I have seen it many times in grocery stores and I’m sure you have too: the poor soul charged with buying a bottle of wine for the evening meal is stunned at the vast number of choices. What does it all mean? How do I know what I’ll like? And how do I know I won’t waste my money?
Unlike any other beverage like soda or bottled water or even beer, a bottle of wine captures a time and a place like no other, but it can drive the uninitiated crazy. Many confused buyers hunt for the one label they recognize, or with art work on the label they enjoy. Many times they wander off without choosing anything, unwilling to take a risk.
Whether you are well-versed in the lore of wine or a rank newbie, here are three recent books which are really good reading. I expect you will learn a lot, no matter how much you know or think you know.
Voodoo Vintners: Oregon’s Astonishing Biodynamic Winegrowers by Katherine Cole
As life in our world becomes more industrialized and processed, the desire to get back to natural ways of living and eating has touched off the move to trumpet the organic qualities of some foods. Wine as a drink is supposed to represent the earth and climate like no other, so of course you would expect there to be organic wine. You may have even heard of winemakers flaunting their “biodynamic” cred.
When my neighborhood winery advertized themselves as biodynamic, I didn’t think too much about it. But Biodynamics is about more than just avoiding toxic sprays. It specifies a range of herbal treatments for vines which must be prepared in some really wacky ways. Think burying flowers in animal skulls for several months.
Cole does an excellent job researching the roots of biodynamics and presenting it in a balanced way. But what’s really wonderful about this book is the way she introduces us to the people of Oregon wine. Winemaking is relatively new in Oregon, dating back to the 1970s. So the pioneers are still with us.
If you are an Oregonian, this is a special treat. For example, you can read about Moe Momtazi’s hair-raising escape from his native Iran. Then you can drive out to Maysara Vineyards and meet Moe himself and his wine-making daughters as we did.
Friends know that one of my favorite movies is Bottle Shock which dramatizes the famous blind tasting between excellent French wines and a few brand new California wines. The movie fictionalizes the story of one particular winemaker and the English wine snob Steven Spurrier (played by Alan Rickman) who staged the whole event. This book is the basis for the movie, but gives more of the real story behind the wines and winemakers on both sides of the Atlantic.
Taber was the sole press representative at the event, so he brings an authoritative perspective. But more interesting to me are the ways in which the wines were made. Taber explains the process in a very accessible way, without diving into the multi-sylable complexities of microbiology.
The claim is that this one tasting event changed the wine world, popping the presumption that the best wines come from France. And so Taber takes us on a bit of a world tour showing the extent of the New World invasion on the previously sacrosanct French preserve.
Thanks to the Judgement of Paris, we now live in a world where good wines from all over the planet are available in your corner grocery store. But where do we go from here? Veseth takes on the challenge of predicting where that now global wine world will go in the future.
The forces for change are titanic, but predicting the future is hard. So rather than taking things too seriously, Veseth pauses periodically for a guided tasting to illustrate these social and economic trends. A nice way to illustrate his points.
Veseth uses an entertaining and witty voice for what could be a very dry book. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in learning beyond your small world of what you are comfortable with in wine and learning to appreciate how things will change in the future.