year’s competition was held.
Reservations? I had a few because of my lack of formal training in wine tasting and my rookie juror status, so I asked a few experienced friends for advice. It’s not so hard, one veteran juror told me. You know how to taste wine, just concentrate and focus. Taste them one at a time. A Master of Wine advised me to be generous in general, except when there were clear faults, and then to cut no slack.
Wine by the Numbers
The wine competition was organized according to OIV regulations. We were grouped into three teams or “commissions” of five jurors each, three internationals and two from the home country Romania. We used the “Australian” system, I was told, where we could talk a bit amongst ourselves rather than sitting solo. As in the old days of figure skating scoring, the highest and lowest scores are thrown out for each wine and the three middle ones averaged.
The wines were evaluated on a 100-point scale divided into a number of different categories. The tablet-based OIV software made it easy to focus on thinking about the wine and my friend was right — if you think about one wine and one sensory element at a time the task is difficult, but not overwhelming.
The software gave each juror a report of his or her score for a wine along with the average score. Wines that received an average between 82 and 84.99 points earned a silver medal. 85 to 91.99 point wines were gold. 92 points and over received the Great Gold Medal. This is a pretty tough grading curve, but with many elements evaluated critically and individually, maximum scores are hard to achieve.
My team tasted 50 to 60 wines over the course of about 3 hours each morning for three days in a row. Lunch followed the judging and the wines were revealed, giving us an opportunity to see what labels were inside the closed bags.
60 wines in three hours does not leave much time for chit-chat and if you watch the video above you will notice how serious we all were. Staying focused for so long and moving through the wines so quickly was a challenge.
There were several aspects of the competition that took some time for this rookie to figure out. The wines were assembled by category not region (or country of origin) or grape variety. So a flight of dry white wines might include several different grape varieties and countries or regions of origin. It was therefore important to approach each wine with an open mind because the variation from glass to glass was sometimes dramatic.
Because the software reported both my score for each wine and also the team average, I was initially tempted to see the average as the “right answer” and try to think about what I must have missed if I was far off the mark. There was a certain satisfaction when we all gave a wine exactly the same total score, but I’ll bet we differed in the details.
Eventually I realized that this second-guessing was another rookie mistake since there really isn’t a right answer. Or, rather, it wasn’t my job to try to guess what the other jurors thought, but to provide my own careful judgement. The economists’ motto is degustibus non est disputandum!
Mining Gold and Silver
Sue had the best view of the process. She and an official OIV observer sat apart from the rest of us. They got to taste the wines along with one of the commissions (not mine) and they could see all of the scores come in and follow the dynamics of the tasting. It was interesting, she told me when it was all over, to see how different jurors reacted to particular wines and how the individual scores were forged into gold and silver medals.
My fellow wine economists often criticize wine competitions in general because they make seemingly objective awards on the basis of necessarily subjective and sometimes inconsistent sensory evaluation. The jurors I spoke with were aware of this problem and familiar with the research on the issue, but committed to the project nonetheless, which might account for the serious concentration and focused work ethic they all displayed. I was impressed.
Would I agree to serve on a jury again? It would depend on the circumstances. But I have already started to think about what I would do differently — how I would organize my scoring so that the final number better reflects what I sense in the glass.
Sue and I would like to thank all the wonderful people we met in Iasi. Special thanks to Catalin and Lucian, of course, and to my fellow jurors Diana Lazar, Richard Pfister, Roberto Gaudio, and Carole Cliche. Thanks as well to Prof. Valeriu Cotea, who gently coached me through my rookie experience and to Cristian Ionescu, who kept the technology working efficiently and made life easy for all of us.
Sue took these photos at one of the post-jury luncheons, where the wines were revealed and we could finally see the labels behind our scores.
Deborah Gelisi wiped the tears from her face, took a deep breath, and continued with her presentation on the importance of sustainability for Italian wine producers. It wasn’t an easy thing to do.
Deborah’s audience was in tears, too. Her classmates and teachers at the Scuola Enologica di Conegliano. Her winegrower parents. Even her 12-year old brother, the fearless goalkeeper of his youth soccer team. Over at the head table the city’s mayor was misty, the school’s director was teary, Rai Uno journalist Camilla Nata was a little choked up, and I was a pretty emotional myself. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
Stories about rooms full tearful people don’t usually feature on The Wine Economist, so you probably have some questions about what was going on and how this relates to this column’s optimistic title. I’ll try to answer the questions one by one.
Who is Deborah Gelisi?
