If you’re like me and having to responsibly self-isolate after being abroad (so that we can do our part to help prevent the spread of the pandemic COVID-19) you’re probably getting fidgety by now.
You’ve run out of shows to binge watch on Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime. Just looking at a TV gives you a headache. You’ve tried reading a book – or maybe you’ve finished one and don’t have an interest in reading any other books you own. You’ve played all the board games in the house and secretly wish you had invested in a few more meant for adults. You’ve played some card games. Solitaire? Not an option because it’s making you feel depressed. And there just aren’t enough poker players in your family to make it interesting. I get it. You need something new. Something fresh.
Okay, so I’m going to ask that you give the book reading another try, but I promise that my below suggestions are very much worth it. They’re the type of books that will make your remaining days in quarantine feel like a long weekend that you never want to end. (You remember those weekends, don’t you?)
So, here’s the deal: if you’re open to educating yourself more about wine, but in a way that’s fun, complete with info-graphs and colourful maps, I’ve got some great options for you. Conversely, if you like a great wine story – a mystery perhaps, or a scandal – I’ve got juicy, intriguing, should-be-a-movie options. And if you’re a history buff and want to learn more about specific regions or people, then yup, I’ve got those options too.
There are, of course, so many interesting books to choose from, but this list is from my own personal collection and are books that I can attest to. If you’re really into wine and you like a good story, or enjoy being taught something new, then I challenge you to work your way down this list. And, before you know it, you’ll have a library of books on wine, just as I do – to compliment your wine cellar.
Please feel free to let me know if you end up reading any of these and how you enjoyed them. All the best during your remaining days in quarantine. Stay healthy and above all else, stay positive.
The Billionaire’s Vinegar: The Mystery of the World’s Most Expensive Bottle of Wine – By Benjamin Wallace
Let’s start with the book I’m actually reading right now – and almost finished! This is described as a rivetingly strange story of the world’s most expensive bottle of wine, and the even stranger characters whose lives have intersected with it. It tells the true story of a 1787 Château Lafite Bordeaux—supposedly owned by Thomas Jefferson—that amazingly sold for $156,000 at auction. Was it truly entombed in a Paris cellar for two hundred years? Or did it come from a secret Nazi bunker? Or from the mouldy basement of a devilishly brilliant con artist? As the mystery unfolds, we meet a gallery of intriguing players. It’s got suspense, drama and it’s kept me guessing all the way. (Amazon: $18.64)
Wine and War: The French, the Nazis, and the Battle for France’s Greatest Treasure – By Don and Petie Kladstrup
This is the remarkable story of France’s courageous and clever vintners who protected and rescued the country’s most treasured commodity from German plunder during World War II. In 1940, France fell to the Nazis and almost immediately the German army began a campaign of pillaging one of the assets the French hold most dear: their wine. Like others in the French Resistance, winemakers mobilized to oppose their occupiers, but the tale of their extraordinary efforts had remained largely unknown. This is the thrilling and harrowing story of the French wine producers who undertook ingenious, daring measures to save their cherished crops and bottles as the Germans closed in on them. Wine and War illuminates a compelling, little-known chapter of history, and stands as a tribute to extraordinary individuals who waged a battle that, in a very real way, saved the spirit of France. (Amazon: $17.23)
Shadows in the Vineyard: The True Story of the Plot to Poison the World’s Greatest Wine – By Maximillian Potter
If you’re a wine lover, you must surely know of the great ‘DRC’ of Burgundy. Journalist Maximillian Potter uncovers a fascinating plot to destroy the vines of La Romanée-Conti. In 2010, Aubert de Villaine, the famed proprietor of the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (DRC), the tiny, storied vineyard that produces the most expensive, exquisite wines in the world, received an anonymous note threatening the destruction of his priceless vines by poison – a crime that in the world of high-end wine is akin to murder – unless he paid a one million euro ransom. Villaine believed it to be a sick joke, but that proved a fatal miscalculation and the crime shocked this fabled region of France. The sinister story would lead to a sting operation by some of France’s top detectives, the primary suspect’s suicide, and a dramatic investigation. (Amazon: $20.79)
Judgment of Paris: California vs. France – By George M. Taber
The only reporter present at the mythic Paris tasting of 1976—a blind tasting where a panel of esteemed French judges chose upstart California wines over France’s best—introduces the eccentric American winemakers and records the tremendous aftershocks of this historic event that changed forever the world of wine. The Paris Tasting of 1976 will forever be remembered as the landmark event that transformed the wine industry. The story focuses on three gifted unknowns behind the winning wines: a college lecturer, a real estate lawyer, and a Yugoslavian immigrant. With unique access to the main players and a contagious passion for his subject, Taber renders this historic event and its tremendous aftershocks—repositioning the industry and sparking a golden age for viticulture across the globe. Truly inspiring. (Amazon: $13.27)
