5 Books On Wine To Deepen Your Knowledge
Reading and wine are two of life’s greatest pleasures. As we find ourselves on the brink of what looks like a third wave of the pandemic here in Hong Kong, I’ve found the best antidote to severe disappointment has been to stock up my Kindle with wine tomes, order takeout from one of the many gourmet options that have recently cropped up, pop a cork and envision myself worlds away, ambling among verdant canopies on some distant hillside. And for anyone who’s always wanted to deepen their understanding of this endlessly fascinating subject, here’s your big opportunity! A couple of titles to get you started:
For the Wine Newbie
The 24-Hour Wine Expert, Jancis Robinson MW
From Master of Wine and lauded wine critic Jancis Robinson, this doesn’t quite do what it says on the tin (I’m loathe to disappoint, but expertise in a bottomless pit of a subject like wine just isn’t possible in 24 hours or, frankly, 24 months), but it will certainly make you feel much more comfortable navigating a wine shelf or list. It will also give you the tools to inform yourself further if you so choose. Though interspersed with quick tips and delightful illustrations, the body of the text is written with Jancis’ Oxford English polish and reading it is much like having a long chat with Grande Dame of wine herself.
For the Regular Wine Drinker
Wine Folly: Magnum Edition
For the polar opposite vibe from Jancis’ book, consider this vibrant, chunky tome from Seattleite Madeline Puckette, a graphic designer turned wine blogger whose Wine Folly is among the most successful wine sites worldwide. Dense with information far beyond the basic level, this is arguably more of a reference tool than a cosy read. However, because it’s chocablock with helpful info graphics and maps, even relative newcomers will find its tone and presentation approachable for selective reading. Best of all, it contains several pages explaining in clear, jargon-free language how to taste wine and develop your own palate.
The Juice: Vinous Veritas, Jay McInerny
For the reader who wants to learn without trying, this collection of essays from the man behind novels like Bright Lights, Big City gets my vote. Introducing wine world personalities like Becky Wasserman, Aleš Kristančič and Yves Cuilleron with such casual deftness that you feel you’ve been out for a beer (or, I suppose, a glass of wine) with them, the essays are also surreptitiously packed with wine history, technology and culture. Unmistakably American in character, the tone is forthright, jocular and unpretentious with titles like “Pop pop fizz fizz” for an essay on champagne (a reference to an Alka Seltzer commercial I only know of from my Baby Boomer father). Fun will be had by all.
For the Wine Geek
The New California Wine, Jon Bonné
Though I now look askance at those sadly all too common individuals who automatically dismiss anything Californian as “overblown oak bombs,” I confess I was only too recently among their ranks. My excuse is that here in Asia we don’t get that many nuanced, site-expressive wines coming out of “New California” and I simply hadn’t tried enough. It didn’t help that every new Californian pinot noir region claimed theirs was truly “Burgundian” (even at close to 15% alcohol) until I finally stopped even trying. Bonné understands us because he comes from exactly the same place, having grown up on a diet of European wines and only later growing to love the wines he discovered upon moving to California in 2006. Bonné knows exactly what he’s talking about; seeking out the wines he recommends will change your view of California forever and your world will be a richer place for it.
Making Sense of Burgundy, Matt Kramer
To explain my recommendation of a 30 year-old book unavailable on Kindle, let me share its backstory. I had the good fortune to spend about a week in Matt Kramer’s company in early 2019, having long been a fan from his Wine Spectator days. He explained that when he was penning this book the concept of “terroir,” since enshrined in wine world doctrine, was widely considered fanciful mumbo jumbo except among the Burgundians themselves. Matt believed in it fervently, and does to this day, and the book is his ode to terroir expression and the people who shepherd it into being. His writing is passionate, philosophical and rich with the cultural interweaving that make wine a subject worth reading or writing about.