Deborah Gelisi is an 18 year old student at the Conegliano Wine School, which is Italy’s oldest enology and viticulture school and, according to our friend Paul Wagner, probably the largest wine school in the world. Founded by Antonio Carpenè in 1876, it provides education and training for young students who have chosen to work in the wine industry. The school has a long list of distinguished alumni including notable Romeo Bragato, who was instrumental in the development of wine industries in Australia and New Zealand in the 19th Century.
Deborah comes from a wine-growing family. She gets up early each day to work at Podere Gelisi Antonio, then takes the train from Pordenone to Conegliano for classes, reversing the commute in the afternoon for more work and, of course, study. I don’t know when she sleeps.
Why Was Everyone Crying? Bad news?
Deborah was being honored as the first recipient of the “Etilia Carpenè Larivera International Scholarship,“ which will provide her with the opportunity to expand and deepen her wine knowledge through international travel and study and jump-start her career in wine.
The scholarship was inaugurated this year to mark the 150th anniversary of the founding of Carpenè Malvolti, one of Italy’s most distinguished wine producers. Its founder, Antonio Carpenè was the inventor of the process of secondary fermentation in autoclaves that gives us Prosecco.
Carpenè Malvolti honors its past in many ways, which you will discover if you spend some time at the new visitor center in Conegliano, but as a family wine business it is all about building for future generations. That’s why the photo above shows Deborah with Rosann Carpenè Larivera, the fifth generation of the famous family, along with her daughter Etilla, the rising sixth generation, for whom the scholarship is named.
What’s the Significance of the Award?
It is good to honor students and to provide valuable educational opportunities, of course, but it is important to see this award in broader context. Deborah’s award was part of a project called Generazione DOCG, which aims to invest in the future of the region through its young people. Everyone was crying (and then celebrating) because this isn’t an ending but a beginning, both for Deborah and for the region.
The next generation of Italian wine producers will face many challenges, as we discussed at the VinoVIP meetings in Forte dei Marmi in June. The industry is fragmented, lacking the strong brands that could build help open markets and build margins. It won’t be easy to make progress given intense competition everywhere.
But there is real hope. Rising wine professionals like Deborah Gelisi and her student colleagues can make a difference in the vineyards, cellars, and markets. If Deborah is an indication, they have the knowledge, drive, determination, and entrepreneurial spirit that will be needed.
And they have the backing of their families, communities, and forward-looking wine firms such as Carpenè Malvolti. With this team supporting and encouraging them, it is easy to see that the future of Italian wine is in good hands.
Congratulations to Deborah Gelisi. Special thanks to Carpenè Malvolti for inviting me to speak at this awards ceremony. It was an honor and a pleasure.
My new book Around the World in Eighty Wineshas received the Gourmand International 2018 award for best U.S. book in the wine and spirits tourism category and will now compete for “Best in the World” with winners from other countries. The global gold, silver, and bronze medals will be announced this May at award ceremonies in Yantai, China.
Here is the list of international champions in the wine and spirits tourism category:
Austria – Kulinarische Tourismus und Weintourismus (Springer)
Canada – Les Paradis de la Biere Blanche (Druide)
China – Compass to the ocean of wine (Zhejiang S/T) 9787534179549
France – Des Vignes et des Hommes (Feret)
Georgia – Georgia, Miquel Hudin (Vinologue)
Germany – Seewein, Wein Kultur am Bodensee (Jan Thorbeke)
Portugal – Vinhos & Petiscos (Caminho das Palavras)
Scotland – I love champagne, David Zyw (Freight Books)
Singapore – Cracking Croatian Wine, Charine Tan, Dr Matthew Horkey
Switzerland – Randos bieres en Suisse Romande, Monika Saxer (Helvetiq)
USA – Around the world in 80 wines, Mike Veseth (Rowman & Littlefield)
I am especially pleased to see that Cracking Croatian Wineby Charine Tan and Dr. Matthew Horkey is also on the list. Sue and I met Charine and Matt at the 2016 UNWTO global wine tourism conference in Tbilisi, Georgia and we like and admire them a lot. Their books are valuable additions to the resources available to wine tourists in particular and wine enthusiasts generally.
I don’t know who will be named the “best in the world,”, but I appreciate this recognition. Good luck to Charine, Matt, and all the other national champions in all the categories.
Cyprus is known for many things: culture (fantastic archaeological sites), cuisine (haloumi, the wonderful grilling cheese), international politics (the ongoing dispute with Turkey over the island itself), and tourism (beautiful beach resorts).
