It’s the time of year for ubiquitous lists of books that are deemed appropriate to be read “on the beach.”
I have never quite understood what qualifies one book over another to be read on the sand. Length? Seasonal content? The ability of the pages to withstand sunscreen smudges?
However, I’m also the kind of person that lugs giant tomes to the beach. I read War & Peace on a beach in Jamaica. In Bermuda I sat under an umbrella and read about the Iraq War. I finished Whittaker Chambers’ book, Witness, at a resort in Antigua. Yes, I like nice beaches, and yes, I’m obviously a really good time at parties. (And I also don’t get in the water much, because the ocean is the shark’s house, people.)
Anyway, all of that to introduce the list below. We’ve listed five of our favorite stories about wine, ones that you can read anywhere you want. Just like a good bottle of bubbly, these books don’t need a reason or a season to be enjoyed.
(And what makes this list better than any other is that we also suggest wine to drink along with your book. You're welcome.)
Without hesitation, I will tell you that this is my favorite wine book. Kermit Lynch is now a wine merchant of international renown, but back in the late 1980s and 1990s, he was a lowly wine merchant driving around France in a rental car and climbing from one mildewy cellar to the next to bring back the wines that made him famous. There’s no uppity commentary or elitist wine musings in this book; just a focus on how the purity of the place and its people translates into wine. (One of my favorite passages discusses how a male vintner’s wine often reflects the demeanor and temperament of his wife.) Each chapter focuses on a different growing region: Burgundy, Bordeaux, the Loire, the Languedoc, Provence, and the Rhône. The book is a love story to wine, an ode to the individuals who produce it, and a pleasure to read.
Pairing: Pick up a bottle of red or rosé from Domaine Tempier (Provence) – probably the wine most associated with the history of Kermit Lynch. Lynch started importing Domaine Tempier in the mid-1970s and Tempier has now become one of his most important producers, and one of the most esteemed names in the word. (You can afford a bottle if you’re willing to spend in the neighborhood of $40-$50!)
“Veuve” means “widow,” in French and this is the story of Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin, the young widow who led the Clicquot wine house into prominence, revolutionized the Traditional Method of making champagne, and did all this while smashing the glass ceiling before anyone even knew what a glass ceiling represented. The story is told from the perspective of the author, and contains digestible tid bits about the invention of and process for making the world’s favorite sparkling beverage. A quick, easy and interesting (and inspiring!) read.
Pairing: Champagne, of course! If you want to be authentic about it, a bottle of yellow-label Clicquot will run you between $45-50. (The Grande Dame, the good stuff, is a little more pricey at $150-200.) If you don’t want to splurge, find a sparkling wine that’s made in the Traditional Method and sip away.
Ever wondered how Napa got its start? It was a dusty old farming town before the likes of Jack and Jamie Davies, Robert Mondavi, John Daniel and André Tchelistcheff made it into a world-class wine-producing region. But it wasn’t easy, and like any great American story, there was a whole lot of drama – family feuds, lawsuits, bankruptcies, divorces, you name it, and Conaway has probably written about it. This story is a social history as much as anything else, and will give you the cultural and historical context to help you appreciate your next visit to the Cali vineyards.
Pairing: A Cabernet Sauvignon from BV (short for Beaulieu Vineyards), a bottle of Schramsberg sparkling wine, or anything from Howell Mountain – the first Napa sub-region to be officially recognized as an American Viticultural Area.
This is one of my favorite wine books to re-visit, because it’s got everything – history, world-class vintages, fraud, mystery, criminals, Thomas Jefferson, and a Koch brother. Not only did I learn a ton about the great Houses of Bordeaux, I got a taste for how the other half lives and have decided to aspire to it! This book also discusses wine fraud in detail – an issue that continues to deeply impact and resonate throughout the wine world. It’s a fast-paced, interesting and informative read, with enough real-life drama that a movie is in the works.
Pairing: The wines referenced in this book are wildly out of my price range, but grab yourself a Bordeaux from the Haut-Médoc (home of all of the Bordeaux first-growths but one) and sip aspirationally!
I was gifted this book for Christmas, and in true vacation mode, sat in my pajamas and read it all in a single day. Not many of us think about how the ancient vineyards of France survived two World Wars, but it’s a legitimate question, and the answer is far more interesting than I would have imagined. It turns out that the love of good wine – and the appreciation for its history – spans political and ideological differences, even in wartime. It also turns out that there are a number of interesting ways to build wine into a wall. A fast and entertaining read.
Pairing: Grab a bottle of white or red Burgundy (Pinot Noir or Chardonnay) and sip appreciatively while you read just how close these vines came to disappearing forever.