Traveling by Way of Words with Wine & Spirits
Since we’re doing more armchair traveling than actually getting on a plane these days, the Fine Wine & Rare Spirits department has compiled a list of our favorite reads that speak of drinks (of course) but also that encapsulate the world of our favorite subject—tying together all the elements that make it so diverse: travel, history, gastronomy, geography, and agriculture—with the hope that one might transport you from wherever you are safely staying into the colorful scenery of wines and spirits.
Marie Keep, Department Head:
After assembling this short list of current reads, I realize there are no biographies, memoirs, or travelogues; I’d think that being confined to a relatively small patch of land since March 25th I’d be seeking books taking me on whirlwind journeys through sun dappled wine countries far and wide; instead, I’ve been immersing myself in books mapping the global powerhouse and idiosyncratic glory that is wine.
One of the most thumbed-through, oft-consulted, and frequently seen at the dinner table books is Karen MacNeil’s classic The Wine Bible. I dive into it whenever I’m in want of an historical refresher or in need of contextual underpinnings for a wine I’m pouring. MacNeil devoted a decade to travel, research, and immersion into the wines, producers, and regions of the world, and she presents it clearly and charmingly with the benefits of accessibility and rapid consumption. Small in format, thick in pages, the black, white, and beige color palette belies the vibrant content.
My second choice is Napa Valley Then & Now, by Kelli A. White. It was going to be Andre Domine’s Wine, a thick tome with everything from the working year in the vineyard to the wines of Tenerife (a personal love), but it only weighs in at 8 1/2 pounds, while NVT&N weighs in at a gob-smacking 13 pounds (I’ve never weighed a book in my life before quarantine, now it seems not just normal but necessary) so for sheer poundage Napa Valley Then & Now wins out. White dedicates the book to her mother, setting the bar very high for daughters everywhere. The book sweeps through the Napa wineries providing history on the vineyards, wine and winemaking, side notes & anecdotes, and tasting notes. The black and white photographs scattered throughout are beautiful, and the structure and content give the reader a thoroughly comprehensive survey of Napa Valley.
In the wine auction biz, First Growth Bordeaux and Grand Cru Burgundy set the pace, and settling in with Bordeaux Legends, The 1855 First Growth Wines of Haut Brion, Lafite Rothschild, Latour, Margaux, and Mouton Rothschild, by Jane Anson, gets to the heart and soul of the hallowed five. The scope is contained but the pages go deep into the enthralling dramatic histories, struggles, financial and political power plays, and the all-consuming passion one must have to make great wine—and continue doing so. The roller coaster rides of the great chateaux are thrillingly described and Anson’s gift for putting us in the room makes it a surprisingly intimate read.
Anna Ward, Deputy Director:
In the wake of all that is occurring during these pandemic months, I find myself reaching for books that lift me up and carry me away. That does not exclude my most absolutely relied upon references, Inside Burgundy: The Vineyards, the Wine & the People, by Jasper Morris, MW, and The Concise World Atlas of Wine, by Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson, MW. These two books are so exquisite in their geographical details you can close your eyes and look out over the grade of Clos Vougeot or the expanse of the Piedmont.
On the precipice of a career in wine 10 years ago, my introduction to the possibilities for a woman in the wine industry came by way of Tasting Pleasure: Confessions of a Wine Lover, also by the incomparable Jancis Robinson, MW, and is still to this day a book I think back on frequently.
Joseph Hyman, Spirits Specialist:
While no one book in particular is a favorite, Alfred Barnard’s The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom is the benchmark encyclopedia for those wishing to know more about the wonderful world of Scotch Whisky. Despite being difficult to come by these days, this masterpiece still deserves top billing. A notch below is the Schweppes Guide to Scotch, by Philip Morrice (available used on Amazon), and on the lighter side, Jews and Booze: Becoming American in the Age of Prohibition, by Marni Davis, and Whiskey Women: The Untold Story of How Women Saved Bourbon, Scotch and Irish Whiskey, by Fred Minnick.
Noell Dorsey, Cellar Manager:
As more time has been able to be devoted to reading nowadays, I find myself drawn to two of my favorites. Though many wine books have had a major influence on me, I decided to pick one beautifully technical resource and one historical biography that I found so captivating and well written, I finished it in two days.
The first is Native Wine Grapes of Italy, by Ian D’Agata—with over 2,000 native wine varietals in Italy, this is the most comprehensive book to date on such a vast subject. While quite technical in some respects he does a great job demystifying Italian wines. Many Italian grapes share similar names but they are not necessarily related. Just trying to compare the various Malvasias, Moscatos, and Trebbianos can make one’s head spin, but he breaks it down for you in clear language and with charming anecdotes. This book is good for any serious Italian wine lover or those who love to play wine detective.
The second is Widow Clicquot, by Tilar J. Mazzeo—the biography of Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin, the famous widow who, after the death of her husband, found herself at the reins of a new wine venture. Due to her business savviness and “audacity” she become one of the first renowned businesswomen and her champagne brand, “Veuve Clicquot,” became an international success. This is a riveting and fun biography—a must-read for any champagne enthusiast.
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