Wine, Spirits, And Food: The Books To Buoy You Through Winter

Food & Drink

Winter’s back, right on time. While the season of low light and short days doesn’t manifest the same in every state – looking at you Florida and California – those in the north are largely trapped indoors. Throw a pandemic into the mix and a The Shining awaits a contemporary remake. Fortunately, a slew of recently published wine, food, and spirits books will keep minds active and glasses lifted through endless lockdowns, whether self-imposed or enforced.

Get inspired: discover the wine and foods of Georgia, sharpen your blind tasting skills, or try your hand at wine pairings with brunch dishes.

The Essential Wine Book, A Modern Guide to the Changing World of Wine by Zachary Sussman

Zachary Sussman, a Brooklyn-based writer and educator, has long expounded upon wine with clarity and curiosity. His regular contributions to digital drinks publications like Punch typically deliver illuminating attempts to answer a question, not simply report on trends. Thus, it’s exciting to see his reflections on the current state of the wine industry codified in a book, notably one called Essential. After curling up with this book over the holidays, I agree with the title.

This little red field guide is almost small enough to fit into a bag should one wish to tote it between restaurants and wine bars whenever normal-ish life returns. Until then, flip through the chapters—which touch on production, tasting, terroir and regions of the world—to discover what Sussman finds relevant to the modern world of wine. Each section starts with a brief cliff notes or “highlights” before digging into the meat of the region, whether classic appellations or obscure regions now finding favor with sommeliers and wine lovers.

Sussman states up front that his mission is not to reiterate common knowledge about blue chips or fabled institutions. Rather, he shares insights, often suited to younger (in age or finances) drinkers like how to find value in Burgundy or why the Jura became the obsession of wine geeks. Sussman acknowledges the limitations of this book—there’s not enough space to praise every esoteric wine worth seeking out. Hopefully, he’ll reserve those notes for book two.

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The Wines of Georgia by Lisa Granik 

To paraphrase Master of Wine Lisa Granik, Georgia is a country that reveres history, tradition, and culture. Georgia’s winemakers navigate the tension between working in the world’s oldest wine region that is simultaneously one of the youngest—one that has recently emerged “out of the wreckage of hulking Soviet factories” writes Granik.

The weight of history behind a country that lives its wine culture and Granik’s thoughtful treatment of the topic, is what makes this work a fascinating reference book. Yes, it has an academic bent with the goal of sketching Georgia’s rapidly evolving industry spanning the last 25 years. Granik opens with Georgia’s geology, then follows with history, wine culture, grapes, regions and as many relevant producers as she can squeeze in. This book is a must-pack for any wine lover planning a trip to Georgia—whenever travelers can safely fly again.  

Tasting Georgia: A Food and Wine Journey in the Caucasus by Carla Capalbo

Since most Americans can’t (or shouldn’t) travel, housebound wine lovers and adventurous cooks should pick up Carla Capalbo’s tome on Georgian food and wine. With seventy recipes brought to life by Capalbo’s beautiful photography, choosing where to start proves difficult. Maybe try rolling, filling, and twisting a round of classic dumplings called khinkali? Or prepare a hearty, healthy platter of chicken in pomegranate juice?

Coverage of key wine regions and the history of winemaking, including the function of Georgia’s traditional terracotta aging vessels called quevri, will inspire readers to chase down bottles online. The overview of Georgia’s exuberant cultural affair called the supra will have you planning a winter warming feast at home. While not a replacement for the real thing, one can certainly try.

Whiskey Master Class by Lew Bryson

If you can only afford (whether in shelf space or dollars) one reference book on whiskey, then order Whiskey Master Class today. Given the abuse and overuse of the phrase “Master Class,” Bryson’s book marvelously redeems the concept.

Of course, Bryson’s background reads like a resume of top writing jobs in the whiskey world, from managing editor of Whisky Advocate to his current role as Senior Drinks Writer for the Daily Beast, plus all the books he has written in between.

