“The Truth is that you can live an absolutely wonderful life of drinking wine without ever buying a wine that’s over $100.” That’s how Ray Isle leads us into his selection of wineries in his new 700-page tome, The World in a Wine Glass. The book’s length might be daunting if it weren’t for Isle’s humor, which is so much a part of his voice that you may find yourself laughing out loud at small details in the stories he tells. Rather than rating wines, he shares the work and perspective of winemakers he has interviewed or visited over more than two decades as a wine journalist—first at this magazine, then at Food & Wine, where he serves as executive wine editor.
The book begins in France, with the country’s leading wine regions given a short overview, followed by a selection of producers Isle has chosen to include. There’s a page or two on the history and the philosophy of each grower, along with their farming practice. “With a few exceptions,” he writes, “I feel that being present on the land is a crucial component of being a great vigneron…on top of that, living on your own land provides a pretty formidable incentive toward farming it in away that won’t poison you or your family or your workers…”
This is not a book on natural wine. Instead, Isle deftly captures the current zeitgeist that a grower’s stewardship of the land should be a consideration when deciding what to eat or drink. The book’s length reflects the breadth of the wine world more than any excess in Isle’s prose. In fact, his winery selections are limited and often unexpected. Chapters on France and Italy highlight a wide range of regions, Spain is briefer, Portugal rather short, and Slovenia slims down to one grower—Ales Kristancic at Movia—whom he profiles with cinematic detail and an ear for Kristancic’s unique brand of Slov-English: “To wit, cigarette in hand: ‘I need critics! I don’t need this wow-brow shikimiki zak-zak!’ Roughly translated, that means, ‘Hey, I need actual critics, not a bunch of useless hipster yes-men.’” Whether or not you need a critic to help navigate the world of wine, you won’t find anyone more personable and pragmatic than Isle when it comes to introductions to growers you may not know. As for those you do know, his stories and personal takes on their wines are entertaining, fascinating and well worth the price of admission.
The World in a Wine Glass, The Insider’s Guide to Artisanal, Sustainable, Extraordinary Wines to Drink Now, By Ray Isle (2023), Scribner, 710 pages, $50
This story appears in the print issue of February 2023.
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