With the holidays approaching, it’s time to recommend books to give the wine lovers on your list. Here are my top picks from among wine books released this year.
“ The Drops of God 1 ” (Vertical, $15), by Tadashi Agi and Shu Okimoto, is the manga cartoon serial that ignited a wine revolution in Japan, freshly translated into English. The series is credited with educating a new generation of wine lovers in Japan, and wines that are mentioned in its story have sold like wildfire. The plot is appropriately melodramatic: The son of Japan’s most eminent wine writer is forced by his dead father’s will to compete against the country’s most talented young wine critic to identify the 12 most wonderful wines ever made, plus one called “The Drops of God.” The contest is nowhere near finished by the end of Volume 1, but along the way we learn how to (flamboyantly) decant old Burgundy, and we find out how fabulous vintages of first-growth Bordeaux strangely remind everyone of the same art masterpiece. It’s a fun, easy read.
Anyone who has traveled the Finger Lakes or just enjoyed one of its Rieslings should read Evan Dawson’s “ Summer in a Glass: The Coming of Age of Winemaking in the Finger Lakes ” (Sterling Epicure, $20). Dawson, a TV news anchor in Rochester, N.Y., is also managing editor of New York Cork Report, an online magazine that covers the Empire State’s wine industry like a blanket. Reading his book, you will see, smell and feel the drive along each of the Finger Lakes and emerge on a first-name basis with the vintners who are forging a regional identity with their wines and setting a high bar for quality all along the East Coast. Dawson captures the personalities behind labels such as Ravines, Red Newt, Anthony Road and many more, and brings the flavors of their wines alive on the page with an ease that invites the reader to participate rather than simply witness. It’s a hard book to put down.
I laughed out loud twice in the first five pages of Roy Cloud’s memoir, “ To Burgundy and Back Again: A Tale of Wine, France, and Brotherhood ” (Lyons Press, $17) and regularly thereafter. Cloud is a D.C.-based importer with a strong portfolio of artisanal French wines (look for Vintage 59 on the back label). His title suggests a Tolkien-ish quest, and there is some poignancy in his tale. Yet the book is primarily Cloud’s version of Kermit Lynch’s “Adventures on the Wine Route” (1990), the seminal wine importer memoir, with echoes of Hemingway’s hilarious road trip with Fitzgerald in “A Moveable Feast” and M.F.K. Fisher’s writings on Dijon. I recommend this not just because Cloud is a local, but also because he succeeds in taking us along and showing us France. “The magic of wine does not exist in a vacuum,” he writes; “that magic is defined by the place the wine comes from and the personality behind it.”
The economic downturn has spawned a genre of wine books designed to reassure us that it’s okay to drink cheap wines, and that any wine is good so long as it’s cheap. Canadian writer Natalie MacLean takes another perspective in her new book, “ Unquenchable: A Tipsy Quest for the World’s Best Bargain Wines ” (Perigee, $24). To MacLean, bargain means high value at a reasonable price, not necessarily cheap for cheap’s sake. She roams the world and meets with producers such as Wolf Blass in Australia and South Africa’s Charles Back, creator of the popular Goats do Roam wines. Her chapter on Ontario wines had me planning a trip to Niagara Falls just so I could take the 20-mile detour to Niagara-on-the-Lake wine country. Although each chapter ends with her “field notes from a wine cheapskate,” MacLean’s book is a reminder that bargain wine can be an adventure, not just a lowest common denominator.