I'm going to get in trouble for this post. I know a lot of writers who have written wine books, and none of them are on this list.
It's not the top 10 wine books of the year, or the most important wine books. It's just 9 wine books I really enjoyed reading. They'll make good gifts and if you haven't read them, it's about time.
There aren't any general guides to wine. After you know a certain amount about wine, those cease being fun to read. I might give them a favorable review, but I wouldn't dream about being on a long international flight with just that book to keep me company. I do feel that way about all of these books with one exception, which I'll note.
In alphabetical order:
The Billionaire's Vinegar
There's a fascinating cast of characters in this true story of wine counterfeiting. It's not just the forger Hardy Rodenstock; we also spend time with wine expert Michael Broadbent, who certified some of Rodenstock's fakes, and even meet critics like Jancis Robinson who praised them. Broadbent sued publisher Random House for defamation of character in Britain, which has very anti-author libel laws. Random House settled, paid damages, and removed the book from the UK market, but the book was not edited. Movie rights were optioned and Brad Pitt was originally lined up to star, but he walked away and it's still stuck in development. I wonder who he would have played: Rodenstock the counterfeiter? Bill Koch, who finances Tea Party causes when he's not paying to investigate wine fraud? I'd like to see Pitt play a bottle of wine.
The Botanist and the Vintner
A terrific true story of the fight in the 1870s to save wine grapes from the very real threat of being wiped off most of the planet by a new, deadly and apparently unstoppable biological threat. Just figuring out that the culprit was phylloxera was hard enough, because by the time a vine looked dead, the tiny insects had moved on. And then, with a huge cash prize from the French government on offer, scientists raced to figure out its 18-stage life cycle in order to find some way to kill it. You know what? They still haven't. British author Christy Campbell takes you back to those panicked times when people thought fine wine was disappearing forever.
Wednesday, December 4, 2013
I discovered what appears to be a 50-50 split on the topic.
Now granted, these are my readers, and not the general population of the US. The poll size is actually large enough to project; I've seen Presidential opinion surveys with fewer people polled.
My readership is, as a group, more passionate and knowledgeable about wine than the general US. I'm not sure which way a larger US poll would go. My guess is that it would tilt toward Yes, because my readers know and care more about wine origins, and while 70% of the wine sold in this country is American, I'll bet that percentage is lower for my readers (there's another poll for next year.) But I don't know.
I do know this -- there aren't many 50-50 divides on wine issues. We often have a passionate minority vs. a less interested majority: the 100-point scale, alcohol level, organic and natural wine issues come to mind.
But this is an issue where you don't need to know any science or background or even anything about wine. It's a simple question, and a Yes or No answer. You can fudge it by taking out the word "only," but in that case I think you'll get over 95% Yes answers.
So here's something to be thankful for: a new issue to argue about! About time too; aren't you tired of reading people bickering about the impact of social media on wine sales? Folks, you've got a year to prepare your arguments for the next round in this debate. Let's revisit this next November. In the meantime, hey, how 'bout that 100-point scale?
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
Truett-Hurst winery this month introduced a fantastic new paper wine bottle, sold only at Safeway grocery stores.
It's beautiful, eye-catching, responsible, revolutionary. I love it. I wish I loved the wine in it. But first things first.
Produced by Green Bottle, the bottle is made from 80% used corrugated cardboard, mostly recycled from industrial uses. It's 85% lighter than a glass bottle, so it requires less fuel to ship. The company claims one cross-country truck of Paperboy wine saves 61 gallons of diesel fuel, meaning a lot less CO2 in the atmosphere.
I love the brand name Paperboy, the logo, even the color scheme, all industrial beige with black logo except for a splashy diamond, red or teal, that announces the type of wine.
The bottle is lined with the same sort of plastic bladder as bag-in-box wines, which is great for a while. I don't know how long it will protect the wine from oxidation on the shelf. Bag-in-box wines are generally good for a little less than a year, which can present a problem if they spend too long getting to consumers; this limits the utility of foreign bag-in-box wines, because you don't know how long they spent on a ship, clearing customs, and sitting in a warehouse. The fact that Paperboy is going only to Safeway should alleviate this problem; a grocery store should know how to deal with shelf life.
