The best books on the history of wine

Who am I?

I’ve been passionate about wine since I was a teenager in New Zealand and I now teach and write about it, judge in wine competitions, and travel the world to visit wine regions. I teach European history and the history of food and drink at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. As a wine historian, I spend weeks each year in archives, studying everything from changes in vineyard area and the weather in specific years to the taxation of wine and patterns of wine drinking. Currently, I’m working in several French archives for a book on wine in the French Revolution. It will be my ninth wine book.

I wrote...

French Wine: A History

By Rod Phillips,

Book cover of French Wine: A History

What is my book about?

After writing a global history of wine I decided to focus on France, the world’s best-known wine country. I’m a Francophile, so writing this book – which covers more than two thousand years, from the first vineyards to the present – was an absolute pleasure. I can’t imagine how many bottles of French wine helped me complete the book, which sets out the way wine interacted with politics, economic change, revolutions, wars, and cultural shifts in France. I look at topics such as the rise of famous regions such as Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Champagne; the Church and wine; changes in vineyards and winemaking; and the regulation of wine production and consumption.

While showing how France’s winemakers survived centuries of challenges – including wars, revolutions, deadly winters, and vine diseases – my book also explodes many myths about French wine.

The books I picked & why

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When Champagne Became French: Wine and the Making of a National Identity

By Kolleen M. Guy,

Book cover of When Champagne Became French: Wine and the Making of a National Identity

Why this book?

This prize-winning book is an impeccably researched and very readable history of champagne, the only wine that’s a household name. Kolleen Guy traces the way champagne, even though a latecomer after the wines of Bordeaux and Burgundy, became more closely identified with France and Frenchness. Focusing on the period from the early 1800s to the early 1900s, Guy traces the way champagne houses carefully constructed an image of champagne that complemented the nation-building process that was underway at the same time. It’s a fine demonstration of the way that wine is often connected to broad political and cultural currents.

The Story of Wine: From Noah to Now

By Hugh Johnson,

Book cover of The Story of Wine: From Noah to Now

Why this book?

This bestselling book first came out long before my own global history of wine and it has gone through a number of editions as well as translations. It takes on the long history of wine ‘from Noah to Now’ in a readable, well-informed narrative – as we would expect of Hugh Johnson, who is one of the best-known English wine writers and authors. His richly illustrated book has global range and covers all the world’s wine-producing regions. It’s an excellent example of history written for a non-specialist readership and is probably the book that has done more than any other to bring history to the attention of wine lovers.

1855 Bordeaux

By Dewey Markham,

Book cover of 1855 Bordeaux

Why this book?

The 1855 Classification created quality tiers for wines from a number of districts in Bordeaux: the famous First Growth (Premier Cru) wines and their Second, Third, Fourth, and Fifth Growth counterparts. There’s been only one change since then (a Second Growth promoted to First) and people still pay high prices for these wines based on a ranking that is more than 150 years old. Dewey Markham’s book tells the story of the Classification and shows that the wines that topped the list in 1855 were also ranked highest in earlier lists and that the rankings were based on price rather than intrinsic quality. It’s a well-documented book that brings history to bear on the way we look at some of the most prestigious wines of Bordeaux.  

Burgundy: The Global Story of Terroir

By Marion Demossier,

Book cover of Burgundy: The Global Story of Terroir

Why this book?

Terroir is the notion that the environment that grapevines grow in is imprinted on the wine they produce. It was universally accepted for several decades but is now hotly debated, as scientists have debunked the idea that certain soils and rocks transfer flavour and texture to wine. In the 1920s Burgundy became the first region to embrace the idea of terroir and in her book, Marion Demossier examines the circumstances that gave rise to it and the way that terroir was adopted and adapted by wine regions throughout the world so that wine producers could claim that their wines expressed ‘a sense of place’. This excellent book cuts through much of the marketing nonsense about wine.

The Blood of the Colony: Wine and the Rise and Fall of French Algeria

By Owen White,

Book cover of The Blood of the Colony: Wine and the Rise and Fall of French Algeria

Why this book?

Owen White’s excellent book has given Algerian wine the place it deserves in the wine history of both Algeria and France. Wine production, introduced to Algeria by French settlers in the late 1800s, was an anomaly because the majority Muslim population of the colony did not drink. But it became essential to the French wine industry because it was commonly blended with the then-anemic wines of southern France to make wines with colour and strength. Even so, many French wine producers regarded Algeria as a rival and there was a constant tension between producers who needed Algerian wine and those who resented it. It was resolved when Algeria won independence from France and the wine industry there went into steep decline. 

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in France, wine, and colonies?

5,215 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about France, wine, and colonies.

France Explore 537 books about France
Wine Explore 33 books about wine
Colonies Explore 41 books about colonies

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Puligny-Montrachet : Journal of a Village in Burgundy, Judgment of Paris: Judgment of Paris, and In the Vine Country if you like this list.