Wine books: a vintage year

  • Article by: BILL WARD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 12, 2013 - 3:10 PM

Pull up a chair and a glass of wine and read about one of our favorite subjects.

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Wine books for the holidays in Minneapolis Thursday, December 5, 2013. ] (KYNDELL HARKNESS/STAR TRIBUNE) kyndell.harkness@startribune.com

Without question, there’s never been a better time to be a wine drinker, with quality and variety reaching unparalleled heights.

This year, it also can be said that there never has been a better time to be a wine reader, with several stellar new releases and at least two outstanding updates of classic works.

The latter first: Kermit Lynch’s “Adventures on a Wine Route” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $28) gets a 25th-anniversary reboot (augmented by a list of his favorite wines). And it’s every bit as relevant and intriguing as when the importer first penned it, dated only in the sense that many of its fascinating subjects have since slipped the surly bonds of Earth. These people (and the photos!) provide the kind of back stories that have since become widely embraced by wine enthusiasts.

The same crowd will want to check out “The World Atlas of Wine, 7th Edition” (Mitchell Beazley, $55; iBook, $25), the definitive reference guide for cork dorks the world around. Co-authors Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson always do estimable work, and they have enhanced the quality and the quantity of the coverage mightily in the six years since the last edition. Regions from Croatia to Canada get closer looks, and the 215 maps include the likes of northern Virginia.

Robinson pops up again in a “smaller” realm. She and another stellar vinous scribe, Linda Murphy, teamed up on “American Wine: The Ultimate Companion to the Wines and Wineries of the United States” (University of California Press, $50). This superbly researched encyclopedia-like tome justly focuses largely on the West Coast, but includes a nice little segment on Minnesota with dandy photos of the Alexis Bailly and (snow-covered) Saint Croix Vineyards.

Shrinking the geographic scale further is perhaps my favorite book of the year, “The New California Wine: A Guide to the Producers and Wines Behind a Revolution in Taste” (Ten Speed Press, $35). San Francisco Chronicle wine editor Jon Bonné delves deeply into the work of vintners who have eschewed the “Big Flavor” approach that has dominated the state for decades.

His subjects, from veterans such as Ridge’s Paul Draper and Calera’s Josh Jensen to relative newcomers Chris Brockway (Broc Cellars) and Dan Petroski (Massican), share an ardor for painstaking care of the vineyard and making expressive, food-friendly, lower-alcohol wines.

The bad news: Bonné’s compelling recounting of these pioneers’ work will make readers thirsting to try the wines, but many of these operations are too small to be distributed in Minnesota. The good news: Bottles generally can be ordered from the wineries’ websites.

This Golden State movement also has caught the attention of Michael Steinberger, who devotes a chapter to it in his entertaining and edifying “The Wine Savant: A Guide to the Wine Culture” (W.W. Norton & Co., $24.95). But Steinberger covers a lot more ground, probing the current state of food-wine pairing, Burgundy’s continuing ascension and the whole sustainable/natural thing. Mostly, though, he deftly shows how any and all of us can be savvier about wine.

Wine savvy comes easy for Clark Smith, who’s the smartest guy in most of the rooms he inhabits. Smith has made a career as a consultant in the science end of winemaking, mastering technologies that can change the nature of a wine (reducing alcohol, fixing flaws, etc.).

His “Postmodern Winemaking: Rethinking the Modern Science of an Ancient Craft” (University of California Press, $35) is a thoughtful and thought-provoking look at the “bones” of wine — structure, acidity, tannins, minerality — and how postmodern winemaking can help the industry build upon these attributes. Thus, it’s a great gift for a wine geek or a science geek or a business geek.

For the everyday wine aficionado, Ray Walker’s chronicle of his own vinous journey in “The Road to Burgundy: The Unlikely Story of an American Making Wine and a New Life in France” (Gotham Books, $26) is a gem. It’s a true story of how pluck, luck and a supremely supportive spouse helped an American wine novice not only make wine in that hallowed and insular region, but get to work right away with one of the world’s great wines, Le Chambertin.

The only problem: This alluring saga is likely to make many a cork dork seriously jealous. Thus, it should be paired with a nice Pommard or Meursault.

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