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UNCORKED: Tomes to bolster your understanding of wine

Wine is a complex subject. Very complex.

It’s not just a drink, it’s surrounded by stories, history, geography, and even controversy. I like to see wine as an adventure. Most of us start with a good glass of wine with dinner and one day something wakes us up to want to dive deeper into this mysterious liquid. Of course, you can learn more just by trying, but I consider a good read to be one of the most fascinating parts of the journey.

I’ve put together a list of my favorite readings that I know will trigger your adventure.

◼️ “Bordeaux: People, Power and Politics” by Stephen Brook – This book sparked my fascination for the French wine industry. There was a time when the world of wine had a very divided line between the Old and New Worlds. Unless you were inside the royal castles of Bordeaux, everything seemed a mystery … up to this book. This book examines the power of the press, merchants, negotiators (people who buy and vinify grapes, or buy and mix wines and bottle the result under their own labels) and everyone involved in the confusing pricing of the region. Brook also shares glimpses of the properties owned by whom, the implications of partnerships within them, and the fascinating history of the Bordeaux and pedigrees of some of the most powerful wine families in the world. I recommend this book to this day (and give it a lot) because it gives you a glimpse into the secrecy of the Bordeaux region.

◼️ “Judgment of Paris: California Vs France and the Historic 1976 Paris Tasting That Revolutionized Wine” by George Taber – If you’ve seen the 2008 film Bottle Shock, this is the book its story comes from. I was studying wine in London when California finally gained respect from the rest of the wine world. This book makes you proud of California’s determination to join the old world stage and the years it took to earn that respect. It all started with a single event that changed the world of wine forever. Taber, the only reporter to attend the 1976 Paris Tasting, takes you through the landmark event that transformed our American wine industry with a one-off tasting of California and French wines. It’s a must have in any wine library.

◼️ “The House of Mondavi: Rise and Fall of an American Wine Dynasty” by Julia Flynn Siler – I read this book at the beginning of my California wine tours. It was one of my first readings to look into the big business with wine. The book explores the Mondavi family from their beginnings in the Napa Valley to their sale to an international conglomerate with many revealing twists. After reading this book, I walked with greater understanding of the commitment, vision, and enthusiasm of the Mondavi family from Cesare Mondavi’s early days after Prohibition in America to the incredible glimpse into the success we have from today’s Napa Valley know.

◼️ “The Billionaire’s Vinegar” by Benjamin Wallace – A dear friend of mine who is familiar with wine bottle authentication gave me this book and just said, “It’s a must.” It connects the story of Thomas Jefferson’s infatuation with Bordeaux wines to the day one of his alleged bottles turned up at auction for a staggering $ 156,000. The book reads almost like a puzzle, but along the way it leads you into high stakes wine collecting where bottles can be auctioned off for astounding quantities. Wallace explores the cellars and people who buy these bottles and the journey through the recent discoveries of counterfeiting, counterfeiting, and those who are the masterminds of these counterfeits.

Lorri Hambuchen is a member of the London Institute of Wines and Spirits. E-mail: [email protected]

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