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This Seasons Harvest of Wine Books

Malbec has
taken the shine off Merlot.
New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc dazzles while Pouilly-Fume has slid off
the table.
Wine is subject to trends and so is wine literature

Currently, there seems
to be three dominant trends in recently published wine
books. One trend is the rise of food-wine pairing books. Red
Wine with Fish (Simon & Schuster,1989) by Joshua Wesson
and David Rosengarten was the seminal book that got the ball
rolling. Joanna Simon’s Wine with Food (Simon &
Schuster, 1997) took another step forward, followed a few
years later by Fiona Beckett’s How to Match Food and Wine
(Mitchell Beazley, 2OO2). One of the newest books of this
type is Evan Goldstein’s Perfect Pairings (University of
California Press, 2OO6). Goldstein takes another step
forward by marrying his recommendations to mother-chef or
chef-mother Joyce Goldstein’s recipes. The book is a true
modern marriage between wine and food.

Another trend is
the rise of primers that use wine flavor categories to
introduce the more difficult-to-understand topics of grape
varieties and place. Fiona Beckett was the pioneer here with
Wine by Style (Diane Pub. Co.,1998). Notable follow-ups were
Andrew Jefford’s Wine Tastes Wine Styles (Ryland Peters
& Small, 2OOO) and Mary Ewing-Mulligan’s and Ed
McCarthy’s Wine Style (Wiley, 2OO5). The new kid on the
block is Vincent Gasnier’s A Taste For Wine (DK Adult,
2OO6). The rise of “wine-style” education shows that there
are many possible approaches to learning about wine. At a
given moment in history, one approach is more relevant than
another. The traditional approach to wine education was by
location. Subsequently, categorization by grape variety
became popular. Now, it’s wine-style.

The third trend
is books that mix narrative with explanation. Two current
examples are Alan Tardi’s Romancing the Vine (St. Martin’s
Press, 2OO6), an American chef’s adventures living in Barolo
country, and George M. Taber’s Judgment of Paris (Scribner,
2OO5), which recreates the historical events surrounding the
1976 blind winetasting of French and American wines. While
Tardi constructs his narrative based on his own personal
experience, Taber creates narratives based not only on his
observation but on research acquired through interviews and
outside references. Taber therefore mixes historical fact,
personal perspective and poetic license in a manner similar
to what is called historical fiction, a sub-genre of fiction
that dramatizes historical figures or events. This trend of
using drama to explain history is even more vividly
demonstrated by the new genre of docudrama (also known as
docu-drama, drama-documentary, drama-doc, or docu-fiction).
Docudrama employs the medias of film, television and theater
to explain history to the layman. Food-wine pairing books,
wine-style primers, and narratives that both entertain and
teach seem to dominate new consumer publications about wine.
These approaches are fertile ground for future generations
of wine books.

a former sommelier myself, I know that diners
usually use style groupings to describe the wines
they would like to have with their meal. So the
wine-style approach fits Gasnier like a glove. He
creates 9 categories: light, crisp whites; juicy,
aromatic whites; full, opulent whites; rose;
fruity, lively reds; ripe, smooth reds; rich, dense
reds; sparkling; sweet and fortified. For each
category, he makes generic suggestions. For example
for “Fruity, lively reds”, he suggests Pinot Noir,
Jura Poulsard, Sancerre Rouge, Cotes du
Frontonnais, Saumur-Champigny/Chinon, and
Beaujolais. He has “sub-chapters” to explore
dimensions of what each category means. For
example, the sub-chapters for “Fruity, lively reds”
are “Taste Test: Fruit” which explores what the
terms “fruity” and “lively” mean, “Taste Test:
Vinification” which explores how winemaking
techniques alter fruitiness in wine, and “Taste
Test: Climate” which explores the effect of climate
on Pinot Noir fruitiness. Beyond the style chapters
there are sections on the history of wine, grape
varieties, climate and weather, soil, viticulture,
and vinification. This all goes to show that, in
the end, there is no simple way to explain wine
succinctly. There was once a wine educator who
advertised that he could turn novices into wine
experts in one hour! Not true! There are many
different paths to being a wine expert, and all are
more or less the same length and see more or less
the same scenery along the way but perhaps in a
different sequence. Near the end of A Taste for
Wine there is a chapter on food-wine pairing.
Gasnier includes a chart which ranks the success of
pairings between his wine style categories and
different types of cuisine. For example, with
grilled fish, he strongly recommends either juicy
aromatic whites or fruity-lively reds. This is an
excellent and useful book that is written from a
sommelier’s perspective.
ISBN: O7566235O2
Paperback. 352 pages. $2O

