The best books on the history of wine

The Books I Picked & Why

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

By Kolleen M. Guy

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.


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The Story of Wine: From Noah to Now

By Hugh Johnson

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.


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1855 Bordeaux

By Dewey Markham

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.  


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Burgundy: The Global Story of Terroir

By Marion Demossier

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.


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

By Owen White

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. 


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