I'd love to see a sell-by date right on the paper bottle.
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
What is Thanksgiving? It's a purely American holiday: created here, and not celebrated anywhere else in the world except Canada and Liberia on different days.
But is it still, as the first one was, a celebration not just of friends and family, but of the edible bounty of the land?
To me the answer has always been Yes, and I always drink American wines on Thanksgiving. Not everyone shares that opinion. I had a Twitter debate with New York Times critic Eric Asimov on this issue yesterday.
I'm going to take a poll, because I'd like to know what you think about the issue. And because I know readers love a juicy wine writer fight, I'm going to show screenshots of the tweets.
Monday, November 25, 2013
|Wynne Peterson-Nedry of Chehalem in Oregon|
Sommelier-at-large Peter Palmer, organizer of PinotFest, put that myth to rest Saturday with a special tasting of 1999 Pinots Noir to mark the 14th anniversary of the event.
Here's why this tasting of just 20 wines proves the point so emphatically:
* The wines weren't cherry-picked. Wineries that had '99s, brought them. Some were expensive on release, but a couple of the most impressive were not.
* The vintage wasn't cherry-picked. Oregon's 1998 was famous and California's was originally infamous, and that might be fascinating to retaste. But Palmer wanted 1999s to mark an occasion, so '99 it was.
I go to retrospective vertical tastings a lot; I love tasting how the same wine changes over time. But those wines are always cherry-picked. The winemaker decides the '84 is drinking better than the five wines around it, so that's the one he brings. A horizontal tasting like this one is far more warts-and-all.
Thursday, November 21, 2013
I was listening to NPR recently and heard them begging for money, and thought, I've been doing this blog for several years and have never really done a post like this. I put the "virtual tip jar" up on the site last year and quite a few people have contributed. But while I've occasionally nudged, mostly in the comments, I've never done an outright begging for money post.
If NPR can, why not me? Granted, they give you more content. But how good is their content on wine?
In case you weren't aware, writing about wine isn't as lucrative as just about any job you can think of. You can't beat the perks, but we make gym teachers' paychecks look like Wall Street wunderkinds'.
Moreover, if you give NPR, say, $50 (feel free to add zeros), you don't know where that money ends up.
Any money you donate to The Gray Report goes directly to me, for use in paying for health insurance and rent and reporter's notebooks.
The Gray Report needs new shoes (true) and a haircut (true). I miss the stylish salon haircuts I got when I had a fulltime job. (I also miss the hand-on-hip harumph from the stylist. Her: "What can we do about this?" Me: "My head is your canvas. Express yourself. But not too short.") I'm sure my wife and friends miss those hairstyles too, but The Gray Report now patronizes a Salvadoran woman who will do my whole head for $12 with scissors, not the electric buzz-cutter, if I remind her in Spanish. If I have to move downmarket to the $6 place, it's buzzcut all the way.
Your donation can keep The Gray Report's hair longer than 1/8 inch from its embarrassingly lumpy scalp.
So please. Give generously. There is no greater pleasure in life than giving to another. And as NPR would say, The Gray Report is made possible by the support, emotional and financial, of readers like you. Thanks in advance for your kindness.
Here's the donation button; it's Paypal, so it should be safe. I will not see your credit-card info.
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
|Rusack Vineyards sits in the center of Ballard Canyon in Santa Barbara County|
In 1987, Ballard Canyon in eastern Santa Barbara County had only three small vineyards, and was best known for a sweet Chardonnay called "Dr.'s Fun Baby."
It still has only about 560 acres of vines; there's a single vineyard in Monterey County with 15 times as much land planted to grapes.
But Ballard Canyon, the newest American Viticultural Area, is the site of an effort to make not just great Syrah, and not just Syrah with identifiable regional character, but a Syrah in a special package that must, by rule, cost more than $30 a bottle.