Wine Wars: the Curse of the Blue Nun, the Miracle of Two Buck Chuck and the Revenge of the Terroirists by Mark Veseth is, hands down, one of the best books I've read recently. The author is a "wine economist" but don't let that put you off. This book manages to be both entertaining and informative with a style that is more like an enthusiastic and spontaneous conversation and nothing at all like a dry lecture on supply and demand. I can't attest to the validity of his arguments - I outsourced everything to do with wine to my French family over 20 years ago - but I am impressed by his facts and his ability to tie wine to so many different subjects, many of which I enjoy discussing here on this blog. Here are a few examples:.
Migration: The wine world we have today is a direct result of international migration: Phoenicians and Greeks to Italy and Spain, and Romans to France and Germany. From there it has spread all over the world where the climate was suitable - called the "30-50 wine belt" which includes North Africa, North America, Australia, New Zealand, China and Japan among many others. Interesting enough, up until the 1960's in France half the French wine actually came from North Africa (Algeria to be precise). Today, the wine shelf of your local supermarket looks like a model United Nations. Wherever modern migrant populations gather, they demand the tastes of home and wine is no exception to that. Veseth, who lives in North America, says that wine from Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova, and Georgia (a "cradle of wine") and many other countries, are all available in his local supermarket.
Language: The wine world is bi-lingual with the Old and New World speaking different languages with the former using geography (Veseth calls this the "DaVino Code") and the latter using a simpler (and more accessible to the amateur) system of brand/grape/region.
The Global Economy: Wine is also about business and it is a tough one to succeed in. I learned this first hand via a family member in France who ran a small traditional family (four+ generations) winery in the Loire Valley. He loved his "metier" but he still had to break even and turn a profit because, like most people, he had house payments to make and children to feed and to send to university.
France (Languedoc) is the center of production, the "world's largest vineyard," but the UK is the economic center of wine - the British not only consume one in six bottles of wine on the international market, but London is center of the auction market for really good, very expensive wine. This may change because Hong Kong is starting to give the British competition for this market.
New Technology: Are you someone who would never drink "wine in a box?" Surprise, you probably already have -that bottle of wine you bought in the supermarket might just have started life as "wine in a container." Lots of technological change in the wine world designed to make it more "green". One of those changes is the (now fairly common) practice of shipping wine in huge wine bladders and then bottling it locally.
Global warming : This was a real shock to me since I never connected the dots that go from climate change to my glass of Sancerre. All the places in the world that make wine today (both the traditional wine countries and the newcomers) are going to be severely and negatively impacted by global warming. Veseth says that "Wine is the canary in the coal mine in terms of global climate change." The grape varieties that to into wine are exquisitely sensitive to temperature. By around 2050 experts are predicting that today's "terroir" will be pushed between 280 and 500 km toward the poles. Great for Norway. Bad for California, France and North Africa.
I'll stop there because I wouldn't want to deprive you of the pleasure of discovering this book for yourself. I recommend that you savour it slowly, like a really good Bordeaux...