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American Wine by Jancis Robinson and Linda Murphy

8 May

By Sharon Kapnick

It’s no secret that wine is In in the U.S. In 2011 the U.S. became the No. 1 wine-consuming country. And it’s now the fourth-largest wine-producing country, having expanded exponentially from 440 wineries in 1970 to 7,345 in 2012.

So it’s very good news indeed that at last there is a book that does the wines made in the U.S.–in all 50 states, that is–justice. American Wine: The Ultimate Companion to the Wines and Wineries of the United States (University of California Press, $50) is the book about American wines that this wine lover has long been waiting for. As the publisher says, it’s the “first comprehensive and authoritative reference to the wines, wineries and winemakers” of the entire U.S. While American Wine of course covers the Big Three of the West–California, Washington and Oregon–and the Big One of the East–New York–about a third of the 278-page book is devoted to the other 46 states, the states many of us are eager to know more about.

The authors have impeccable credentials. Jancis Robinson has been called the Julia Child of Wine. Robert M. Parker Jr.’s Wine Advocate said she is “perhaps the most gifted of all wine writers writing today.” And she’s been voted the Wine Writers’ Wine Writer by her peers. She’s a member of Britain’s Royal Household Wine Committee, which chooses the wines that the Queen serves her guests. And she’s a prolific author, responsible for several multi-award-winning wine reference books: she edited The Oxford Companion to Wine and co-authored The World Atlas of Wine and Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including Their Origins and Flavours. U.S. wine expert Linda Murphy edited the San Francisco Chronicle’s wine section–she won two awards from the James Beard Foundation there–and was the managing editor of the New York Times wine website. She contributes to http://www.jancisrobinson.com and Decanter.

American Wine is organized geographically: broad sections of the U.S. are broken down into states, regions within states, American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) and so on. It covers geography, geology, terroirs, founding fathers and other history (including Prohibition and its lingering effects), current personalities, producers and more. You’ll learn how winemaking evolved in America and where it’s heading. There are short snapshots of all major growing regions and their key wineries, including Trailblazers (historic wineries), Steady Hands (consistently reliable brands), Superstars (the most desirable wines) and Ones to Watch (up-and-coming and innovative producers). Also included are 54 maps, more than 200 photographs and informational graphics.

Here’s a sampling of interesting information:

FLORIDA: French Hugenots made wine in the mid-1500s from the native Scuppernong grape.

OHIO: The first commercially successful winery in the U.S. was established in Cincinnati in the mid-1800s by banker Nicholas Longworth. His specialty: sparkling wines from the native Catawba grape. By 1860, Ohio led the nation in wine production.

NEW YORK: Founded in 1839, Brotherhood Winery in the Hudson River Valley is the oldest continously operating winery in the U.S.

● MISSOURI: The first AVA was established in 1980–in Augusta, Missouri.

NORTH DAKOTA: In 2002 Pointe of View Winery made the state the 50th in the U.S. to have a commercial winery.

MINNESOTA: Frontenac (red superstar in the Midwest and New England), La Crescent (white reminiscent of floral Riesling) and Marquette (not unlike Frontenac) grapes, bred at the University of Minnesota, can survive temperatures as low as minus 30 degrees.

HAWAII: The most popular wines of Tedeschi Vineyards are Maui Blanc, a still pineapple wine, and Maui Splash, a pineapple wine with passion fruit essence.

● CALIFORNIA: 1) If it were a country, California would rank fourth in wine production, after France, Italy and Spain. 2) While the Napa Valley produces only 4% of the state’s wine, it accounts for 25% of its wine sales revenue.

Bottom Line: An informative, eminently browsable, entertaining, handsome reference book that’s a must-have for serious American wine lovers who are book lovers.

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