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What we’ve been reading this summer



The new wine books have been piling in all summer long. I’ve finally been able to get a handle on them, so here are my mini-reviews.

Hugh Johnson’s 2014 Pocket Wine Book, $18. Now in its 39th edition [!!!], this handy little guide–the “pocket” means it will fit into the back pocket of your blue jeans–has been educating wine lovers since 1977. I still have my original ’77 edition. It was a book I loved and treasured. The 2014 is easily twice its size, and probably won’t fit into anyone’s back pocket anymore. But it will be a good friend to a new generation of wine lovers.

The Book: Why the First Books of the Bible Were Written and Who They Were Written For, $17.95 soft cover. Michigander Allen Wright brings an academician’s eye to this easy-breezy account. I don’t think there’s much new here, but if you’re a history and/or religion buff, it makes for pleasant reading.

The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle, and Heart Built America’s #1 Wine Brand, $15.95. Barefoot founders Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey reminisce about their little startup company that went on to become a powerhouse brand and was subsequently acquired by E&J Gallo. The book will appeal to brand-builders, marketers and P.R. types more than it will to the average wine buff.

Extreme Wine: Searching the World for the Best, the Worst, the Outrageously Cheap, the Insanely Overpriced, and the Undiscovered, $24.95. Economist Wine Veseth is well known in the wine blog world for his interesting, if sometimes quirky, analyses of wine and economics. This is his personal take, covering everything from celebrity wines and critter wines to Antinori.

Postmodern Winemaking: Rethinking the Modern Science of an Ancient Craft, $?. Clark Smith is a winemaker, writer and academic. His hard cover book is a good read, filled with technical minutiae on the buzziest topics, including micro-oxygenation, flavanols, soil profiles, reverse osmosis and a few well-timed digs at “bullshit” in marketing.

Sonoma Wine and the Story of Buena Vista, $34.95. Napa wine historian Charles L. Sullivan wrote this fascinating account of the rise of California’s oldest winery (now owned by Jean-Charles Boisset) and its flamboyant founder, the Hungarian “Count,” Agoston Haraszthy. The book is filled with fascinating tidbits spanning the period 1783 to today.

Wine Marketing Online: How to use the newest tools of marketing to boost profits and build brands, $29.95. New Zealander Bruce McGechan is a true believer in the power of the Internet and social media to move cases. He explains how, in this geeky tome, which can sometimes be a little obscure and hard to follow. But there’s plenty of useful stuff.

The World Atlas of Wine, $55. If there’s one wine book you buy this year, either for yourself or as a stocking-stuffer, make it this grand, hard-covered coffee table work of art. Penned by two of the world’s most famous wine writers, Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson, it’s worth the price for the maps alone. Johnson, of course, has been exploring this venue since 1971; I still have his 1977 World Atlas of Wine, a book I devoured and still turn to. Robinson joined up with him several years ago. For sheer beauty, precise writing and, again, those gorgeous maps, it’s a keeper, even if the capsule descriptions of wine regions can sometimes seem a little abbreviated.

  1. I think you’ve kinda glossed over the profoundity of ClarkSmith’s book. The book is packed w/ solid information and (maybe) not-so-solid opinion. He speaks w/ great authority, but…alas…I haven’t the technical winemaking or organic chemistry background to know whether much of it’s true or not. It’s clearly a book, much like Amerine & Roessler, that I’ll have to read 3-4 times to fully comprehend its contents.
    He has a whole chapter on “minerality” in wine. Not sure I can understand Clark’s definition of minerality, or even agree to his usage.
    The chapter on “reductive potential” is absolutely fascinating…but a bit behond my comprehension. He resurects some of VernSingleton’s work and posits that, using that technique, can actually measure a wines capability to age. I think that’s pretty profound. I’d like to see that used on some SQN or Schrader wines vis a vis a Mayacamas.
    I think it’s quite interesting that Clark is an avid proponent of MOx and RO, yet is in bed w/ some “natural” winemakers like RandallGrahm & GideonBinstock.
    It’s a profound book that every wine geek should read…several times.

  2. Thanks TomHill. Like I wrote, there were mini-reviews, which I guess corresponds to your “glossed over.” I think quite highly of Clark’s book and will no doubt consult it in the future.

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