Sunday, October 04, 2020

Books: Oenophile Quadruple Feature

My managing partner is a wine connoisseur, so I've been reading up on all things viticulture to keep up. Here are some of the best wine-related books I've found: 

A History of the World in 6 Glasses

In this book, Tom Standage explains the surprising ways in which human civilization has been intertwined with 6 beverages, from beer in ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt, all the way to the 20th century march of Coca-Cola. It turns out that drinks like coffee and tea were not merely the products of world history, they also influenced history themselves (coffee fueled some of the Enlightenment's greatest thinkers, and demand for tea drove the Opium Wars, among other things). Wine is the second drink featured in the book, and wine's dual nature - as the favored libation for both hoity-toity Greek symposia and hedonistic Roman Bacchanalia - persists to this day.

The Road to Burgundy

Ray Walker did what so many of us dream about - he quit his boring desk job to follow his real passion, winemaking. And not just any winemaking, but the terroir-specific wines of Burgundy, France. Starting from the literal bottom (cleaning vats and packing bottles in California wineries), Walker eventually decides to move to France with little money and speaking almost no French. The Road to Burgundy has some insights into California and French winemaking, but it's mostly a memoir of a bold man. That the gamble apparently didn't pay off in the long run is no matter - dreams seldom come true, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't chase them.

Secrets of the Sommeliers

While researching wine, I came across Belinda Chang, an amiable wine expert who mentioned Secrets of the Sommeliers as a good resource. The book looks at wine from the perspective of elite sommeliers, wine directors, and producers, with a mix of candid interviews and a nifty appendix of major wines by co-author Rajat Parr (himself a top wine director). This is about as far from your $9.99 supermarket bottle of Barefoot Merlot as you can get, but it's good to see that in the end, wine boils down to the basics - smell, taste, and memory.

Cork Dork

Wide-ranging, often funny, and very personal, Bianca Bosker's Cork Dork details her year and a half of experiential journalism in the world of wine. Starting from never having worked in a restaurant and not being able to tell a Chablis from a Chardonnay, Bosker investigates everything from the secretive world of New York City's "somms," the wine and dining habits of the ultra-rich, and brain researchers looking into the neural activity of wine drinkers. Her transformation - from "civilian" to a "cork dork" - climaxes with the Court of Master Sommeliers "Certified Sommelier" Examination, a grueling test of wine knowledge, blind tasting, and wine service that many fail. How'd the author do? Well, you'll just have to read the book and find out.


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