Thursday, February 22, 2024

Wine books

by George Balling
| June 23, 2010 9:00 PM

Whether you are looking to build your wine knowledge or to have something entertaining for your summer vacation and you love wine, there are many choices of books to fill your craving. The challenge for the educational or reference books on wine is finding one that does not put you to sleep. Many have been written, but most delve deep into "wine geek speak" making them at times unreadable and rarely educational because of the aforementioned "speak."

One of the best we have found is the "Windows on the World Complete Wine Course" by Kevin Zraly. Zraly was the sommelier at Windows on the World, the restaurant at the top of the World Trade Center prior to the Sept. 11 attacks. He crafts a great reference piece that combines good basic wine knowledge, an easily readable style, and enough anecdotes to keep it entertaining. The edition we currently have is 2008 and retails for $24.95.

The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil is extraordinarily thorough, perhaps to the point of being too much. It does however serve as a great reference material.

The good news for you as a consumer is you really don't need to purchase each updated edition of either of these books. A better plan is to couple the purchase of one of these reference materials with a monthly subscription to one of the wine magazines, therefore receiving regular updates. We prefer the "Wine Spectator" for the most readable and still meaningful information. Robert Parker's "Wine Advocate" is loaded with information, but is more expensive - and at times he regresses to the highly technical language of wine professionals, leaving us a little sleepy.

Another great and fun way to learn about wine is from some of the wine trivia games. Both "Wine Smarts" and "Wine Wars" are good ones, and are fun and educational to play at your next dinner or wine tasting event. A deck of Red Wine Playing Cards is even a good choice as each of the 52 cards describes a different varietal of wine.

For entertainment, one of our favorite books and one of the most popular with our customers is the book "Wine and War." While it is a nonfiction book it reads like a novel as it takes you through all of the efforts the French went through to hide their treasured vintages from the invading German forces during World War II. The book is both a fascinating and tragic read.

We have recently added When the "Rivers Ran Red" to our collection at the shop that recounts the destruction of some of the great wine made in California following the imposition of prohibition in 1920. Vivienne Sosnowski creates a fascinating narrative of not only the destruction of the wine after prohibition became the law of the land, but also how the winery owners and winemakers persevered to keep their businesses going until prohibition was repealed 13 years later.

One of the great works of historical fiction that is now out of print, however still attainable by special order is "Napa," by James Conway. While recounting the progress of the wine industry in the Napa Valley including the 1976 tasting in France where the upstart Californians stole the show, it also tells some of the funnier stories of the patriarchs of the California wine business. One which to this day is my personal favorite, explains how a gentleman in St. Helena while drinking a little too much wine accidentally named the town at the Northern end of the valley Calistoga - attempting to explain that it reminded him of Saratoga, New York, and it came out "a little piece of Calistoga in "Sarafornia." The name stuck and today in addition to being the location of several wineries is also the site of a big part of the health spa industry in the valley with its famous mud baths.

Of course with any of these publications sipping a glass of your favorite varietal while reading will enhance the experience of both and is something we encourage for your summer vacation.

If there is a topic you would like to read about or questions on wine you can email or make suggestions by contacting the Healthy Community section at the Coeur d'Alene Press.

George Balling is co-owner with his wife Mary Lancaster of the dinner party a wine and table top decor shop in Coeur d'Alene.