It’s summertime, and the reading is breezy. Even for wine lovers.
This is not the time to be perusing the massive encyclopedia and atlas-style tomes.
A handful of books published in the last year fit anyone’s definition of summer reading.
Helen McGinn’s “A Very Nice Glass of Wine” ($16.95, 176 pages, Chronicle Books) is the very definition of easy and breezy, especially since the largest segment is left for readers to jot down notes on individual wines that they might enjoy every week for a year.
McGinn’s light and lively approach is geared for novices, introducing them to the important stuff: how to taste, terminology and varietal characteristics (kerosene, anyone?). She lightens the load with lots of levity: true-false questions (Do “legs” in a glass connote quality? Are screw caps only for cheap wines?) and a couple of dandy “pairing” charts, on matches for different kinds of grilled food (gamay or grenache for pork chops) and the right wines for book clubs based on that month’s genre (gewürztraminer for a “bodice-ripper”).
Another work ideal for novices but just fine for intermediate-and-beyond wine consumers is Matt Kramer’s “True Taste: The Seven Essential Wine Words” ($18.95, 128 pages, Cider Mill Press). Although Kramer works for Wine Spectator magazine, which specializes in detailed, daunting tasting notes (“maraschino cherry, graphite, road dust”), here he opts for expressions that actually do get at a wine’s overall quality: insight, harmony, texture, layers, finesse, surprise, nuance. He deftly explains why these watchwords are so important, and so useful. Kramer’s “everyman” mind-set and conversational writing style make the learning go down as easy as a good vinho verde.
Also edifying and entertaining is R.M. Cartmel’s murder mystery “The Richebourg Affair” ($13.95, 328 pages, Crime Scene Books), at least according to my wife. (I haven’t read the book, and she is a mystery maven.) Sandy Ward calls it a great fit for those who love Burgundy but also those with just a passing interest in wine or France: “fun, riveting, engaging and edifying.”
Filled with thoroughly French characters and universal familial shenanigans, this work seems like it would be a great fit for PBS’ “Masterpiece Mystery.” It’s also the first of a trilogy by the author, all set in Nuits-Saint-Georges.
Burgundy also figures into Oz Clarke’s “The History of Wine in 100 Bottles: From Bacchus to Bordeaux and Beyond ($24.95, 224 pages, Sterling Epicure), in which the venerable but thoroughly accessible Brit takes us on a journey through the years and encounters with some fascinating people, places and happenstances.
Perhaps only Clarke could take such an oppressive task (as the history of anything, much less wine, would be) and make it so approachable and interesting. He does it the old-fashioned way: storytelling, spinning yarns and culling anecdotes about everything from Phoenicia to phylloxera. There’s even a “chapter” on Mateus.
The book is a great introduction to Clarke, whose irreverence pairs beautifully with his insightfulness. Bonus points, at least in this season, for being broken down into two-page chapters (with nifty art) that lets us bounce around as we please.
There’s not a chapter on vermouth, but that’s OK because we now have a whole book on the topic. Adam Ford’s “Vermouth: The Revival of the Spirit That Created America’s Cocktail Culture” ($24.95, 224 pages, Countryman Press) turns a topic that could be dry (sorry!) into an engaging saga packed with surprises. And fantastic photos. And cocktail recipes.
A staple of late-19th-century America and an all-day favorite in parts of Italy and Spain today, vermouth is riding a resurgence via the craft-cocktail movement. But its history, as enumerated here, is every bit as rich as the vermouth-centric drinks being concocted around the land.
This book’s release is especially timely hereabouts, since the new Minneapolis restaurant Monello has unveiled one of the nation’s most ambitious vermouth programs, including 15 by-the-glass offerings and tons of cocktails.
And like these other works, it’s perfect for a season of light reading. And quaffing.
Bill Ward writes at decant-this.com. Follow him on Twitter: @billward4.