The bookshelves in my kitchen long ago exceeded their maximum capacity. Nowadays, those shelves are stocked only with essential titles that come in handy when emergencies arise — like when I forget how to truss a moose or the best way to deodorize a durian.
Most of my books about food and beverages are shelved with the rest of the library, a few feet away from the volumes of poetry and fiction, and fantasy — a category that includes the many dozens of tomes that promise to improve my golf swing.
In case your holiday shopping list includes books about food and drink, here are a few recommendations.
These days, I never feel the need to consult big wine reference books — the ones that offer you a capsule description of every vineyard and vintage in Burgundy and beyond.
They’re too heavy to lug to the local wine shop — and when you get to the wine shop, most of the wines that are mentioned won’t be available. Plus, they’re always out of date.
They might be useful if you’re buying from auction houses or stocking a massive cellar, but if you’re picking up bottles for actual drinking, not so much (besides, if you have a Web-enabled phone, you can find current online wine reviews while standing in front of the shelves).
Better are lively books that fill your mind and memory with stories of wine and its makers.
In a similar vein, Natalie MacLean’s “Unquenchable: A Tipsy Quest for the World’s Best Bargain Wines” is one of this year’s most entertaining — and genuinely useful — wine books.
MacLean is a populist and populizer, with a personal story to tell, an ear for memorable anecdote and a keen understanding of the history, science and romance of wine (and though the book focuses on regions where the best bargains can be found, she writes with authority about great wines as well).
With “Unquenchable,” she does for the rest of the world what Lynch did for the then lesser-known regions of France. Her travels take her to Australia, Africa and Argentina; to Sicily, Germany, Portugal and Provence (where she investigates the region’s great rosés; and to Ontario (MacLean is a Canadian), a region where some of North America’s finest wines are now being produced (mostly unknown to those of us who live below the 49th Parallel).
MacLean discovers the essence of each region she covers, talking to larger-than-life characters, demystifying issues of climate and geography, and writing vivid, accessible prose about the wines she drinks.
Instead of the laughably obscure mumbo-jumbo that dominates most wine writing, she shares the experience of drinking wine with food. Of a German Riesling, she writes, “The wine is like a foam cuisine: an ethereal essence of flavor. We drink it with some of the foods that are toughest on wine, such as sauerkraut, bratwurst and Wienerschnitzel. (Maybe the Germans had to invent such a resilient wine just to match their traditional cuisine).”
As a practical matter, each chapter concludes with simple tips about how to find the best wines of the region, lists of the most interesting producers, suggested pairings and online and print resources.
You can read more reviews of my new wine book Unquenchable here.