Know your wine? Get these 2 books.

 Wine spines. Photo by Gabriel Manzo.

Wine spines. Photo by Gabriel Manzo.

Wine books. Which ones are worth the investment? In this era when seemingly everyone and their grandmother can write a book, it can be daunting to know what to choose. That choice really depends on your needs and what you are searching for. Some wine books are very technical, focusing on the science, others more poetic, paying tribute to the sensual tonic that we love so much. All can have their place. What if you just want to learn more about wine, plain and simple? The regions, varietals, styles and overall magic? Well then, I have two to offer up in this post. 

The books: 

The Wine Bible (2nd Edition) by Karen MacNeil

&

Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine by Madeline Puckette and Justin Hammack

I am going to pre-empt this post by saying, these two books are very different. Secondly I suggest that you purchase both and keep nearby when sipping. Both are great for reference and occasionally, the internet is out or you go on an unplugged retreat in the mountains and you uncork a vino that brings up so many questions: what is that I smell? where is this from, exactly? what does it remind me of? how would I pair it? And so on.  How will you be able to dig deeper into the roots of this grape without some reference books on hand? You gotta get the books. This post explains why.  

 

The Wine Bible (2nd Edition) by Karen MacNeil

 First and second editions, keeping each other company. 

First and second editions, keeping each other company. 

The Wine Bible, released in September of 2015, is a second edition to a great work that was 10 years in the making. Karen MacNeil researched for her first edition at a time when there really wasn't internet (or not in the way we have access to it now). The first Wine Bible was very well received upon its release in 2001. I still have my signed and dog-eared copy. However, since she offered up that informative tome (over 900 pages!) , so much has changed with wine. More people are drinking it, more regions and innovations have emerged and there is just more to include. Thus she gave us a second edition. Merci beaucoup Madame!

 First edition, 2001   Photo by Gabriel Manzo. 

First edition, 2001

Photo by Gabriel Manzo. 

It is, like its predecessor, voluminous. However it is an approachable read. Karen is a storyteller. She also has a clear passion for her subject. She gives you context for what could be tedious. You can certainly pick it up and read cover to cover, in like maybe 200 sittings, but you don't have to. As she did in the first edition, she has sprinkled in many little sections throughout the chapters, that have their own story. For example you may be reading the chapter on "Mastering Wine" and wander off into the story about the cork business. She beckons you to learn more, dangling little trinkets of trivia, enchanting you for the bigger story. You can easily detour and find your way back. And it really is all on topic. The best topic of all time, if you ask me. Wine brings together art, culture, politics, history, geography, farming, sustainability, science, food and more. Karen reveals and braids together these vantage points, like a satisfying vintage. 

 A Wine Bible for the new era. 

A Wine Bible for the new era. 

 

Karen begins with an orientation of wine. What is it? Where does it come from? How is it made? How should one taste it? How do we pair it with food? Big questions that you will have to read her book to find some possible answers to. She then sinks into the various countries and regions where wine is produced, starting with the country most synonymous with wine, France. Mais oui. She admits at the outset that this book is not exhaustive and some notable areas are absent. But my dears, if you wish to deepen your knowledge, it is a damn good place to start. She also includes a section on wine laws (a developing area in law) and eight different glossaries of wine terms, in different languages. Yeah, that is pretty darn thorough. Get the Wine Bible. If you are interested in wine, it will be one of your go-to references. 

The Empress Desdemona of Champagne (you can call her The Empress), resting atop The Wine Bible. 

 

Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine by Madeline Puckette and Justin Hammack

 Read and drink.   Photo by Gabriel Manzo. 

Read and drink. 

Photo by Gabriel Manzo. 

Now, who is ready for an expertly organized, highly visual, 21st Century wine reference book that reads like an infographic? Me! You also? You don't know what an infographic is? Yes, you do, this is how we learn things these days: discernible data artfully displayed, to be consumed faster than a glass of off-dry riesling on a sweltering summer day.  Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine by Madeline Puckette and Justin Hammack is the tangible off-line companion to their blog of the same name. If you dip your toe into the world of wine blogs, you will know of Wine Folly. These two Seattle based oenophiles have been magnetizing the masses since 2011 with their savvy site. Their book has given us all an easy to navigate quick guide to the most pleasurable beverage on the planet. 

 
 Fleur de lis added for thematic congruence. 

Fleur de lis added for thematic congruence. 

The book has 3 major sections: Fundamentals, Styles of Wine and Wine Regions. The first section is as it sounds, and gives a concise introduction to some wine basics, such as wine characteristics and how to taste it. It then moves into Styles of Wine, classified as sparkling, light to full to aromatic whites and so on, through the reds, into dessert.  Specific varietals have their own 2 page spread each, with colorful flavor wheel renderings, all in a uniform style. The final section of the book gets geographical and takes us to major wine regions of the globe, with precisely labeled maps. I for one, LOVE a good map. They help orient me, like zooming out to reveal how it all connects.  These maps are quite useful in that regard, showing the distance between regions in a given country, which explains the often vast variation in styles and grapes. 

All of the book is in digestible chunks, which is a point of similarity to The Wine Bible. However the style of the Wine Folly book, is much different. There is no personal narrative or moving "stories". This is a nuts and bolts approach, intended to be efficient and helpful. And that it is. You can pick up a wine from Portugal tonight, know very little about it, come home and determine that it is a full-bodied Touriga Nacional from The Douro Valley, smacking of rich black berry flavors and pairing well with cured meats. Voila! Your dinner plans are in the making. That is how this works. The book gets you turned on and tuned into your wine, where it comes from and what it can do for you. It is empowering and fun. And it can lead you to new wine heights that you never dreamed possible, which from what I can gather, is what the authors conceived of. 

Have I convinced you yet? Novice or pro, do yourself a favor and get both books! They also make great gifts. 

 
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