In the book, Bryson contrasts global styles of whiskey, explains processes and materials used to achieve those styles, as well as covers bourbon, rye and “more,” as the title suggests. Bryson’s legacy as an educator shows in his writing—his easygoing, unpretentious, and even humorous style helping turn dry technical insights into compelling nuggets long imprinted on the reader’s memory.

Beyond Flavour: The Indispensable Handbook to Blind Wine Tasting by Nick Jackson MW

Beyond Flavour was written by a Master of Wine who passed the stages of the examinations with enviable ease. I know because we met as students in a Master of Wine tasting group; two years later, Nick was teaching our merry band of masochists the theory of tasting he would eventually lay out in this book. Tasting for texture; describing the shape of tannins and acidity rather than obsess over fruit salad notes– these ideas characterize some of his perspective.

His book, described as “a practical guide to blind wine tasting” to “help wine lovers increase their knowledge and improve their blind tasting skills” is geared towards students and professionals over lay people. Of course, the overview of wine styles by country and region plus descriptions of recent vintages for classic European origins may be of interest to serious wine lovers.

While the book doesn’t serve as a one-stop-shop for mastering blind tasting, it’s a fantastic complement to any pupil’s arsenal. And while the pandemic has temporarily halted the certification ambitions of wine students globally, there’s arguably no better time to study than now.

The Sommelier’s Cookbook: Recipes and Wine Pairings for Discerning Palates by Joanie Métivier

Food and wine pairing advice, whether in books, articles or from the sommelier standing over your table, frequently comes off as precious or overwrought dictates. What consumers need are tools not fastidious rules.

Thus, Joanie Métivier’s book functions as a welcome counterpoint to the wealth of material on the subject, worthy of shelf space from its gorgeous cover alone. However, it’s her ability to blend her experience as a sommelier with her journalistic skills, to create an accessible guide to achieving synergy on the dinner table.

In truth, there are some pairings that work better than others and other pairings that kill the taste of the wine, food or both–knowing a few basics helps home cooks elevate their pandemic dinner game. Métivier covers the 101s of pairing, gives background on wine types and blends as well as new styles and categories like natural wine. Finally, 75 easy recipes inspire readers to heat a frying pan and pick up a corkscrew whether for brunch, appetizers, or main dishes.

Vines & Vision: The Winemakers of Santa Barbara County, words by Matt Kettmann, images by Macduff Everton

The result of a multi-year undertaking, this 632-page tome is an in-depth, first-of-its-kind portrait of one of the world’s most exciting and beautiful wine-growing regions during a pivotal time in its existence. Featuring about 100 profiles of both pioneering and young winemakers, nearly 1,000 intimate photographs, and chapters on history, geography, a year-in-the-life of a vineyard, and trends, it’s a wine book that’s much more about people and place than bottles.

There is also a long chapter focused on everyone that it takes to bring a vintage to market, most importantly the farm laborers, whose stories are finally told with respect and whose names are proudly published, no longer relegating their critical roles to passing references.

The authors are Wine Enthusiast contributing editor Matt Kettmann, whose covered the region for more than 20 years, and renowned photojournalist Macduff Everton, who’s worked for National Geographic, LIFE, and numerous Conde Nast titles over his multi-decade career. A limited number of signed books are available through the website otherwise check retailers here.

The Wines of Germany by Anne Krebiehl MW

Understanding German wine laws, regions, and labeling has always been the bane of professionals and wine students, let alone the average consumer simply trying to decipher the implications of “feinherb” and “spätlese” on a bottle. Fortunately, German-born but London-based Anne Krebiehl MW, a freelance wine writer and lecturer, has done us all a service crafting this excellent book on the country’s wines with her usual eloquent, artful, and clear prose.

While many would consider this a reference book of granularity more suited to professionals and Engaged Explorers, it still offers the appeal of history, culture storytelling, and even a scandal or two for curious wine drinkers on the cusp of a deep dive into their first wine book.

For the connoisseurs of German Riesling, the burgeoning category of Pinot Noir or Spätburgunder, and increasingly delicious sekt, this book weaves Krebiehl’s hard-fought observations into producer overviews and regional trends. In other words, there’s something for everyone in The Wines of Germany.

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