Uncork the Forks: Reading up on wine

Wine columnist Lenn Thompson shares his favorite books on wine. (Credit: Lenn Thompson)

I have a lot of wine books — and I mean a lot of wine books. I’m a bit of a wine book hoarder, honestly. And by that I mean that I’m great at buying wine books and keeping wine books but not always reading those books.

I could blame it on my kids and how they eat up my time with lacrosse practice, gymnastics, dance, football, etc. but the reality is that until recently, I’ve been spending way too much time watching TV that I don’t really care that much about or wasting time on my phone. I get caught up in the vortex of Wikipedia way too easily and spend way too much time on social media. But this summer, I’ve taken almost all of those apps off of my phone and rededicated myself to reading — and not just before bed when I’ll read two pages before falling asleep. It’s hard to get through books that way.

I’m not big on book reviews. I’m just not that good at writing them. But, I thought it might be worthwhile for me to share some of the more interesting wine books I’ve read in recent years. I won’t list things like The Wine Bible, which is a great go-to reference.

Instead, some of these lean very geeky — like the one I’m reading now. Others are just focused on the things that I’m most interested in within the wine world: The unique, the weird, the East Coast wine industry.

Godforsaken Grapes: A Slightly Tipsy Journey through the World of Strange, Obscure, and Underappreciated Wine

If you’re reading this column, you’re probably at least somewhat interested in wines made from standard grapes from standard locations. In this book, author Jason Wilson takes readers on a grape-and-wine journey from Switzerland, Austria, Portugal, France, Italy, the United States, and beyond without spending much time at all in regions you’d typically expect to find great wine.

An Unlikely Vineyard: The Education of a Farmer and Her Quest for Terroir

Author Deirdre Heekin who, along with her husband Caleb Barber, own and run one of the East Coast’s most unique wineries — la garagista in Barnard, Vermont — is among the most fascinating and inspiring people I’ve met in my travels as a wine writer. Her book, which was named one of the best wine books of 2014 by the New York Times is an exploration of their journey as they explore the unique terroir of their 8-acre estate through unique-to-most grape varieties. Even if you’re not into natural wines or even wine, this is a great book.

Wines of Vermont

Yes, another book about Vermont wine. Heekin and Barber have put Vermont on the North American wine map, but Vermont has a perhaps surprising history of fermented beverages beyond the New England-style IPAs that are so popular today. “Wines of Vermont” author Todd Trzaskos does a great job telling their story. Full disclosure: Todd is a friend of mine, but the book really is great!

Behind the Bottle: The Rise of Long Island Wine

How could I create one of these lists without including the most current book about Long Island wine? Author Eileen Duffy doesn’t write much about wine anymore, but her experience and access in and to the industry are on full display in this book. If you’re new to Long Island wine or even if you’ve been drinking it for years, you’ll learn something in this book.

The Wild Vine: A Forgotten Grape and the Untold Story of American Wine

There are some interesting books about Virginia and Mid-Atlantic wine, but this book by James Beard Award-winning restaurant critic Todd Kliman is perhaps the most fascinating. It tells the tale of Norton, a grape not enough people know about, from its cultivation in the 1800s through today where it’s still grown and vinified in Virginia and parts of the mid-west. There’s even a little bit growing in Riverhead.

Riesling Rediscovered: Bold, Bright and Dry

Here’s where we start to get a bit geekier. This isn’t a book for casual wine fans, at least I don’t think so. But if you’re interested in riesling, its a must-read. Author John Winthrop Haeger looks at the modern production of dry riesling through the prism of the grape’s history. It’s a bit of a dense read at times (I’m still working my way through it) but I learn something new about one of my favorite grapes every time I pick it up.

Flawless: Understanding Faults in Wine

Most people outside of the wine world won’t ever read this book. They probably don’t need to. But if you’ve ever smelled or tasted a wine that just seemed “off” to you and you’d like to know more about why, this book by Dr. Jamie Goode is for you. This is my current summer beach read (nerdy, I know) and it’s already changed the way that I think about wine flaws like Brettanomyces and oxidation.