Wine books worth soaking in

BILL WARD
McClatchy Tribune News Service
Modified: December 11, 2012 at 3:17 pm •  Published: December 11, 2012

New York is a fledgling, and quite promising, winemaking region. It has a longer, proud history of wine writing, as two of this year’s best vine-soaked books attest.

“The New York Times Book of Wine: More Than 30 Years of Vintage Writing” ($24.95, Sterling Epicure) compiles the work of 29 writers over three decades, and as such has a little something for everyone. Corkscrews? Offbeat pairing tips? A recently discovered cache of 19th-century Champagne? Undeservedly obscure regions? It’s all there, indelibly infused with an ardor for fermented grape juice, especially from renowned hedonist R.W. Apple Jr. and the ever-engaging current columnist Eric Asimov.

Asimov is the sole wordsmith for my favorite wine book of 2012, “How to Love Wine: A Memoir and Manifesto” ($24.95, William Morrow). Asimov lovingly enumerates how he became — and why he remains — enamored of wine, but his primary purpose is to help others at least have a chance to get there by vaulting past the intimidation factor.

“Wine still causes a sense of dread and suspicion,” he writes. “This sense of obligation and anxiety is the single biggest obstacle to deriving pleasure from wine. … You simply require an open mind, a sense of curiosity and an awareness that learning about wine is an act of volition, not of obligation. By overemphasizing the knowledge required to appreciate wine, our culture neglects the emotion necessary to love it.”

“How to Love Wine” is short enough to be finished in an evening (292 pages of large type), but because of Asimov’s winsome approach and openness, I found myself putting it down every few dozen pages to savor for another day.

Many of us who already love wine also are history buffs, and a couple of fascinating, ambitious volumes salve both joneses.

Paul Lukacs’ “Inventing Wine: A New History of One of the World’s Most Ancient Pleasures” ($28.95, W.W. Norton & Company, out Dec. 3) covers 8,000 years and examines the physical and metaphysical aspects of wine, primarily through what homo sapiens has brought to the proceedings. If Asimov’s book shows us how to love wine, Lukacs’ tells us why.

A particular swath of history is the focus of Joel Butler and Randall Heskett’s “Divine Vintage: Following the Wine Trail From Genesis to the Modern Age” ($27, Palgrave Macmillan). Mixing research and interpretations of the Bible, the authors examine the surprisingly wide range of wines a few millenniums back and, of course, that whole water-into-wine deal (which I had not known was Jesus’ first miracle).

Examining much newer vinous regions, “Wines of the Southern Hemisphere” ($24.95, Sterling Epicure) finds Mike DeSimone and Jeff Jenssen surveying vineyards and vintners on three continents (Africa, Australia and South America) in encyclopedic fashion.

For more intimate reading, check out  ”A Vineyard in Napa” ($29.95, University of California Press), in which Doug Shafer and Andy Demsky recount how Doug’s father, John, left a cushy Chicago job at age 47 and forged one of America’s very best wineries. (Wine Spectator named the 2008 Shafer Relentless its wine of the year last week.) Full disclosure: I have met all three men and winemaker Elias Fernandez and admire them mightily. You will, too, after soaking in this captivating saga.

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