It's been an unusual summer, to say the least. Due to the many closings and travel restrictions from the global pandemic, we've all had to shift plans and be nimble with our usual daily plans. But despite setbacks, I still managed to take in a few summer wine-centric reads by the pool. Here are a few of my favorite finds.
Beyond Flavour: The Indispensable Handbook to Blind Wine Tasting
By Nick Jackson, MW
Just to be clear, the spelling of the book is not a typo. It's written by celebrated U.K. native, Nick Jackson, a Master of Wine who works as a consultant in New York. I came by my copy of Beyond Flavour last February, just before the COVID shutdown, at the TEXSOM International Wine Awards where Jackson served as a judge for the competition and a mentor for the annual Sommelier Retreat that coincides with the event. Jackson's ease and approachability in working with sommeliers who are studying to further their professional careers enticed me to purchase a copy of his new book, which he had conveniently brought along with him, fresh off the press.
Beyond Flavour zooms in and out on how to approach specific varieties when tasting, but also how to taste wines based on region. While some descriptions are more thorough than others, the process offers would-be wine connoisseurs a few different perspectives on how to approach a wine. Jackson also offers a few helpful sections on how to sharpen your skills at answering wine examination questions and as well as a few of his favorite resource guides and other useful pieces of advice. Well worth the read for any sommelier in training.
Friuli Food and Wine: Frasca's Cooking from Northern Italy's Mountains, Vineyards, and Seaside
By Bobby Stuckey, Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson, and Meredith Erickson
Back in March, I finally had a chance to nab a reservation at Colorado's renowned Frasca, a fine dining establishment in Boulder (from chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson and Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey) with a focus on food and wine from the northern Italian region of Friuli. Usually, when I have a chance to visit Colorado, I head straight for the mountains, but for this occasion, I was on assignment to research Colorado's urban wine scene and was thrilled to have a chance to enjoy the Frasca experience. But then, the COVID 19 shutdown happened. And within 48 hours of my Frasca reservation, I ended up canceling my trip to Colorado altogether.
My initial disappointment in postponing the trip to a yet-to-be-determined date has been amplified over the past few months as I've witnessed the tragic unraveling of the nation's restaurant industry as a result of the pandemic and economic crisis in our country. At the forefront of the national call to action by restauranteurs was none other than Frasca's Bobby Stuckey. Joined by myriad top chefs, restaurant owners, and sommeliers across the country, Stuckey has been an integral voice in the newly founded Independent Restaurant Coalition, a trade group of restaurateurs that have lobbied the government for relief as a result of the pandemic shutdown crisis. During this turbulent time, the thought has crossed my mind numerous times that there may not be a Frasca reservation to re-book in the future, a grim realization that extends to thousands of restaurants across the country.
Consequently, I felt compelled to buy a copy of this book. From cover to cover, it's a beautiful homage to the region of Friuli presented through Stuckey and Mackinnon-Patterson's eyes. Rich photography and modern design help reveal the history of the region and the stories of its cuisine and wine culture. It's a book that represents the respect and passion shared by the Frasca team for this unique region of Italy. Beyond that, and through no intention of those who worked to get it published, it also represents a timestamp of a benchmark moment in our own history in which some of the most impactful restaurant teams who work hard to bring this country a little taste of other cultures from around the world have been brought to their knees. For my part, I hope to book that reservation again one day soon. Until then, this book will serve as a reminder to continue to support independent restaurants across this country.
Gold in the Vineyards
By Laura Catena
Anyone who has had the pleasure of sitting down for a chat with Laura Catena of Argentina's celebrated Catena Zapata knows that you're in for an engaging conversation. In fact, this renowned champion for Argentine wine (who also balances two day jobs as Managing Director of Catena Zapata and as a part-time Emergency Medicine physician in San Francisco) will likely be ready to dig deep with her own questions for you about how you engage with the world of wine, and how you think Argentine wines can best be represented in the global sphere.
The first time I encountered this book as over lunch at the Mendoza-based winery with Catena, who proudly revealed its recent printing. We had just finished an impressive tour of the facility led by Catena who then transitioned the experience into a makeshift brainstorming lunch, complete with white-board notes and a provocative discussion about the science of wine. As lunch was wrapping up, she shared the recent release of this illustrated homage to wine history. It had only been printed in Spanish at the time, but as of March this year, it is now available in English. This book offers a glimpse into Catena's passion for wine and family through the cleverly illustrated stories of some of the world's most iconic producers. Though serious about wine, Catena's artistic narrative also reveals her magnetic desire to inspire others to appreciate wine not only for what is in the glass but also for the people and the history behind it. An excellent gift for any wine novice or aficionado alike.
The Goode Guide to Wine: A Manifesto of Sorts
By Jamie Goode
Ok, so this book has yet to be released in the United States. In fact, I haven't even read it. So, it's probably more accurate to consider this write-up a teaser of what I think will be a fabulous read from celebrated wine writer Jamie Goode. This is not just a random hunch. It's a pretty safe bet having previously read Goode's 2018 "Flawless: Understanding Faults in Wine," a guide to understanding the subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle flaws in wine, and his 2014 "Wine Science: The Application of Science in Winemaking," both of which are go-to resources for wine professionals. And if you've followed along on his regular Instagram wine review videos over the past few months, you've caught a glimpse of Goode's witty-yet-colorful language amplified by a sort of James Joyce, stream-of-consciousness style. This new manifesto will reveal Goode's personal take on the wine industry, drawing on his travels and experiences throughout the wine world and promises to be as enjoyable to read as it is thought-provoking.
The Wines of South Africa
By Jim Clarke
Jim Clarke is a man of many talents. A trained music composer who made his way into the restaurant industry managing wine programs at some of New York's top restaurants, he's also well versed in beer, sake, and wine journalism. (Full disclosure, he happens to be a columnist for Wine Review Online, but we'll try not to hold that against him.) As the marketing manager for the Wines of South Africa, Clarke is also one of the world's leading experts on South African Wine, and accordingly, it's only fitting that he earned the opportunity to pen the definitive guide on the wines from this unique pocket of the world. From the deeply layered and complicated history of South Africa to the evolution of its reputed wine industry, this book not only gives an in-depth overview of the country's geography and climate but also digs deep into each of its distinctive growing regions. Clarke's intimate knowledge of so many of the country's top producers shines through in the myriad stories in their profiles. If you've only skimmed the surface of South African wine, this book will give you a greater understanding of what makes these wines, and the challenges and successes behind them so compelling.