The Washington Post

Best wine books of 2021 take you on journeys through Italy, France, California

- DAVE MCINTYRE Mcintyre blogs at On Twitter: @dmwine.

Wine lovers lost a dear friend this year with the death of Steven Spurrier. But he left us a final bequest that should delight us for years to come: the Académie du Vin Library. Named for Spurrier’s 1970s school in Paris, where he educated expats in the joys of French wine and schooled the French that the New World had caught up to them, this imprint aims to publish new works about wine as well as older works that have gone out of print but should not be forgotten.

This year’s best wine books, ideal for holiday giving, include three from the Académie du Vin Library and an engaging romp through the wine country of southern Italy.

Hands down the wine book of the year: “In the Vine Country” (Academie Du Vin Library, $26), by Edith Somerville and Martin Ross (a pseudonym of Violet Florence Martin). These Irish cousins from County Cork penned several travel books and articles about Ireland and Europe in the 1880s and 1890s. Summoned to London by the editor of the Lady’s Pictorial magazine, they were given an unwieldy contraptio­n they called “the Kodak” and dispatched to Bordeaux to chronicle the wine harvest. More than a century later, they give us a fascinatin­g glimpse into the world’s most famous wine region at the advent of wine’s modern era. Bordeaux was recovering from the ravages of phylloxera, reestablis­hing its vineyards with a sense of optimism and exploring modern technology and chemistry to fight traditiona­l vine diseases.

Anyone who has visited Chateau Mouton Rothschild and its neighbor cousin, Chateau LafiteRoth­schild, will nod in recognitio­n as the cousins describe their own visits. Eventually, they chafe at the suffocatin­g hospitalit­y of their hosts and escape to meet “real people” — those who tend the vines and enjoy the wine without pomp and circumstan­ce.

Cultural difference­s add spice to the story. The cousins have an innate Irish dislike of the French, especially the “cloud of garlic” that seems to surround everyone they meet. (This fear of the stinking rose reminded me of my Scots-irish mother’s cooking.)

But the real jaw-dropping moment comes when the authors leave the “stunted little shrubs” on Bordeaux’s Left Bank of the Médoc for the Right Bank region of SaintÉmili­on and its “air of generous luxuriance” and “vineyards of our more poetical visions.” Here they visit a “scientific vineyard” where the “charm of color conferred by the blue-green sulphate of copper that stains all the leaves is a fine confirmati­on of the theory that the useful is necessaril­y the beautiful.”

This was during harvest! The authors describe joyful peasants pulling loads of freshly harvested grapes through vine rows painted with this chemical spray that became known as the Bordeaux mixture. It’s still widely used today, though perhaps not so close to harvest. Today, modern viticultur­e is moving away from reliance on chemical sprays and toward more natural, environmen­tally friendly practices.

We never see photograph­s Somerville and Ross took with “the Kodak.” But they have left us, who carry cameras in our pockets, an invaluable snapshot of the beginning of an era now coming to an end.

The Académie du Vin Library’s most ballyhooed new publicatio­n this year was “On California: From Napa to Nebbiolo . . . Wine Tales from the Golden State.” (Academie Du Vin Library, $45) This is a compilatio­n of essays mostly from British writers, such as Hugh Johnson, Jane Anson, Harry Waugh, Spurrier and others. Some American perspectiv­e is provided by Elin Mccoy, Elaine Chukan Brown, Esther Mobley, Jon Bonné and Norm Roby. Winemakers Warren Winiarski, Paul Draper and Randall Grahm also contribute chapters. This is a book for novices and geeks interested in the significan­ce of California through America’s wine history, from the swashbuckl­ing era of Agoston Haraszthy through modern Napa’s cult cabernets and today’s despair over wildfires and drought.

“Oz Clarke On Wine: Your Global Wine Companion” (Academie Du Vin Library, $45) is part memoir, part travelogue, part wine primer by a former Shakespear­ean actor turned wine writer. Oz Clarke takes us on a world tour, romping through grape varieties and wine regions. His prose has an oratorical flair, like a vinous soliloquy summoning us to enjoy the pleasures of the grape. Reading Clarke may be the closest we’ll come to sharing a glass of sack with the Bard himself.

Finally, Robert V. Camuto, a prolific wine and travel writer for Wine Spectator magazine and other publicatio­ns, including The Washington Post, gives us a delicious pre-pandemic travelogue through southern Italy in “South of Somewhere: Wine, Food and the Soul of Italy” (University of Nebraska Press, $25). Camuto isn’t breaking new ground here — in fact, he’s following the same playbook as Somerville and Ross a century earlier. He gives us an engaging snapshot of a region chafing at its inferior stature compared with northern Italy. We meet ambitious younger generation­s clashing with their parents over values, both cultural and viticultur­al. The winemakers and their families Camuto introduces us to are not unlike those Somerville and Ross met more than a century ago. And they’re not unlike us, though they may eat better. Both books invite us to travel — one through time, the other to a rugged land of spicy salumi, down-to-earth folk and honest wines.

Darn it. Where’s my passport?

 ?? ?? SOUTH OF SOMEWHERE Wine, Food and the Soul of Italy
Robert V. Camuto
SOUTH OF SOMEWHERE Wine, Food and the Soul of Italy Robert V. Camuto
 ?? ?? ON CALIFORNIA From Napa to Nebbiolo . . . Wine Tales from the Golden State
ON CALIFORNIA From Napa to Nebbiolo . . . Wine Tales from the Golden State
Your Global Wine Companion
Oz Clarke
OZ CLARKE ON WINE Your Global Wine Companion Oz Clarke
 ?? Edith Somerville and Martin Ross ?? IN THE VINE COUNTRY
Edith Somerville and Martin Ross IN THE VINE COUNTRY
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