Last year was the year I discovered wine. Sure, I've been drinking wine since before I was 21 if you count communion, but until 2016 I was content to drink whatever plonk was the second cheapest on the menu. That is until I opened a bottle of Broc Cellar's 2015 Love White. I didn't know wine could be so vibrant, dynamic, and alive. By comparison, the cheap, mass-produced wine I had been drinking felt sterile. I soon discovered other new wave American wine makers like Donkey & Goat, Wind Gap, Dirty & Rowdy, and Matthiason. I also turned to old world vintners, favoring traditionalists in Beaujolais and the Loire Valley.
My new found passion made me wonder, "what makes a wine special?" Thanks to the recommendations of a few better informed friends, I got my hands on a few books that helped me better appreciate my favorite bottles.
A guy at my favorite wine shop taught me a helpful trick. If you ever don't know what wine to get, turn the label around and see who imported it. If Kermit Lynch did, you can't go wrong. Adventures on the Wine Route is a memoir of sorts from the Berkeley-based importer. Starting with the Loire Valley and ending in Chablis, the book follows the most important wine producing regions of France. Taking place predominately in the 70s and 80s, Lynch's experiences are contemporaneous with a time of major transition in the wine industry, as many vintners abandoned traditional practices for more profitable industrial systems. Lynch acts as an evangelist for the old ways, pleading with winemakers not to filter their wines or stop fermenting with native yeasts.
Before wine producers embraced the industrial farming practices that are so prevalent today they now bear the name "conventional farming," wine was made naturally. In other words, grapes where grown alongside other crops, without the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Fermentation started naturally with the indigenous yeast found on the grape skins, and additives weren't put in the finished product to change the flavor. Although conventional farming and industrial winemaking techniques all but obliterated natural wine at the close of the 20th century, the movement is seeing a resurgence. Thanks to writers like Isabelle Legeron and her RAW WINE Fair, natural wine producers have gone from Luddites to rock stars in the public eye. Legeron's book Natural Wine is perhaps the best introduction to the movement. From profiles of producers like Olivier Cousin, who only plows his fields with horses and uses no sulfites, to explanations of fermentation, the book is an approachable reference with plenty of great pictures. If you only buy one book on natural wine, make it this one.
Let's face it, wine is pretty intimidating for us neophytes, which is why we love the approachable tone of Madeline Puckette and Justin Hammack's Wine Folly. With lots of great illustrations and infographics, Wine Folly takes everything you need to know to be an oenophile, and condenses it down to the essentials. Whether it's how to decant a bottle, choose the right glass, or pronounce "Sangiovese", this book has it all. Protip: their blog has a lot of great content too.