American Wine
American Wine (Contributed)

New wine books typically come out in the fall, in time for holiday gift-giving. But some impressive new books are out this month and next. Here's a roundup of the volumes most worth a look.

The domestic scene

A lot has changed on the U.S. wine scene since Leon D. Adams' authoritative "The Wines of America" was first published in 1973. The United States is now the largest consumer of wine and the fourth-largest producer of wine in the world. There are more than 7,000 domestic wine producers, compared with just 440 in 1970, and wineries are operating in every state.

Jancis Robinson and Linda Murphy tackle this dynamic wine scene in "American Wine: The Ultimate Companion to the Wines and Wineries of the United States" (University of California Press, $50, 288 pages). Robinson, a London-based Master of Wine and wine writer, and Murphy, a Sonoma County-based wine journalist, have given us a book that is noteworthy for its breadth of coverage.

Wine lovers here may not find much that's surprising in the California section, which consumes (rightfully) a large portion of the book, but the research is extremely thorough. The book is divided by American Viticultural Areas, with plenty of stories about the players in each. A "snapshot" feature for various AVAs gives statistical data and lists wineries that are trailblazers, steady hands, superstars and ones to watch. (Such lists are always good for friendly debate and discussion.)


Advertisement

I'm particularly impressed by the coverage given to states beyond the big three of California, Oregon and Washington. Every state gets at least a mention. New York, which is producing fantastic wine, gets the extensive coverage it deserves, and even states such as Texas, Arizona, Michigan, Missouri and Virginia get good attention.

There's also a good discussion of grape varieties, including some you've probably never heard of, and of new winemaking techniques. "American Wine" is also nicely illustrated with pretty photographs and good maps.

Sicily

For a book with a more scholarly tone, there's the impressively well-researched "The World of Sicilian Wine" by Bill Nesto and Frances Di Savino (University of California Press, $32.95, 320 pages), which comes out later this month. Nesto, a Master of Wine, and his wife, Di Savino, an attorney with a background in medieval and Renaissance studies, delve deeply into the history (both general and wine-related) of an island where multiple cultures -- from the Greeks, Romans and Muslims to the Normans, Spanish and British -- have intersected, creating a rich mosaic of life. Then they examine the modern Sicilian wine industry, which was reborn in the 1980s and '90s.

The World of Sicilian Wine
The World of Sicilian Wine (Contributed)

They go on to describe the grapes, both indigenous and international, and the people and give a detailed breakdown of the island's regions, along with lists of recommended wine producers. Sicily is, of course, a part of other books that have been written about Italian wine, but this is the most comprehensive work I've seen strictly on Sicily. It's probably a bit much for the casual wine consumer, but for anyone who loves Italian wines and wants to know more about Sicily, the book is invaluable.

Bordeaux

Bordeaux Legends
Bordeaux Legends (Contributed)

Sadly, most of us can no longer afford the wines of the five first-growth chateaus of Bordeaux. Prices for chateaus Latour, Margaux, Haut-Brion, Lafite Rothschild and Mouton Rothschild have skyrocketed in recent years, with much of the increase fueled by demand from Asia. But these superstars of France are still interesting to read about. Jane Anson, who covers Bordeaux for Decanter magazine, does an admirable job of telling their stories in "Bordeaux Legends" (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $55, 288 pages), which will be out next month.

A lot of books about Bordeaux are more about rankings and tasting notes, but "Bordeaux Legends" takes a different approach. It brings the stories of these chateaus together and places them in their historical context -- including the 1855 classification process that named four first-growths and the 1973 decision to elevate Mouton to that status. The book is full of the romance of these iconic chateaus, but it also offers interesting details about the business of running their global empires. Ultimately, Anson's book is a look at the complexities of producing the wines that many consider to be among the world's best.

Contact Laurie Daniel at ladaniel@earthlink.net.