What I’m reading
A few new books to recommend for summer reading before summer ends.
Divine Vintage: Following the Wine Trail From Genesis to the Modern Age [Joel Butler and Randall Heskett] is, as its title states, an encyclopedic narrative of the story of wine from its misty origins at the dawn of time. The authors trace wine’s appearance on the human scene from pre-Biblical days, basing their history on archeological and other physical evidence, and then turn to Biblical exegesis to explain the Noah story of the planting of the vine, followed by wine’s steady penetration of Jewish culture. Then they trace wine’s path through ancient Greek and Roman societies, and end with an amusing chapter: Seriously, What Wine Would Jesus Drink? [You'll have to read it to find out.] It’s a good book, a little dry, but packed with scholarly information. Joel Butler is one of the first two Masters of Wine in the U.S., and an old friend of mine. Randall Heskett is a Ph.D biblical scholar and president of Boulder University. Read their book for a solid background on wine’s role as nurturer of the culture.
Pairing with the Masters: A Definitive Guide to Food & Wine [Ken Arnone and Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan]. I can hear you thinking, “Oh, no, not another wine and food cookbook!” Well, yes…and no. It’s laden with recipes that are more conventional than exciting (tandoori chicken, cheese ravioli, beef bourgignon); if your library resembles mine, you probably have a dozen cookbooks with the same recipes. But what makes Pairing fun and useful is its treatment of wine. The authors recommend one wine for each dish [moderately priced and relatively easy to find), but they devote considerable energy to explaining just why that particular wine works so well, so that if you can’t find it, you have enough information to substitute something similar. For example, they recommend a Cantravelli Taurasi Riserva for grilled lamb chops with mint emulsion. I might not have the time to look all over town for this Italian Aglianico, but reading that the chops want a wine that’s “full-bodied, dark fruit (blackberry), earthy, grilled meat flavor, gripping tannin, slightly rustic,” I might choose a dry, cool-climate California Syrah. Surely that wouldn’t lead to disaster?
The authors also do something I’ve never seen before: they pair each dish with several wines that didn’t work, and explain where things went south. With the lamb chops, Washington Merlot and California Chardonnay are no-no’s because they clashed in some way with the food. The Chardonnay, they write, worked well on several layers with the lamb, but ultimately “the dish and the wine end up canceling each other out.” That’s an interesting take on wine and food pairing. Ken Arnone, by the way, is a Certified Master Chef (whatever that is), while Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan is a Master of Wine.
I’ll mention also Doug Shafer’s new reflection on the story of Shafer Vineyards, A Vineyard in Napa. Some great personal histories here of his Dad, John Shafer, himself and the inimitable Elias Fernandez, everybody’s favorite winemaker (I gave him and Doug a chapter in my second book, New Classic Winemakers of California). And, when I have a chance, I’ll try Amarone: The Making of an Italian Wine Phenomenon, just out from The Wine Appreciation Guild.
Never stop reading! (And I don’t mean tweets.)