2 Book Reviews
Every five or ten years a book like this must come out in order to fill a gap publishers feel is important. After all, new generations of wine lovers arise who want something just like this. It’s handsomely prepared, beautifully photographed, with awesome maps of the kind Bob Thompson and Hugh Johnson pioneered. These are coffee table books that look and feel and actually are expensive.
The book is “American Wine,” authored by Jancis Robinson and Linda Murphy (University of Caifornia Press, $50). I wish I could report that it is better than it is. I suspect Murphy did the heavy lifting, with MW Robinson lending her more glamorous, but perhaps rather over-exposed, name.
There is very little news here. We get the basics of various regions—Lake County, Chalk Hill—but almost nothing beyond the basics. There are no new interpretations, no innovative takes on the conventional wisdom, just repetitions of what we’ve long known. One searches in vain to be surprised, or stunned, or even to disagree; but the book has a blandness that makes it conventionally vanilla. The authors seem content to trot out the same old names, and I have to wonder (I’m just raising the question, not making any allegations) how the wineries whose labels are displayed in sidebars were chosen. Product placement ads?
For newcomers, “American Wines” is an acceptable place to start. It’ll get you into second gear. But if you’re looking for groundbreaking information, something to take your knowledge to the next level, give it a pass.
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I first knew Mike DeSimone and Jeff Jenssen as The Wine Guys when they began writing for Wine Enthusiast. They now are the World Wine Guys, thanks, I suppose, to their evolving interests, as expressed by their fine new book, “Wines of the Southern Hemisphere” (Sterling Epicure, $25). It’s hardcover, and quite lengthy—580 pages, compared to 278 for the Murphy-Robinson collaboration.
Michel Rolland wrote the Foreward (good catch, guys!), and has it right when he calls the book “a wonderful idea [because] Nobody has ever done this before.” I’ll take him at his word: I certainly know of no other book on South America, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Anytime a duo of authors can come up with something new in the somewhat predictable field of wine books, they deserve kudos.
The book certainly feels well researched. In structure, it’s conventional: each country begins with a little intro, then a section on major grape varieties, a breakdown of official regions, and then a long paragraph or two on individual wineries. There also are amusing and informational Q&As with winemakers, as well as the occasional recipe. The maps could be better; I wish they were as sumptuous as the ones in “American Wines.” But then, the book would cost twice as much.
If you, like me, are under-educated about these countries, “Wines of the Southern Hemisphere” is the perfect place to learn the ABCs.
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The sad fact about wine books these days is that, more and more, would-be authors have limited choices. So many have been written, with such little originality. Production values aren’t so important: creativity is, not to mention great writing. Are there any new books that you think deserve attention?