Every year around this time, I share some of the books I found interesting in the past 12 months. Books are always a great gift for wine aficionados or those with grape curiosities.
No kidding, I’ve always wondered what wine was served during biblical times. Wine is mentioned many dozen times in the Old and New Testaments, but the varietal never gets a shout out. I’ve asked some pretty knowledgeable wine folk and the best they could come up with is a guess (muscat is the best speculative answer).
Turns out no real scientific sleuthing had been initiated, that is until Joel Butler and Randall Heskett set out to explore the ancient wine world in their book Divine Vintage: Following the Wine Trail from Genesis to the Modern Age (Palgrave Macmillan, $27). Published in late 2012, it was easily the most interesting wine book I read this year. Butler holds a Master of Wine certification and Heskett is a biblical scholar.
The two explore the ancient world’s complex relationship with wine by offering historical perspective to many scenes from the Bible, from the cupbearer’s dream right up to the Last Supper. The two also visit wine regions in Turkey, Greece and the Middle East and report on what wines are currently being produced.
Two books that seem complete opposites were published in 2013, but I find great similarities in them. The seventh edition of The World Atlas of Wine (Octopus Publishing, $55), written by two of the greatest authorities on wine, Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson, describes everything you’d ever want to know about any wine region. What I like best about the new edition are the maps, which were already fabulously detailed. They’ve somehow made them cleaner and more precise. To call this 300-plus page tome “indispensible” to understanding the wine world is no overstatement.
The former, long-time wine columnist for the Fort Worth (Texas) Star Telegram, Jeff Siegel, has published The Wine Curmudgeon’s Guide to Cheap Wine (Village Noir Media, $12.95). But, it’s less of a guide to specific wines and more of a how-to book for enjoying wine. If Johnson and Robinson’s book is the definitive manual to understanding where your wine comes from, Siegel’s book is the first and last stop to help readers make sense of a complicated wine world. He explains how wines are priced, distributed, reviewed and perceived in the United States. Once you allow Siegel to pull away the curtains surrounding the wine industry and allow him to introduce you to some lesser-known wine regions and varieties, you can begin to enjoy your wine more thoroughly and, almost as a bonus, more cheaply.
Martha M. Ezzard took an indirect route to the wine industry. She spent years in politics in Colorado, returned to her native Georgia to become a columnist for this very publication, only to head to the mountains to start a winery. She covers this trek and more in her book, Second Bud—Deserting the City for a Farm Winery (Mercer Press, $25). This memoir chronicles her departure from the big city newspaper and her arrival in Tiger Mountain, Ga., the ancestral home of her husband, Dr. John Ezzard.
Most of Ezzard’s story, at least surrounding the start up and maintenance of Tiger Mountain Vineyards, is one of hard work and hardship. She learned quickly that grape growers survive at the mercy of Mother Nature, who more than once raised a cruel hand against Tiger Mountain. While challenged physically and mentally by the vagaries of farming, throughout her easy-flowing narrative Ezzard is continually inspired and buoyed by the beauty of the mountains and kindness of its people.
Gil Kulers is a sommelier and maitre d’ for an Atlanta country club. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.