Gold Standard: Reviewing the New York Times’ Book of Wine

By Thomas Madrecki

The joy of The New York Times’ newly released Book of Wine is not its comprehensive nature, or its potential to provide an educational overview of grape growing and wine making globally. Rather, this collection of short columns – dozens and dozens! – should be treasured and valued for its fascinating breadth of coverage, its countless nuggets of vinological miscellany, and most of all, its devotion to sterling English journalism.

For the wine-obsessed and those readers who already have a good grasp of the basics from vineyard to bottle, there might be no better gift as the holidays quickly approach. From a fascinating journey into Chinatown’s illegal rice wine sale, to an ode to Jura’s counter-culture bottlings, to older, historically significant columns, the Book of Wine is chock-full of stories.

It’s that word in particular – stories – that sets the Book of Wine so far apart from other wine books on the shelves. For one, a time-pressed reader might here enjoy a quick tale just by flipping to a random new page. It’s a tremendously rewarding process, and with so many columns collected in one place, I imagine you could stay at it for quite a while.

Even more so, though, the story-driven aspect of the columns provides the reader with a take on wine that goes further than grapes and liquid hedonism: There are people, there are places, there is history. The smart, pointed prose of Frank Prial, Eric Asimov, Florence Fabricant, William Grimes, Terry Robards and others form a patchwork narrative quilt that breathes life into a subject that might otherwise seem corked.

Surely, a nitpicker could attempt to highlight flaws or shortcomings in individual columns, in an attempt to build a case against the New York Times’ wine authority. But to do so would miss the point of this book, which easily makes up for any occasionally questionable assertion with its power to convey wine as a sweeping, grandiose topic, rife with intricacies and fascination. Informative, challenging, charming and even funny at times, the Book of Wine comes highly recommended.

The New York Times’ Book of Wine is available now from Sterling Publishing for $24.95.

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