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.

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The books I picked & why

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

Why did I love 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.

By Kolleen M. Guy,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked When Champagne Became French as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the Outstanding Manuscript Award from Phi Alpha Theta, this work explains how nationhood emerges by viewing countries as cultural artifacts, a product of "invented traditions." In the case of France, scholars sharply disagree, not only over the nature of French national identity but also over the extent to which diverse and sometimes hostile provincial communities became integrated into the nation. In When Champagne Became French: Wine and the Making of a National Identity, Kolleen M. Guy offers a new perspective on this debate by looking at one of the central elements in French national culture-luxury wine-and the rural…

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

Why did I love 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.

By Hugh Johnson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Story of Wine as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Who better to supply us with our first comprehensive historical survey than the wine writer with the magic pen, Hugh Johnson?" - Jancis Robinson MW

Hugh Johnson has led the literature of wine in many new directions over a 60-year career. His classic The Story of Wine is his most enthralling and enduring work, winner of every wine award in the UK and USA. It tells with wit, scholarship and humour how wine became the global phenomenon it is today, varying from mass-produced plonk to rare bottles fetching many thousands. It ranges from Noah to Napa, Pompeii to Prohibition to…

1855 Bordeaux

By Dewey Markham,

Book cover of 1855 Bordeaux

Why did I love 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.  

By Dewey Markham,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked 1855 Bordeaux as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The First Complete Guide to the 1855 Bordeaux Classification--A Fascinating Account for Wine Lovers and an Authoritative Reference for Wine Industry Professionals The 1855 Bordeaux Classification has been a fixture of the wine world for almost 150 years, yet the origin of the system and the thinking behind it have never been thoroughly researched and presented in detail--until now. How was the 1855 classification drafted? Who was responsible? What was the rationale for the cru classe rating, and what criteria were used to determine inclusion and ranking? 1855: A History of the Bordeaux Classification answers these central questions and more.…

Book cover of Burgundy: The Global Story of Terroir

Why did I love 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.

By Marion Demossier,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Burgundy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Demossier's engrossing analysis of Burgundy-the wine, the place, the brand-should be imbibed (pun intended!) on many levels-and slowly, for best appreciation."

Drawing on more than twenty years of fieldwork, this book explores the professional, social, and cultural world of Burgundy wines, the role of terroir (the environmental factors that affect a crop's character), and its transnational deployment in China, Japan, South Korea, and New Zealand.

It demystifies the terroir ideology by providing a unique long-term ethnographic analysis of what lies behind the concept. While the Burgundian model of terroir has gone global by acquiring UNESCO world heritage status, its very…

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

Why did I love 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. 

By Owen White,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Blood of the Colony as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The surprising story of the wine industry's role in the rise of French Algeria and the fall of empire.

"We owe to wine a blessing far more precious than gold: the peopling of Algeria with Frenchmen," stated agriculturist Pierre Berthault in the early 1930s. In the last decades of the nineteenth century, Europeans had displaced Algerians from the colony's best agricultural land and planted grapevines. Soon enough, wine was the primary export of a region whose mostly Muslim inhabitants didn't drink alcohol.

Settlers made fortunes while drawing large numbers of Algerians into salaried work for the first time. But the…

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