After a thorough revision that took author Karen MacNeil over four years, the new edition of The Wine Bible has just hit the shelves, and it’s clearly the author’s most accurate and detailed version yet.
Having sold more than 800,000 copies since its first publication in 2000, The Wine Bible is America’s best-selling book on wine and is considered a must-read for both new and seasoned wine lovers.
At more than 700 pages, the third edition (Workman Publishing, 2022, $39.99) is packed to the brim with information on every major wine region in the world, from the United States, France, and Italy to lesser-known locales such as China, Great Britain . Britain and Israel. There’s a grape glossary, a wine dictionary, a food and wine pairing guide, and plenty of facts, tips, history lessons, and engaging essays.
Sticker for accuracy
MacNeil, an acclaimed wine writer, educator and Emmy Award-winning television host, enlisted a team of researchers to help her complete the latest edition of the book. Many of them were students studying for professional winemaking certifications, such as the Wine & Spirits Education Trust.
“I’m very biased when it comes to the facts,” said MacNeil, who lives in Napa. “Students knew I would make them dive deep into assigned subjects, so many chose topics they were unfamiliar with to expand their knowledge. Sometimes they would have to examine as many as 10 facts in one paragraph.’
Rather than editing the book in order, MacNeil tackled each chapter according to personal interest or topic complexity, going through 30-40 iterations of almost every section. This time she started with Oregon, a region she said has made “a lot of progress” since the previous edition of The Wine Bible.
“Oregon wine made such an impression on me,” MacNeil said. “It is one of the regions that has changed the most. It was a nice, meaty chapter to edit – not like, say, Germany. I learned early on not to leave Germany, Italy or Portugal until the end… bThe wines are delicious, but they are messy regions to research.”
Which Neolithic period?
Along with new chapters on the wines of Great Britain, Israel and China, the book also includes a new section on Wine in the Ancient World, which MacNeil said was the most challenging to write.
“During my research, I found that some languages are very difficult to understand because scientists often use multiple ways to indicate a time period,” MacNeil said. “One person might say, ‘5,000 years ago,’ while someone else might say, ‘3,000 BC.’ I had to do a lot of math to keep things steady.’
Although she was able to pinpoint the Neolithic period as one of the most revolutionary in wine (and human) history, it wasn’t until she dug deep into her research that she discovered that the historical period—and the introduction of wine—took place in different China, Georgia, and Azerbaijan.
“It was very confusing and really complicated stuff,” MacNeil said. “The chapter on Ancient Wines is short, but I believe it is one of my best because I have done a lot of work on it.”
Not so cut and dried
When writing the previous edition, MacNeil recalls that the section on Vouvray was particularly challenging. Vouvray, which is made from the white chenin blanc grape in France’s Loire Valley, can vary in style from dry to dry (sweet) and can be a still or sparkling wine.
“It was almost impossible to determine the rules for labeling the level of sweetness,” MacNeil said. “The PR department of the Loire Valley told me one thing, the wine producers told me something else, then the Vouvray consortium told me something completely different. I kept chasing them to figure it out.”
As a result of MacNeil’s pestering, the Vouvray Consortium, the group responsible for maintaining wine standards, eventually met with Loire winemakers to develop a standardized method of listing sweetness levels on wine labels. The method became standard practice for Vouvray producers and is still used today.
‘What makes a great wine great?’
When reflecting on her favorite part of the book to write, MacNeil said the opening chapter, “What Makes Great Wine Great,” was her favorite. In it, she outlines what she calls the “12 attributes of greatness”—characteristics she says all great wines have, such as balance, complexity and precision.
“I’ve been thinking about what makes a great wine great for decades, so the number of ‘Attributes of Greatness’ has gone from five to 12 since the book was first published,” MacNeil said. “I believe that wine is not only subjective. All over the world there are archetypal principles that make wine great, regardless of variety or region.”
After nearly five years of hard work, MacNeil said she’s proud the book is finally on the shelves and wants to hear from readers.
“Writing such a big book can be a very lonely job and you can go years without getting feedback,” she said. “You have to rely on your own feeling if you are on the right path. I hope to hear from people who find the book valuable. That makes me really happy.”
Writer Sarah Doyle can be reached at 707-521-5478 or [email protected]