A few years back, I tried to stop calling something “the best,” and started going with the phrase “my favorite.” So many aspects of life are utterly subjective and experiential that it seems hubristic for anyone, or at least yours truly, to declare a book or a wine to be “the best.”
So, combining those two realms, here are my favorite wine books of 2018, with a little something for everyone. Something for the serious cork dork, something for the budding wine enthusiast, something for the romantic and something for most anyone in between.
My very favorite read is suited for all of the above. Terry Theise’s “What Makes a Wine Worth Drinking: In Praise of the Sublime” (Houghton Mifflin, 192 pages, $25) is poetic prose incarnate, seeking beauty through truth (and vice versa) and delving into the mystical aspects of wine without a trace of grandiosity.
“This stuff is the very devil to write about,” he says, “and you can easily look like a fool. But I’m convinced that it is just from this point that the most crucial writing about wine can begin. And I don’t mind if I look silly or pretentious.”
Of course he’s neither as he lays out what makes fermented grape juice such a source of wonderment and companionship, a lifelong friend worthy of lifelong learning.
Exploration and education are also the watchwords of Hugh Johnson’s boundless collection of works, which include a stellar annual guide that could and probably should make this list every year. “Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book 2019” (Mitchell Beazley, 336 pages, $17) launches with a nice, tart essay (bemoaning overpriced wines, snobbery, cork and more), recent vintage reports, superb pairing tips and a fabulous “if you like this, try this” chapter, then delves into daunting but most approachable roundups (including grape glossaries) of countless wineries in every region imaginable. This is an incredible resource for learning about and buying wines in the coming year, and beyond.
Two worthy tomes are geared primarily for us wine geeks. I can’t decide whether Jason Wilson’s “Godforsaken Grapes: A Slightly Tipsy Journey Through the World of Strange, Obscure, and Underappreciated Wine” (Abrams Press, 320 pages, $26) is more edifying or more entertaining, with more wit or more wisdom. Either way, it’s a delightful dive into more esoteric grapes, and especially timely given that local importer/distributors have started bringing the likes of rkatsiteli and chasselas to this market.
But this is as much a travel and history book as a wine volume, deftly burrowing into where and how these grapes came to be prominent in their homelands. And what could be more fun than taking the index of 101 obscure grape varieties and chasing down each and every one?
Although the subtitle of Simon J. Woolf’s “Amber Revolution: How the World Learned to Love Orange Wine” (Interlink, 302 pages, $35) might be a tad overstated, the topic is indubitably au courant — even if the practice of crafting these wines goes back centuries.
Orange wine is made by leaving white grapes in contact with their skins (which often are more amber than white) for extended periods. The result is, ideally, a more complex, intense wine.
Several elements enrich this work: the sagas of the almost 200 people in 20 countries partaking of this practice, the clarity of Woolf’s writing and the fabulous photos by former Twin Cities winemonger Ryan Opaz.
Those who might be leery of these odd-colored concoctions should keep in mind that they likely eschewed pink wines until fairly recently. In which case they’ll especially enjoy Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan’s “Rosé Wine: The Guide to Drinking Pink” (Sterling Enterprise, 184 pages, $20). Packed with charts, factoids, historical tidbits and cool photos (love the one of Jimi Hendrix quaffing Mateus), it’s as breezy a read as its subject is to sip.
And thanks to rosé’s soaring popularity, it’s now a lot easier to find one at this time of year to enjoy while perusing this dandy compendium.