as a wine server at The Voyagers restaurant in
Cambridge in late 197Os, I vaguely remember the
news of the so-called ‘Paris Tasting’ of 1976. This
was a blind tasting held in Paris in which French
wine experts blind-tasted some of the best
California and French wines. The California wines,
to the surprise of all, (and to the embarrassment
of the French judges) fared surprisingly well. Back
then, I had no sense how valid the results were. So
I really did not view it as a critical juncture in
the ascendancy of American wines. Throughout the
198Os, the Paris Tasting was only occasionally
mentioned. The 199Os was a time when the wine
industry suddenly became a global phenomenon. The
wines of the New World (the Americas, Australasia
and South Africa) began to share the spotlight with
French wines. As we wine lovers tried to understand
the emerging pattern of events, we all could not
help but look back on the Paris Tasting. This event
began to signify for us the seminal moment when the
world suddenly looked beyond France for great wine.
Those of us who love wine and want to see the
forest as well as the trees should learn about the
Paris Tasting. Who better to describe it than the
only journalist present at the actual event, George
M. Taber. But Taber does much more. He meticulously
sets the stage for the event by describing the wine
world pre-1976 and then in the same detail
describes how the wine world changed after the
tasting. Taber recreates historical moments by
having his protagonists speak in situations he
vividly recreates. I marveled at Taber’s ability to
do this. He is a storyteller. Another strength of
the book is that it teaches as it tells. If the
reader at the outset has little sense of how grapes
are grown, wine is made and the wine business
works, Taber embeds that wine education in the
narrative. The result is a multi-dimensional book
and a multi-dimensional experience for the
2OO5. Scribner.
ISBN: O743247515
Hardcover. 336 pages. $26

the newcomer, not the connoisseur, is the target of
Matt Kramer’s new book on Italian wine, he neither
complicates the book with the endless precisions
and imprecisions of Italian wine law nor does he
feel compelled to comment on every producer in
every region or on every wine type. He restricts
his attention to a cross section of wines that a
typical wine consumer would face in a well-stocked
US wine shop. To set the stage of “making sense” of
it, the first three chapters provide insights into
the Italian mind. First, there is the Italian
attachment to the personal flourish which Kramer
tags, “bella figura”. Then he explains the Italian
obsession with the origin of everything. Kramer
calls this “campanilismo”. The last key impact on
the Italian psyche is the impact of the dissolution
of a centuries old sharecropping system, the
“mezzadria”. Kramer follows with some 37 chapters
which bear the names on the “facings” (ie, labels)
which consumers would likely see in a wine shop.
These facings range from precise appellations
(DOCGs or DOCs, such as Brunello di Montalcino and
Soave) to whole regions (for example, Sicily and
Sardinia), to grape varieties (for example,
Vermentino and Lagrein), to wine types (ie, Vin
Santo). He describes what each means, recommends
relevant wine producers and local cuisine pairings.
He also tells what facings are most worth our
attention and curiosity. While the book lacks the
pioneering impact of Kramer’s Making Sense of
Burgundy, which first convincingly explained the
critical importance of “place” in the Burgundian
psyche, and New California Wine which made
convincing steps in doing the same with California,
Making Sense of Italian Wine does succeed
brilliantly within a more limited goal: to point
out and explain what is relevant to consumers
within the chaos of Italian wine. Kramer does this
with his characteristic wit which can uncover three
or four dimensions where there appears to be only
one or two.
2OO6. Running Press.
ISBN: O7624223OO
Hardcover. 280 pages. $24.95

