If you’re a fellow wine enthusiast, you may also have read some or all of these, but here are my top recommendations for wine-related reading:
Judgment of Paris – George M. Taber
This is absolutely my favourite wine book. It was recommended to me by the ever-dependable Amazon, after I bought the DVD of “Bottle Shock”. I’m not knocking “Bottle Shock” – it was entertaining and the lovely Alan Rickman was great – but “Judgment of Paris” gives us the true story, exposing the film as a heavily-fictionalised version of real-life events.
The book tells the story leading up to and the fall-out from “the historic 1976 Paris tasting that revolutionized wine”. This was the event organised by Steven Spurrier, where comparable wines from France and California were blind tasted, resulting in overall higher scores for the Californian wines.
What I love about the book is the combination of detailed technical wine-making information (testing for sugar ripeness, pumping over, malolactic fermentation etc) with inspiring human-interest tales of the people behind the wine. In particular, I was gripped by Mike Grgich (Miljenko Grgić)’s vision and quest to make it from his native Croatia to the “paradise” of California. I was moved by his determination and patience to escape poverty and dictatorship and keep edging towards his dream. In my view, his story would make a better film than “Bottle Shock”.
Something else I really like about “Judgment of Paris” is how balanced the writing is. Mr Taber was the only journalist to attend the tasting, so is in the perfect position to give a true and fair account of what happened. A lot of sensationalist and distorted accounts of the event have been written, but Taber tackles the complaints head-on and sets the record straight.
The Widow Clicquot – Tilar J Mazzeo
I think that it was again Amazon who recommended this to me, off the back of my purchase of “Judgment of Paris”. In a similar way to “JoP”, what appealed to me about this book was the combination of technical wine information plus historical interest. My mum isn’t remotely interested in wine (other than drinking it), but she loves historical books, so I lent her this and she enjoyed it.
The books opens against the backdrop of the French Revolution and tells the tale of how Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin became a young widow (la Veuve Clicquot) and revolutionised the Champagne business, inventing remuage along the way.
I think that Ms Mazzeo writes beautifully, but is hampered by the lack of surviving records about her subject. This leads her to speculate endlessly about what Barbe-Nicole may have worn, thought, felt, etc. While I understand the author’s reasons for needing to do this, I did find it a bit off-putting. If the book was a novel, this would have been fine, but I found it a little clunky in a biography. I personally preferred the more factual passages describing how champagne was invented (by the Brits, bien sûr) and made popular (with the support of Napoleon) where there was less need to speculate.
Drops of God – Tadashi Agi (Author) and Shu Okimoto (Illustrator)
Isn’t is wonderful how your love of wine can take you to new and unexpected places? Who would have thought that I would get into manga at the age of 40-something?
Drops of God is a series of manga books about wine described by Decanter as “arguably the most influential wine publication”. I don’t know about influential, but it’s certainly innovative. They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. Given the choice of reading a 1000-word wine review or looking at a picture of Shizuku (the book’s hero) being transported into a field of flowers and berries by a mouthful of Pinot Noir, I know which I find more pleasurable, memorable and therefore educational.
The earlier volumes focus on French wines, although Shizuku’s colleague (referred to as the “faux-talian”) regularly extols the virtues of Italian wines. Volume 5 (in the English language) jumps ahead in the series to focus on Californian and Australian wines, in an attempt to boost sales of the English translations. I hope that this works, or I will have to read the rest of the series in French, as my Japanese is non-existent.
In true manga style, you need to read the book from back to front, left to right. The book’s publishers claim that this will make the reader smarter – bonus!
What is biodynamic wine? – Nicolas Joly
I’m currently ploughing (;-)) through this and finding it fascinating but heavy-going. I’ll post a review once I’ve finished it.
Have you read any of these books, or can you recommend some other wine-related reading? Please leave a comment and let me know. Thanks.