BOOK REVIEWS

The New California Wine

Jon Bonne’s “The New California Wine” is an insightfully written account of the wine revolution taking place in California in recent years and the young iconoclasts behind the exciting trends.

Bonne grew up under the mentorship of a father, who taught him about Old World wines from a very early age.  Well versed in European wines “from Vouvray to Valpolicella,” as he puts it, Bonne is clearly thrilled with the new winemaking trends; he sees the current practices as the application of lessons learned from the European vintners to the unique California climate and soil. Bonne is a strong believer in terroir; he particularly appreciates the new wine makers’ predilection for local grape varieties rather than the internationally recognized names.  These, he claims, “show nuance, restraint and deep evocation of place,” unlike the heavily doctored, bold wines with high alcohol levels that exude no varietal and or regional expression.

Today, California produces some ninety percent of the country’s wine and is the fourth largest wine producer globally, but the state’s current ascendancy has a long and interesting history. Bonne, in his refreshingly easy style, takes the reader on a historical journey by comparing past winemaking practices with current trends, chronicling along the way the ever-present tension between the Old World and the New, as well as tracing the maturing American wine palate through the decades.  While this book is about the Young Turks of the present, Bonne also acknowledges and salutes some of the old California wine makers, such as Ted Lemon, Rick Longoria and Steve Edmunds for their avant-garde wine making practices who battled the odds, long before the current revolutionary movement started.

Whether or not you agree with his conclusions, Bonne’s book is not only a comprehensive treatment of the sweeping changes in California winemaking scene, but it provides a welcome resource for wine lovers with its lists of the many small artisanal producers and the wines behind this exhilarating new wave.  A must have reference book for those who appreciate and enjoy California wine.

Tasting the Past

A journey of an inquisitive mind wishing to trace the origins of a wine, once tasted in the distant past leaving an indelible impression – this is Kevin Begos’ intriguing story in his book “Tasting The Past.”

Begos, an Associated Press Correspondent on assignment to the Middle East sits in his hotel room in Amman, Jordan on his last night in the country before flying home the following day. His options for a drink are limited – after all, it is a devout Muslim country. He explores the contents of the room’s mini-bar and reluctantly opens the bottle of red wine. It is named Cremisan. Begos does not have any expectations from this wine as he takes his first sip. To his surprise, he is immediately impressed. And the dry, Syrah-like, peppery, spicy flavored wine sets him on his quest to find the origins of Cremisan.

Begos’ search for Cremisan lasts for more than ten years. It takes him from the Caucasus Mountains where the first wine was made some eight thousand years ago, to the Holy Land and to Europe. It involves countless interviews with not only the monks of the Cremisan monastery in Jerusalem, where Cremisan was made, but also with a host of winemakers, academics and the world renowned ampleographer, Jose Vouillamoz.

During his travels retracing the ancient wine routes, Begos discovers many exciting local grape varieties, each with a unique quality and flavor. This revalidates his conviction at the outset of his quest that indigenous wine grapes have been swapped for more profitable and trendier international varieties such as Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Riesling. He clearly laments the “globalization” of the wine industry. He believes that not all grapes thrive in all soils and that terroir is one of the determining factors for successful winemaking. Begos equally loathes the concept of wine rating, which, he thinks, conditions consumers’ palate to certain flavor profiles. He is on the other hand, quite excited and hopeful to see innovative winemakers defying the global trends by experimenting with different varieties, their choice of yeast, fermentation techniques and aging their wine.

Tasting The Past is a very enjoyable read. Begos’ work is multidisciplinary bringing history, science, geography and literature together. His research is thorough, impressive and informative. If there is any criticism, it is perhaps that the narrative appears to be a little overwhelming at times, packed as it is with an abundance of information.