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The best wine books of 2022 up close and personal

Remark

This was the year of the memoirs of wine writers. Who knew we lead such interesting lives?

My favorite wine books to recommend for holiday gifts this year are memoirs by two writers who are as different as possible while still focusing on a mutual love of wine, a farewell collection of columns from the long career of a celebrated writer, and a new edition of what is arguably the must-have wine guide of our time.

The Life and Wines of Hugh Johnson

By Hugh Johnson (Académie du Vin Library, 252 pages, $45)

The venerable British writer has sparked many a reader’s (including mine) love of wine with books like ‘Vintage: The Story of Wine’ and ‘The World Atlas of Wine’, now in its eighth edition (and co-authored by Jancis Robinson). “The Life and Wines of Hugh Johnson” is an updated revision of his 2005 work, “Wine: A Life Uncorked.” (Nice to have a mulligan in life.) It’s a memoir arranged more like a traditional wine primer or atlas. Instead of overloading us with stats on vineyards and soil types, Johnson takes us on a journey as he recounts his own travels as he explores the world of He’s been around the world, and seems to have been present at or at the beginning of any fashion or trend, even if he disapproved of them.

This is a must-have book for people planning their trips around vineyards. Johnson is at his best when he winds down history from ancient times to the present with wine as the constant thread. In a typical passage, he recounts a journey he made with fellow wine lovers, following the routes of the ancient Greeks to Lipari, a small island north of Sicily where Agamemnon searched for obsidian, the “black shattered lava” that ” made the sharpest edge then known”. for weapons. The island also made wine, of course.

“At Lipari, sitting in the balmy evening air under a vine, looking out over the wine-dark sea, I had no trouble dreaming myself back to the creaking and breaking of galleys, triremes with three banks of oars that the gray waltzes south of Italy” , he writes. “This wine seemed suitable for the warriors of the Trojan Wars: amber, nutty, dense and strong.”

Drink this to fall in love

By Alice Feiring (Scribner, 269 pages, $17)

While Johnson is a traditionalist, Alice Feiring is a pyre. Feiring, the country’s leading proponent of natural wine, burst into the wine world in 2008 with “The Battle for Wine and Love: Of How I Saved the World from Parkerization.” The book is both a memoir and a rallying cry against a not entirely imaginary world in which most wine satisfied the preferences of one almighty critic. “To Fall in Love, Drink This,” her latest (Scribner), is more personal.

Feiring teeters on a fine line between vanity and vulnerability as wine becomes her gateway to a life beyond the confines of her traditional Jewish upbringing in New York City, where wine meant Manischewitz at the Sabbath meal. For Feiring, wine is about connections – with nature, with the world, and most importantly, with other people: potential lovers, even a talkative plumber who shares his own vulnerabilities while taking too long to fix her toilet. She once used her artistic skills to draw kosher markings on the label of a wine she wanted her mother to taste. And when her brother, with whom she shared a lifelong emotional and spiritual bond, was dying of cancer, she poured him a Georgian wine “the color of rattlesnake venom,” not so much to revive him as to refresh himself. to cling to him. “Drinking that wine was the closest thing to sharing life with him, one last try,” she writes.

Along the way, Feiring introduces us to some of her favorite natural wine producers, including a husband-and-wife team she describes as “hospitable vegans.” These sections seem perfunctory, suggesting that Feiring’s single-minded and often ideological focus on natural wine may have closed her off—or may have shielded her—from potential connections to a much wider world.

Drinking with the Valkyries

By Andrew Jefford (Académie du Vin Library, 224 pages, $35)

Andrew Jefford is of the British school, a generation younger than Johnson, and began his career as a wine writer in 1988. “Drinking with the Valkyries” is a collection of Jefford’s columns, mainly for Decanter magazine. In such short doses, he uses different moods, from the dizzying pleasure of drinking young vintage port (the column that takes its title from the book) to gloomy reflection during the lull of the corona pandemic in France, where he lives, when the arrival of nightingales on their spring migration from Africa reminded him that beneath the silence the world still moved.

“Wine has never seemed so superfluous as a building, a vast palace of bustle; yet its essence, not only a physical but also a psychological or spiritual restorative, has never been more useful,” he writes. “Much and sometimes all of life’s usual texture has been stripped away, so we cherish that which reinforces determination – like a glass of wine at the end of the day. Wine has become elementary for now.

Jefford’s essays are like that glass of wine at the end of the day: restorative, uplifting, and enlightening. You might want to read one more before you put down the bottle – I mean, the book.

By Karen MacNeil (Workman, 736 pages, $40 for paperback)

New wine aficionados beginning to explore the horizon beyond the glass or anyone in need of a comprehensive reference book need look no further than the third edition of “The Wine Bible”. MacNeil has updated this third edition with color photos (finally) and new sections on ancient wine history and climate change. I like opening the book randomly. I’m always sure to see something new through MacNeil’s authoritative, whimsical, and always cheerful perspective.

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