Wine books, summer’s end make excellent pairing
Summer’s almost over. Here’s a last chance at some beachside-and-patio reading before you go back to work and school:
“Nose,” by James Conaway, Thomas Dunne Books, 2013, $24.99: In 1990 Conaway wrote “Napa,” a tell-all expose of the egos and ambitions of the Gallos and Mondavis who put California on the world wine map. Now he’s written a novel about the area that will make him unpopular there again. It’s about a love-to-hate-him wine critic revealingly named Clyde Craven-Jones who finally finds a wine worth his top score of 20, only to learn it has no discernible origin. He sets out to solve the mystery, with pretty funny results. Nectar for the foodie crowd.
“A Beer Drinker’s Guide to Knowing and Enjoying Fine Wine,” by Jim Laughren, Crosstown Publishing, 2012, $16.95: “No one says you have to give up beer,” Laughren writes. Then he cites a dozen reasons why beer drinkers should at least take a foray into wine. It’ll impress your boss. It’ll make you seem sophisticated. Wine tastings are “great venues for slightly tipsy encounters of the possible romantic kind.” He urges readers to embrace their “inner wino,” describing how to taste wine and defining such wine-speak terms as “feminine,” “masculine,” “clumsy,” “reticent” and “hollow.” A cheeky read, but also a brief and helpful beginner’s guide.
“Wines of the New South Africa,” by Tim James, University of California Press, 2013, $39.95: For centuries, South Africa’s sweet dessert wines were famous, the favorites of Napoleon Bonaparte. Then came apartheid and isolation from world markets that reduced many of the country’s wines to mediocre plonk sold in giant bulk shipping containers. With the coming of free elections in 1994, the country is now emerging, producing excellent wines new to the international stage such as pinotage. A hopeful and interesting read.
“Postmodern Winemaking: Rethinking the Modern Science of an Ancient Craft,” by Clark Smith, University of California Press, 2013, $34.95: Smith is a maverick. He’s winemaker for Diamond Ridge Vineyards and his own WineSmith Cellers and an adjunct professor at California State University, Fresno and Florida International. Smith started out making wine the science-based American way, juggling ingredients, running statistical analyses, producing clean, proper wines. Then he hit a wall. “The wines had no sex appeal,” he said. But if over-manipulation was futile, so was its antithesis – the “hands-off” Natural Wine movement. It turns out, he says, that technical operations like reverse osmosis to lower excessive alcohol levels also have a place in making what he seeks: “soulful wines.” Inside baseball, but a great read for serious wine fans.