A Good Year for Wine Books

It might have been a wet and dodgy year for wine, but it’s been a good year for wine books. The most compelling new book is undoubtedly “Authentic Wine…Toward Natural and Sustainable Winemaking“, by Jamie Goode and Sam Harrop MW ($39.95; University of California Press). Tackling one of the present day’s most profound topics, the authors ask what exactly is ‘natural’ wine, then explore the many component parts of sustainable and ethical viticulture and winemaking, such as organics and biodynamics, chemical and physical manipulation of wine, wine faults, yeasts, alcohol levels and ripeness, carbon footprints, the so-called ‘natural’ wine movement, and of course terroir. Buzz-terms like minerality and brettanomyces are also dealt with in detail. The authors grapple with big questions such as whether terroir can only be expressed by ‘natural’ winemaking combined with BD or organic grapegrowing. And whether acid addition results in homogenous tasting wines. How valid is it to promote wine as having little or no added sulfur? How wild are wild yeasts? As scientist-come-wine writer and winemaker respectively, Goode and Harrop demystify the mumbo-jumbo and make complex technical information digestible. They don’t readily swallow the ‘touchy-feely’ arguments. They write sense, and they refrain from being too judgmental. This is an outstanding read.

“The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia”, 5th Edition, by Tom Stevenson ($69.95; Dorling Kindersley) has sold 600,000 copies since the first edition in 1988, and is one of the two or three most essential reference books on wine. It certainly ranks alongside the “Oxford Companion to Wine”, and the “World Atlas of Wine”. Weighing in at 2.75kg, it’s arguably better suited to an online format, but its continuing publication is recognition of the fact that some people still want big wads of paper between two hard covers. Besides, the superb graphics and design would be lost on a screen. Englishman Stevenson is thrice winner of the Wine Writer of the Year award and his opinionated, highly personal style comes through clearly despite the necessary constraints of such a densely fact-packed tome. Some Australian entries are way out of date: eg Adam Wynn still running Mountadam! Europe seems more up-to-date. This is a great book but also a trap: every time I open it I get lost, snap out of the trance an hour later, and wonder where the time went.

Wine, Terroir and Climate Change“, byJohn Gladstones ($59.95; Wakefield Press) is the keenly-awaited follow-up to the author’s previous masterwork, “Viticulture and Environment” (1992). Known as the father of Margaret River, a Maurice O’Shea Award recipient and one of our leading voices in matters viticultural, Gladstones is a thorough scientist and a revered figure in the wine industry. This is a dense, scientific tome loaded with wisdom about viticulture, soils, climate and related matters, including pointed opinions on biodynamics and climate change (he thinks the anthropogenic contribution to global warming is overstated). This book is frankly best suited to those either with scientific training or with a keen knowledge and interest in science. Others may find it soporific. If in doubt, first read Brian Croser’s excellent synopsis on his web-site, tapanappawines.com.au.

“Mastering Wine for the Asian Palate”, by Jeannie Cho Lee MW (Asset Publishing & Research Ltd) is hard to get, but it’s available from Crow Books, Perth, for $89.99 (postage to eastern states $7.50). Or Amazon.com, where it’s US$77. This is a different take on the big, coffee-table-type wine book which is good as an introduction for wine tyros but also as a refresher for the well-seasoned. Its big departure point is its Oriental view. Ms Lee is a South Korean born Hong Kong resident, and Asia’s first Master of Wine. Wine books and wine talk have always been Euro-centric, and her intent is to put an Asian angle on wine, especially the language used to describe it. Hence, dragon fruit, gingko nut, wolfberries, nori and dried bonito flakes appear in her tasting notes for the classic wines of the world, where hitherto blackberries and truffles did the job. It’s an excellent, and beautifully presented, book.

A Vineyard in My Glass“, by Gerald Asher ($39.95; University of California Press) is a collection of 27 essays about wine regions, focusing mainly on Europe but also big on North America, penned by one of the best senior wordsmiths practising in wine. Asher was American Gourmet magazine’s wine editor for 30 years. Many of the essays were first published years ago in magazines (some 20 years ago), but they’re still a relevant and absorbing read, underlining the timelessness of many great vineyards and regions.

For a good insight into the thoughts of one of our leading doctors-come-winemakers, Bill Pannell (founder of both Moss Wood and Picardy) has penned “Once More Unto The Vine”, by William Pannell (Rocket Frog Books). A kind of memoir of his vinous life, it’s $30 from the winery web-site, picardy.com.au.

And then there are wine guides: smaller books, re-written and re-published annually, full of tasting notes. They include Jeremy Oliver‘s Australian Wine Annual 2012 ($29.95), Nick Stock’s The Age/Sydney Morning Herald Good Wine Guide 2012 ($26.95), James Halliday’s Australian Wine Companion 2012 ($36.95), James Halliday’s 1001 Wines Under $20 ($24.95), and Robert Geddes’ Australian Wine Vintages 2012 ($34.95).

First published in Sydney Morning Herald, Good Living – 6 December 2011.


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