The House of Mondavi: The Rise and Fall of an American Wine Dynasty – By Julia Flynn Siler
I began reading this book while on the plane heading to Portugal a couple years ago and I found myself having to force myself to put it down just so I could enjoy my trip! Set in California’s lush Napa Valley and spanning four generations of a talented and visionary family, it’s a tale of genius, sibling rivalry and betrayal. From 1906, when Italian immigrant Cesare Mondavi passed through Ellis Island, to the Robert Mondavi Corp.’s twenty-first-century battle over a billion-dollar fortune, this is a meticulously reported narrative based on thousands of hours of interviews. A must read if you’re a fan of Robert Mondavi wines or of Napa Valley wine in general. (Amazon: $5)
Wine Simple: A Totally Approachable Guide from a World-Class Sommelier – By Aldo Sohm
Having flipped through this book a few times since receiving as a gift at Christmas, there’s a lot of valuable information to take in here, especially if you’re a wine geek. Aldo Sohm is one of the most respected and widely lauded sommeliers in the world. His debut book is full of confidence-building infographics and illustrations and, most important, strong opinions on wine so you can learn to form your own. Imbued with Aldo’s insatiable passion and eagerness to teach others, this book is accessible, deeply educational, yet lively and fun. For example, it begins with the fundamentals of wine in easy-to-absorb hits of information and pragmatic, everyday tips—key varietals and winemaking regions, how to taste, when to save and when to splurge, and how to set up a wine tasting at home. He then teaches you how to take your wine knowledge to the next level and evolve your palate, including techniques on building a “flavour library,” a cheat sheet to good (and great) vintages (and why you shouldn’t put everything on the line for them) and, for the daring, even how to saber a bottle of Champagne! (Amazon: $38.73)
Wine Folly: Magnum Edition: The Master Guide – By Madeline Puckette
Madeline Puckette and her brainchild Wine Folly have become a social media sensation. Her website and Instagram account promote an inventive, easy-to-digest approach to learning about wine. Now in a new, expanded hardcover edition, Madeline’s book Wine Folly: Magnum Edition is the expert – and dare I say definitive? – guide for anyone looking to take his or her wine knowledge to the next level. The book includes more than 100 grapes and wines colour-coded by style so you can easily find new wines you’ll love; a wine region explorer with detailed maps of the top wine regions, as well as up-and-coming areas such as Greece and Hungary; wine labeling and classification 101 for wine countries such as France, Italy, Spain, Germany, and Austria; an expanded food and wine pairing section; a primer on acidity and tannin – so you can taste wine like a pro; more essential tips to help you cut through the complexity of the wine world and become an expert. It’s the ultimate gift for any wine lover. Believe me. I gave it to myself! (Amazon: $43.70)
The Emperor of Wine: The Rise of Robert M. Parker, Jr., and the Reign of American Taste – By Elin McCoy
This is the story of how an American lawyer raised on Coca-Cola caused a revolution in the way wines around the globe are made, sold, and talked about. The world’s most influential wine critic, Robert M. Parker, Jr., has dominated the international wine community for the last quarter century, embodying the triumph of American taste. Using Parker’s story as a springboard, author Elin McCoy offers an authoritative and unparalleled insider’s view of the eccentric personalities, bitter feuds, controversies, and secrets of the wine world. She explains how reputations are made and how and why critics agree and disagree, and she tracks the startling ways wines are judged, promoted, made, and sold – while painting a fascinating portrait of a modern-day cultural colossus who revolutionized the way the world thinks about wine. (Amazon: $17.50)
Niagara’s Wine Visionaries: Profiles of the Pioneering Winemakers – By Linda Bramble
For obvious reasons, I must throw this one in the mix. And for good reason too! It’s a very interesting read and I learned much more about my own local wine scene than I would have expected. As recently as the 1970s, the term “fine Ontario wine” was an oxymoron. The Ontario wine industry in the Niagara region began to experiment as early as the 1920s with French varietals and hybrids – only to have its efforts frustrated by Prohibition, government restrictions, the Depression and a World War. And yet today, the wines of Ontario are among some of the finest in the world. What did it take to change the practices of a century and transform an archaic industry into a modern one in just thirty years? Who were the leaders of this revolution? What were the challenges and what might the future hold for this vibrant community? Linda Bramble spotlights the pioneers, the visionaries, the scientists, the entrepreneurs and the all-round “characters” who pushed, cajoled and dragged Niagara into its proud place in the world of international winemaking. (Amazon: $25)