Cypriot wine? Probably not on your radar for reasons I will explain in next week’s column. But that wasn’t always the case. Commandaria, a wonderful sweet wine, was once treasured throughout Europe along with Tokaj, Sauternes, and Vin de Constance. Cyprus Sherry was popular, too, and bulk wine exports once found their way to Russia, the UK, and elsewhere.
Cyprus wine today? Not much seen outside of Cyprus. But that might be changing. Stay tuned.
Pafos: Cultural Capital of Europe
Sue and I came to Cyprus as guests of the Cyprus Tourist Organization to attend the 10th Cyprus Wine Competition in Pafos and spend several days exploring wineries and wine tourism opportunities. This is the first of several columns that report what we learned from this fascinating experience.
Our first day in Pafos was spent recovering from jet lag and taking in a few sights. It was a short walk from the luxurious Almyra Hotel where we stayed to the archaeological park (a Unesco World Heritage site!) where we saw beautiful mosaics featuring wine-swilling Dionysus (how appropriate) and saw the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra was setting up for a lunch concert.
Wait! The Berlin Philharmonic? Yes. Pafos is a European Capital of Culture for 2017 and there is a fantastic line-up of events planned for the year. The concert was sold out, so we couldn’t stay, but we could hear the music quite clearly from the balcony of our hotel room. A sweet introduction to Cyprus!
Cyprus Wine Industry Symposium
It was back to business the next day. I gave a keynote speech to a Cypriot wine industry symposium that also included speakers from OIV, local university research projects, and the head of the wine competition. Panos Kakaviatos, who was part of our group of international visitors, has written about this event and the Cyprus wine industry more generally on his blog Wine-Chronicles.com — you should check it out.
I spoke about the lessons that can be learned, both positive and negative, from successful wine regions and several of the points I made seemed to strike a chord with the Cypriot winemakers. Here’s a quick summary of the key take-aways.
Competition versus Cooperation
Wine is a very competitive business, but one lesson I have learned is that successful wine regions find ways to set aside retail competition to a certain degree in order to cooperate to build reputation and the regional “brand.” Cooperation is the key, both among wineries and also with local and regional tourist and government authorities. There really is strength in numbers.
This simple point seemed to resonate with many people in the room who commented about it later that day and when I talked with them later in the week, too. Everyone seemed to believe that Cyprus wine players need to learn to work together more effectively and to build the public-private partnerships that are so useful in other wine regions.
I sensed that there was pent-up frustration about the lack of teamwork. My goal in giving talks like this one isn’t so much to tell people what to do as to give them something to think about and if my remarks stimulate some thought and eventual action in this regard I will be very satisfied.
Wine Tourism Leverage
Since we were visiting as guests of the tourist authority, I spent a little time talking about how important wine tourism can be, not just to sell wine, but to create brand ambassadors who will carry the story of your winery and region with them when they go home. Cyprus has the raw materials — excellent wineries and world-class tourism infrastructure. Leveraging these resources through wine tourism seems like the logical next step.
But it will take work (and teamwork) to accomplish this. One winemakers told me frankly that no wine tourists came to his winery. Plenty of tourists visited — they stopped by, tasted wines, and made purchases. Indeed, his winery could not survive without the tourist trade.
But they are not wine tourists, he said. The haven’t come to this part of Cyprus because of the wine. Creating real wine tourism, where wine drives the agenda, that’s a challenge.
One Wine to Rule Them All?
Readers of this column already know the I am skeptical of the idea that every region needs to have a “signature variety” of wine. Napa has Cab, Argentina has Malbec, New Zealand has Sauvignon Blanc. We need to put all our chips on one grape variety to power our wine industry, too. That’s the conventional logic and I have my doubts.
As it happens, Cyprus is having its own “signature” wine discussion just now and so my comments got some attention. Commandaria (a.k.a. “the world’s oldest wine”), we were told, was the key to raising the international profile of Cypriot wine. The Cyprus wine people we talked with were convinced about this. Commandaria will lead the charge and the other wines will gallop behind to victory.
The “internationals” in our little group were unconvinced by this strategy and hopefully our comments were helpful even if we really didn’t change anyone’s mind. Commandaria is a sweet wine, we said, and sweet wines are a small category and a tough sell around the world today. Port struggles to get traction. Commandaria faces a steep climb.
The thing about Commandaria is that it is unique to Cyprus and has a distinguished history. But I am not sure that the wine is well known outside of traditional markets and so selling it requires expensive consumer education resources, which might more effectively deployed elsewhere.
