Books of the year 2014


Instead of a wine of the week today, we present free all the reviews of the six books that our reviewer Paul O’Doherty considered were candidates for books of the year (including only one from the pile illustrated right). We list them in the order we published the reviews, earliest publication first, Jamie Goode's book from today's reviews last. It is perhaps significant that of the six, four were published by American universities’ publishing arms and one, Wink Lorch’s book on Jura wine, was crowd-funded and self-published. And four of Paul's six choices appeared in the European miscellany collection earlier this week. Many congratulations to all those who managed to publish a book on wine this year; it is not an easy feat.  See our guide to all 49 books reviewed.


A History
Rod Phillips
University of North Carolina Press 

While this book deals with alcohol in its widest context, there is still enough here to entertain a reader whose primary focus is on wine. Phillips, professor of history at Carleton University, the author of A Short History of Wine, and a wine columnist with the Ottawa Citizen, has put together an enthralling piece of research that considers the history of alcohol from the ancient world right through to trends in modern regulation and consumption. He stops along the way in Greece and Rome for a glance at the superiority of classical wines; the birth of the alcohol industry in the Middle Ages; how alcohol was as much a part of religion as it was of popular culture in the 200 years to the late16th century; alcohol in the age of enlightenment; the temperance movement that called for and got Prohibition; where alcohol fits into the First World War; and how alcohol was normalised post-Prohibition. For those specifically interested in wine, Phillips deals with such topics as how the Greeks and Romans, unlike the rest of the world, favoured wine and regarded beer as inferior; the role of the church in increasing wine production; Geoffrey Chaucer’s views in The Canterbury Tales on the counterfeit wine then for sale in London; how English scientist Christopher Merret invented champagne; and the significance of the 60 Minutes programme that championed the ‘French Paradox’. Looking to the future, Philips also looks at the ‘post-alcohol’ phase of the human condition and ponders whether alcohol consumption, already at historically low levels, could continue to fall to a level where alcohol is replaced with drinks such as Red Bull or other substances such as marijuana. Anyone for a 2005 can of Red Bull? Or a spliff from 1961? Nah, I don’t see it happening either. This is a fascinating history and one of my books of the year.

Barolo and Barbaresco
The King and Queen of Italian Wine

Kerin O’Keefe
University of California Press

Kerin O’Keefe has established herself as one of the best commentators on Italy in recent years, particularly with the well-received Brunello di Montalcino: Understanding and Appreciating One of Italy’s Greatest Wines, which was one of the wine books of the year in 2012. Now, the Italian editor of Wine Enthusiast is back completing the holy trinity of Italy’s great wines with a focus on Barolo and Barbaresco. And, once again, she’s in terrific form. Beginning with an overview of the history of the wines and an analysis of the Nebbiolo grape, she easily moves on to discuss the origins of Barolo and the role of Louis Oudart, real or imagined, the ‘methanol scandal’ of 1986, and the debate over the souls of Barolo and Barbaresco between the so-called ‘modernists’ and traditionalists, among many other talking points in the first part of the book. The second section is devoted to profiles of key Barolo producers on a village-by-village basis, followed by a similar analysis of important Barbaresco producers. There is also a vintage guide that runs from 1945 to 2010. This is another fine study from one of the great wine commentators on Italy and is in the frame for wine book of the year. [Walter is also a big fan of this book and will be writing soon on one or two particular myths it exposes – JR.]

Native Wine Grapes of Italy 
Ian D’Agata
University of California Press 

Ian D’Agata has taken 13 years to research this mammoth study of the grapes of Italy and it shows. Divided into two parts, it begins with an introduction to the grapes and the system for classifying and identifying them, before moving on to look at the great potential of Italy’s native grapes while also analysing some causes for concern. The second section showcases over 500 grape varieties native to Italy, with nuggets of information on where they’re found, their importance to various areas, what makes them what they are, as well as recommendations on which wines to choose that exemplifies their best attributes and why. This is a deeply researched study that’s sure to become the standard in years to come. It’s also one of my books of the year.

