A summer crop of wine books

With summer winding down, here’s a look at some imbiber-oriented beach reading:

•  Nose by James Conaway (Thomas Dunne, $24.99): In 1990, Conaway wrote Napa, a tell-all about the egos and ambitions of the Gallos and Mondavis who put California on the world wine map. Now he’s written a novel about the area that will make him unpopular there again. It’s about a love-to-hate-him wine critic named Clyde Craven-Jones who finally finds a wine worth his top score, only to learn it has no discernible origin. He sets out to solve the mystery with amusing results.

•  A Beer Drinker’s Guide to Knowing and Enjoying Fine Wine by Jim Laughren (Crosstown, $16.95): “No one says you have to give up beer,” Laughren writes. Then he cites a dozen reasons why beer drinkers should at least take a foray into wine, including the notion that tastings are “great venues for slightly tipsy encounters of the possible romantic kind.” He urges readers to embrace their “inner wino,” describing how to taste and defining such wine-speak terms as “feminine,” “masculine,” “clumsy,” “reticent” and “hollow.” A cheeky read, but also a helpful beginner’s guide.

•  Wines of the New South Africa by Tim James (University of California, $39.95): For centuries, South Africa’s sweet dessert wines were famous. Then came apartheid and isolation from world markets that reduced many of the country’s wines to mediocre plonk sold in bulk shipping containers. Since the advent of free elections in 1994, the country has emerged as a producer of excellent wines. A hopeful and interesting read.

•  Postmodern Winemaking: Rethinking the Modern Science of an Ancient Craft by Clark Smith (University of California, $34.95): Smith, winemaker for Diamond Ridge Vineyards and owner of WineSmith Cellars, started out making wine the science-based American way, juggling ingredients, running statistical analyses and producing clean, proper vintages that “had no sex appeal.” But if over-manipulation was futile, so was the hands-off “natural” wine movement. It turns out, he says, that techniques like reverse osmosis to lower alcohol levels have a place in making “soulful wines.” Inside baseball, but a great read for serious wine fans.

•  Vacations & Libations: Enjoy France & Europe Our Way by Scott Bailey (XLibris, $29.95): Perusing this self-published book is like listening to a well-traveled, discerning friend share his evaluations of European hotels, restaurants and wineries. It’s based on trips that Bailey, a Coral Gables business consultant, made with his wife and son from 1995 and 2011. His judgments are candid. In Austria, the popular gruner veltliner wine is “rich and clean,” but the country’s red wines are “undistinguished.” And taxi drivers in Prague are “notorious rip-off artists.”

Fred Tasker writes about wine for the McClatchy News Service. Contact him at

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