It might be better to have another wine lead the way, one that fits into a more popular market segment. Xinistera, for example, a delightful dry white wine with instant appeal. More about this is future columns.
Everyone Loves a Winner
Finally, I noted that many wine regions use wine rankings and competition results to promote their wines. Consumers are drawn to lists and ratings like the Classification of 1855, for example, or the Wine Spectator Top 100. I suggested that Cyprus had some work to do to get the word out about its finest wines in this way.
The wine competition we came to Pafos to attend, for example, seemed to be a Cypriot secret. It was difficult to find any mention of it on the internet. And the results from previous years were nearly impossible to find. A missed opportunity to cultivate interest by promoting the best that Cyprus has to offer.
It didn’t take long for this message to sink in and for action to be taken, which is great. I am hoping that the 2018 wine competition will more thoroughly publicized and that the wineries will be able to leverage the results more forcefully, both in domestic and export markets.
In the meantime, the 2017 Decanter World Wine Awards results have been released and 78 Cypriot wines received recognition. That’s a great opportunity for the Cyprus wine industry to blow its own horn and for consumers to begin to learn about the excellent wines made on this beautiful island.
Greetings and thanks to everyone we met on our brief visit to Cyprus. Special thanks to Maria, Panos, Per, Jean-Claude, Dimetri, Georgios, Patrick, Pambos, Mary, and Nektarios. (More thanks to come in future columns.) Come back next week for an analysis of the state of the Cypriot wine industry today and the unexpected history behind it.
I am out of the office for a week or two on jury duty and the experience has unexpectedly reminded me of some important things about the world of wine.
A Jury Duty Paradox
I didn’t hesitate for a moment when the jury service summons arrived. I can find the time right now and besides it is a civic duty. I am not an expert on the law but that doesn’t seem to matter.
The idea of a jury trial is that the experts make their case and try to convince ordinary citizens like me that they are right. Some cases are decided by experts — the Supreme Court, for example, is both judge and jury for the cases that come before it — but most justice starts (and often ends) with the judgment of a jury of peers.
I think it is a bit of a paradox, however, that I accepted the jury duty quickly but, about the same time, I declined an invitation to be on a different kind of jury — a jury of judges for an important regional wine competition. Thanks, I replied, but I am a self-taught taster and inexperienced with these particular wines. This is a job for experts, not someone like me.
Each of these decisions makes sense on its own, but they are a bit puzzling when you put them together.Objectively, I might actually be better qualified to judge wine than a legal case. But for some reason I applied different standards in the two situations.
Why do I seem to believe that specialized knowledge is needed to serve on a large wine judging panel (where the stakes are actually very low), but expertise is not required for duty on a civil or criminal court jury where with potentially significant consequences? Seems like I’ve got my priorities backwards, doesn’t it?
The Jury of Public Opinion
But then I realized that I was missing something. Wine is actually a lot like the judicial system. While there are a few wine market cases that are decided mainly by the “Supreme Court” of experts (here I am thinking of the role of big-name critics in the enprimeur market, for example), it is really the supply and demand “jury of peers” who render most verdicts.
At the end of the day for most wines, it is what the buying public thinks that matters more than the experts’ judgement. Is this a good thing? It is easy to point out that citizen juries have some disadvantages compared with expert panels, but there are advantages, too. It is important that arguments are persuasive enough to sway unbiased citizen peers. It sort of keeps us all honest, if you know what I mean.
In the same way, it is a good thing that critics don’t always reign supreme when it comes to wine markets and that most of us take their expert wine advice with a grain of salt. Wine’s most important job is to give us pleasure, as Jancis Robinson has said, and we amateurs are ourselves the best judge of that.
(Did you notice the sneaky way I used Jancis Robinson as a kind of “expert witness” in the last paragraph?) The Wine Economist will take a brief recess until my court duties are complete. In the meantime, here’s a “judge and jury” scene from Eric Idle’s fun London Mikado production. Enjoy!
My University of Puget Sound colleague Prof. Pierre Ly (shown above) accepted the award on my behalf, speaking in both English and Chinese. Pierre is in China lecturing and gathering material for the book that he and Cynthia Howson are writing about the Chinese wine industry.
Congratulations and a personal shout-out to Beate Joubert. Her book Taste of the Little Karoo won the “best in the world” bronze medal in the Local Cuisine cookbook category. We had a delicious lunch at Beate’s restaurant at the Joubert-Tradauw winery in Barrydale when we visited South Africa. Her husband Meyer and son Andreas are featured in the final chapter of Money, Taste, and Wine.
