October 24, 2017
By Mike Veseth
I 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
The 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.