Land and Wine
The French Terroir

Charles Frankel
University of Chicago Press

Reading so many wine books makes me realise how few of the authors are wine writers by profession. Take Charles Frankel, for example, the author of this fine book that strays a little from the stereotypical patterns we often associate with books on terroir. This Frenchman is a science writer and lecturer specialising in geology and planetary exploration. His previous books, which include The End of the Dinosaurs: Chicxulub Crater and Mass Extinctions and Worlds on Fire, go some way to explain why, halfway through his book, dinosaur eggs get a mention in the terroir of Provence and the reader is encouraged to track their pre-historic parents. Originally published in French as Terre de Vignes in 2011, the chapters themselves focus on 12 regions, including Alsace, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, and the Rhône Valley, running geologically across time, beginning in Anjou with an examination of what 500 million years can do to the development of mica schists and the effect on the wines of Savennières and Coteaux du Layon, for example. There is also mention of the rise and decay of a great European mountain range that has affected Beaujolais; and what happened when tropical seas during the Jurassic period flooded Pouilly-Fuissé in the Mâconnais region depositing oyster beds and coral reefs, to name but two geological phenomena that are described by Frankel. In each chapter Frankel also discusses a number of wines in greater depth. Looking at Saumur-Champigny, for instance, we are given its region, wine type, grape variety, area of vineyard, production, crus, nature of soil and bedrock, ageing potential, serving temperature and what best to serve it with. There are also well laid-out maps and illustrations of, for instance, what the longevity of millions of years has done for the ground underneath the Champagne vineyard. This is an imaginative well-written study that easily fits in the category of books of the year.

Jura Wine
With Local Food and Travel Tips

Wink Lorch
Wine Travel Media

With a foreword by Raymond Blanc, one of the Jura’s famous sons, there’s a lot to like about this exploration of the Jura and its wines. Covering the region’s appellations and its history, a synopsis of the terror, the various grape varieties, and the producers, the book also offers an insight into the secrets of vin jaune made from the local Savagnin grape. Other topics examined include the importance of natural over cultured yeast; the predominance of used oak barrels in maturing white wine; Savagnin ice wines; the thirst for Crémant du Jura; the delicacy of vin de paille (French for straw wine); and Louis Pasteur’s influence on his native land. There is also a section on the Jura’s culinary delights and curiosities. Overall, this is a well-written piece of work that’s also remarkable for its maps and geological illustrations. It is one of my books of the year.

Wine Science (2nd edition)
The Application of Science in Winemaking

Jamie Goode
Mitchell Beazley

A lot has changed since Jamie Goode wrote the original edition of this book back in 2004 and 2005. With a PhD in plant biology and having worked as a scientific editor for nearly 20 years, he is the founder of – one of the world's most popular wine sites, a previous winner of the Glenfiddich Wine Writer of the Year, wine columnist with the Sunday Express and regular contributor to a range of publications including the World of Fine Wine, Wine Business International and Drinks Business. The world of wine has certainly moved forward apace, much of which evolution Goode documents in this second edition of Wine Science, which is divided into three distinct parts: the science behind what happens in the vineyard, in the winery, and our interaction with it. The most notable changes to this second edition include a number of rewritten chapters and newer sections on the role of soils in determining wine, the value of oxygen and one’s perception of wine. Topics covered include: the biology of the grapevine; how soils and climates shape wine; the importance of soil to wine production and how soil affects wine; precision viticulture; phylloxera and ungrafted vines; biodynamics; oxygen management and wine quality; red winemaking techniques; sulphur dioxide; reduction; reverse osmosis; the science behind the use of oak and the importance of barrels in winemaking when it’s done properly; the debate over corks, screwcaps and other closures; and how the brain constructs the wine experience and in what ways we can experience and understand wine better. This is one of the best books on wine science and one of my books of the year.