Thanks to Gourmand International for this honor. Thanks to my publisher Rowman & Littlefied and my editor Susan McEachern their valuable contributions to Money, Taste, and Wine. Special thanks to Pierre Ly for teaching me so much and representing me at the awards ceremony and to Édouard Cointreau for his encouragement and support.
The award comes from Gourmand International and will be presented in Yantai, China on May 28, 2016 at the annual awards ceremony. As the U.S. winner, Money, Taste, and Wine is a finalist for the “Best in the World” award in this category, the winner of which will be revealed in Yantai. Very exciting!
The other national finalists and winners in other categories of the awards will be posted on Gourmand International website in February.
Sincere thanks to the Gourmand International judges for this honor. Here is a video about the 2015 awards in Yantai. Enjoy!
It takes a village to raise a child, they say, but it takes a good deal more than just a village to make a regional wine industry a success. That was one of the take-away messages of the Washington State Wine Awards, although it might not have been the most important one. You be the judge!
And the Winner Is …
The Washington State Wine Awards (organized by the Washington State Wine Commission) isn’t a wine competition, as you might expect from the name. There’s no Oscar-like presentation for “Best Bordeaux-style Blend” or “Outstanding Un-oaked Chardonnay under $12.”
No wines receive awards at all! Instead, it is an opportunity for the wine industry in this state to recognize the villages of people who help get the wines into consumer hands.
This event used to be focused on restaurants and their wine programs, but this year they wisely decided to open it up and recognize people throughout the retail, wholesale, tourism and hospitality industries, giving them credit for what they do to support the cause of Washington wines.
About 60 wineries set up tasting tables for the event — what’s a wine award without wine? — and it was fun to sample wines while talking to such a broad representation of the local “trade.”
I was lucky to run into food writer and cookbook author Cynthia Nims and I asked her what her take-away was from the event. She thought for a moment and then her eyes lit up — surprise!
Cynthia knows knows Washington wines very well, but she said that could always find something new, something surprising at events like this — a sign of the industry’s dynamism. I guess that’s what makes wine (and food, too) so eternally fascinating. We shared our new discoveries and surprises and returned to the tasting.
Hitting the Price Point
The third interesting reaction came from my guests at the event, colleagues Pierre Ly and Cynthia Howson, who frequently assist me with Wine Economist research projects. They grabbed the tasting menu and two glasses and headed out to do an experiment of their own design.
Taking turns, they would taste the wines “blind” — blind in a limited economic sense of not knowing how much they might cost in this case, since it was obviously impossible not to know something about the wines in this atmosphere.
They’d taste, think it over, and then give a “is it worth it?” score — how much would they be willing to pay for this wine?
It’s an interesting idea and challenging, I think, given that the wineries were pouring wines that ranged from $9 (Silver Lake Winery) to $120 (Côte Bonneville) per bottle!
Village, Value and Surprise
Their conclusion? Well obviously there were a few wines that cost far more than they would or could pay. But on the whole they found the wines to be excellent values, with prices falling well within their clearly subjective “I’d buy that” range.
And, interestingly, they reported several wines that they’d now be willing to buy that are well outside their usual comfort zone — they never would have considered them without tasting them first.
The village, the value and the ability to surprise and delight. All of this reflects well on Washington wine today and bodes well for its future, too!
Partial list of Washington State Wine Awards
Restaurant of the Year Visconti’s Italian Restaurant
Sommelier of the Year Thomas Price, Metropolitan Grill
Retailer of the Year Metropolitan Market
Walter Clore Honorarium Doug Charles, Compass Wines
Independent Restaurant of the Year Copperleaf Restaurant at the Cedarbrook Lodge
Best Event Featuring Washington Wine Washington Wine Challenge, Urbane
Best Restaurant Group MacKay Restaurant Group
Independent Retailer of the Year Wine World & Spirits
Retailer Chain of the Year Yoke’s Fresh Market
Retailer Steward of the Year Doug King, Metropolitan Market
Tourism Champion of the Year Seattle’s Convention and Visitors Bureau
Tourism Concierge of the Year Anne Peavey, Seattle’s Convention and Visitor Bureau
Hotel of the Year Hotel Vintage Park
Distributor of the Year Young’s Market Company
Salesperson of the Year Kris Patten, Young’s Market Company
Images: This year’s beautiful grand award (top), Cynthia Nims (center) and Pierre and Cynthia (photo from a different tasting).