Summer’s almost over. Here’s a last chance at some beachside-and-patio reading before you go back to work and school:
• “Nose: A Novel,” by James Conaway (Thomas Dunne Books, $24.99, 336 pages): In 1990 Conaway wrote “Napa,” a tell-all expose of 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 who finally finds a wine worth his top score of 20, only to learn it has no discernible origin. He sets out to solve the mystery, with pretty funny results. Nectar for the foodie crowd.
• “Vacations & Libations: Enjoy France & Europe Our Way” by Scott Bailey (XLibris Corp. $29.95, 182 pages): It’s like spending an evening with a well-traveled, discerning friend sharing his personal evaluations of Europe’s hotels, restaurants and wineries. It’s based on trips by Bailey, a Coral Gables, Fla., business consultant, with wife, Melanie, and son Drew between 1995 and 2011. The judgments are candid. At Resturant Senderens in Paris, the shrimp-stuffed Asian dumpling was “delicious,” but the partridge breast was overcooked and undersauced. And waiters failed to “decrumb” the table as the meal progressed. He concludes: “If this is a ‘must-do' for you, then go for lunch.” In Austria, the popular gruner veltliner white wine is “rich and clean,” but the country’s red wines are “undistinguished.”
• “A Beer Drinker’s Guide to Knowing and Enjoying Fine Wine,” by Jim Laughren (Crosstown Publishing, $16.95, 206 pages). “No one says you have to give up beer,” he writes. Then he cites a dozen reasons why beer drinkers should at least take a foray into wine. It’ll impress your boss. It’ll make you seem sophisticated. Wine 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 wine and defining such wine-speak terms as “feminine,” “masculine,” “clumsy,” “reticent” and “hollow.” A cheeky read, but also a brief and helpful beginner’s guide.
• “Wines of the New South Africa,” by Tim James, (University of California Press, $39.95, 344 pages): For centuries, South Africa’s sweet dessert wines were famous, the favorites of Napoleon Bonaparte. Then came apartheid and isolation from world markets that reduced many of the country’s wines to mediocre plonk sold in giant bulk shipping containers. The country is emerging, producing excellent wines, such as pinotage, that are new to the international stage. A hopeful and interesting read.
• “Postmodern Winemaking: Rethinking the Modern Science of an Ancient Craft,” by Clark Smith (University of California Press, $34.95, 368 pages): Smith is a maverick. He started out making wine the science-based American way, juggling ingredients, running statistical analyses, producing clean, proper wines. Then he hit a wall. “The wines had no sex appeal,” he said. But if overmanipulation was futile, so was the Natural Wine movement, he writes. Turns out technical operations like reverse osmosis to lower excessive alcohol levels also have a place in making what he seeks — “soulful wines.” A great read for serious wine fans.