The two wine books that I enjoyed most in the past year are, in many ways, opposites. One is a helpful, no-nonsense, functional work. The other, while of little or no practical use, is riveting nonetheless.
Reading Don and Petie Kladstrup’s Wine & War will not prepare the reader for a trip to the wine store or arm you with the confidence to attack a hefty restaurant wine list. But it’s a must-read for anyone interested in wine or wine history.
Wine & War is the fascinating story of, as the book says, “the French, the Nazis and the battle for France’s greatest treasure” during World War II. It’s a story of French winemakers, some of whom cooperated with the Nazis’ seizures of their stockpiles of wine and others who did not. The ingenuity and creativity that went into hiding wine from the German army—filling prized vintage bottles with inferior wine, and keeping the good stuff hidden, for example—shows an amazing fearlessness on the part of the French, in stark contrast to the performance of their troops on the battlefield. One especially resistant Frenchman, the owner of Paris’ famed Tour d’Argent restaurant, risked his life by building a false wall behind which to hide his precious wines while the Germans marched on his city and ultimately, his restaurant.
For most of us, wine is a frivolous luxury. But for many French winemakers during World War II wine was, literally, a matter of life and death. Wine & War is the beautifully researched and written account of that struggle.
In contrast to Wine & War, my other favorite wine book of the past year is exceedingly practical and down-to-earth: It’s Andrea Immer’s Wine Buying Guide for Everyone.
Generally, I shy away from wine buying guides since most of them list high-rated wines that are too expensive or too difficult to obtain for the average wine consumer. The minute Robert Parker gives a wine a 90 rating, it disappears from wine store shelves. So what’s the point of putting that wine in a buyer’s guide? Andre Immer’s approach is for the rest of us. In her new buying guide she tackles the world of the supermarket (yes, there are states where you can buy wine in supermarkets), or “value” wines—the type most of us drink most of the time. She calls these “real world wines” and showcases more than 400 of the most popular wines on the market. These are the wines snooty writers eschew but that you and I drink.
Immer also offers practical tips on wines for specific occasions like “hip wines” for dazzling a date, “blue chip wines” for impressing business clients and inexpensive crowd pleasers for parties. She provides sensible advice on wines for special events like wines for Thanksgiving and even makes recommendations about which airplane screw-top wines are worth drinking.
In her book Andrea Immer also addresses the subject of what to do with leftover wine, providing what she calls her “kitchen countertop/refrigerator overnight survival test,” where she gives useful advice on how (and how long) to store leftover wine and which wines survive better than others. Now that’s the kind of practical wine advice you and I can use.
Kudos to Andrea Immer and others like her who have embarked on a mission to debunk and demystify wine. Use Andrea Immer’s Wine Buying Guide for Everyone to choose a pleasing bottle of wine, pour yourself a glass and snuggle up on the sofa with Wine & War.