Wine 101: The Stories Behind The Wines

As the books editor over at the Winnipeg Free Press, I often get people asking me about the best wine books.

As it happens, back in September of 2014, MWC writer Jake Skakun offered his list of the top 10 wine books you need to read. Jake pretty much nailed it as it pertains to wine reference books — texts that will help you become a better taster through the power of knowledge.

Recently I was asked about some of my favourite non-reference wine books. In looking through my own (daunting) collection of books — the perils of being literary editor at a newspaper, I suppose — here are five of my faves, in no particular order:

First Big Crush: The Down and Dirty on Making Great Wine… Down Under, by Eric Arnold. Unlike the rest of the books I chose, First Big Crush isn’t an exploratory historical wine book; rather, it details Arnold’s time working at New Zealand winery Allan Scott Wines, painting a picture of just how un-glamorous winery life can be (and with plenty of salty language and, uh, extracurricular activities to boot). A hilarious account of Arnold’s journey that strips all pretense from the wine biz.

Reflections of a Wine Merchant by Neal I. Rosenthal. If you’ve seen Jonathan Nossiter’s wine doc Mondovino, Rosenthal will be familiar to you. He’s opinionated, he’s passionate, and he’s a bit stubborn. But this New York-based wine importer weaves some pretty darn good stories about the changing tides in Bordeaux, Burgundy, and beyond, as well as his experiences working throughout France and Italy.

Wine & War: The French, The Nazis & The Battle for France’s Greatest Treasure, by Don and Petie Kladstrup. With the recent discovery of Adolf Hitler’s secret stash of Champagne and Cognac under a German restaurant, this book is pretty timely. Wine & War details the lengths that French wine producers went to in trying to thwart the Nazis’ attempts to pillage their wines and destroy their vineyards.

The Widow Clicquot: The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman who Ruled It, by Tilar J. Mazzeo. Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin is the woman behind one of Champagne’s most famous houses. This is the story of her struggle to develop her late husband’s wine business during the era of the Napoleonic Wars. Fascinating stuff.

The Emperor of Wine: The Rise of Robert M. Parker Jr. and the Reign of American Taste, by Elin McCoy. Everyone in the wine biz has an opinion on Wine Advocate founder Robert Parker Jr. and the effect he’s had on the wine industry: his heralding the 1982 Bordeaux vintage, his 100-point scale, the influence of his scores on wine sales, and so on. McCoy’s bio offers a compelling portrait of the man, bringing many other key players into the mix as well.


Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson is the wine columnist and literary editor for the Winnipeg Free Press. He’s on Twitter and Instagram at @bensigurdson.

Let us know what you think!
Back to Top