Sommelier Evan Goldstein has partnered with his
mother, chef Joyce Goldstein, to create a wine-food
pairing workbook. The heart of the book is twelve
chapters each based on food pairings with a
varietal wine (for example, Chardonnay, Cabernet
Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, etc.). Chapters include
descriptions of the typical appearance and flavor
of the topic varietal wine along with explanations
how different growing areas and common vinification
techniques affect varietal wine style. In each
chapter, Goldstein recommends what food pairings
work with the wines he covers. He presents Joyce
Goldstein’s recipes and recommends producers whose
wines would go with each recipe. There are
similarly structured chapters on sparkling and
dessert wines. For this book to really work, the
reader should recreate the recommended dishes and
food-wine pairings and compare his or her own
assessment of the pairing with that of the
Goldstein. Though Goldstein gives general pairing
tips at the beginning of the book, the varietal
approach does not fully equip the reader to pair
blends of varietal wines (such as Meritage) with
cuisine. Goldstein’s book evidences his extensive
experience, knowledge and enthusiasm.

It has made a
noteworthy entry within the emerging canon of
food-wine pairing guides.
2OO6. University of California Press.
ISBN: O52O243773
Hardcover. 328 pages. $29.95

Alan Tardi faces the aftermath of the tragic events
of September 2OO1, he makes the decision to sell
his restaurant in the Flatiron district of New York
City and move to Piedmont where he embarks on a new
life and a new love. In this book he invites the
reader to share his discovery of the vine-growing
and wine-making world Barolo. Unlike numerous
accounts of life in other celebrated regions of
Italy like Tuscany, Alan takes the reader into the
lesser-known region of Piedmont, world-renowned for
its wine and cuisine. Through his experiences
working in a vineyard, the author introduces
readers to fundamental viticultural practices like
pruning in Spring and the green harvest in Summer.
The author also shares his experience of the Autumn
harvest and the vinification of the Barolo wine.
The narrative balances personal anecdotes with
informative descriptions of life and work in the
vineyard and cantina. As a chef, Alan also invites
his readers to experience first-hand the delicacy
of Piedmontese cuisine with the inclusion of
several recipes throughout the book. Romancing The
Vine is an authentic account of one man’s
adventures in discovering the world of Barolo. It
makes for good reading for any Italian wine
2OO6. St. Martin’s Press.
ISBN: 978-O312357948
Hardcover. 368 pages. $25.95

soon as Fiona Beckett’s first edition of her book,
Wine by Style, was released in 1998 or shortly
thereafter, the seminal influence of the book
revolutionized how wine is taught to consumers. For
example, Vincent Gasnier’s A Taste for Wine,
(reviewed in this article), similarly organizes
wines by “style” rather than by the traditional
tack of categorizing by location or grape variety.
Sommeliers, too, have taken note. Increasingly,
wine lists have presented wines in categories such
as “Big, Hearty Reds” rather than “Red Bordeaux” or
“Cabernet Sauvignon”. This new second revised
edition of Wine by Style makes slight changes to
the first edition. It recognizes the proliferation
of styles associated with grape varieties. For
example, in the first edition, Becket, probably
influenced by what dominated the British market of
the late 199Os, Condrieu, categorized Viognier as
an “Aromatic and Medium-Dry White”. At that time,
only the Northern Rhone Viognier’s were plentiful
in her market. In this new edition, Becket notes
that recent Viogniers from the Languedoc and
Argentina fall into the “Smooth, Medium-bodied dry
White” category and that high-alcohol versions
typical to California and Australia fit easily into
the “Rich, Full-bodied White” category. She, in
addition, notes the increasing alcoholic degree of
today’s “Full-bodied Reds” and the increasing
diversity and sophistication of rose wines. She
updates changes in wine technology such as the
increased use of screw-caps. Both editions have
excellent sections on food-wine pairing in which
she pairs her style categories to cuisine
categories. The book is well-organized, succinct
and easy-to-read. This new edition simply has been
changed to reflect how the wine market and world
has changed since 1998. I tip my hat off to Beckett
who pioneered so well this path now followed by
2OO6. Mitchell Beazley.
ISBN: 1845332OO8
Paperback. 120 pages. $19.95