The Tasting Panel September 2015 Vol. 73 No. 8
story and photos by Jonathan Cristaldi
The highly anticipated second edition of Karen MacNeil’s The Wine Bible, published by Workman ( $24.95) will be rolling off the presses in early October. MacNeil, who regularly contributes to this magazine’s sister publication, The SOMM Journal, occupies a bright, high-ceilinged office in downtown Saint Helena, California in the historic Freemason Lodge building on Main Street.
From her desk, she told THE TASTING PANEL about the decade it took her to write the first edition, without any promise of pay or publication. The second edition revision has been four years in the making, with many lonely nights spent in that office: “There are new places, more wines, ten million updated facts and every chapter is re-written,” MacNeil explains. “The new edition of The Wine Bible is a much better book, and not because it has more content, but because I think
I’ve learned how to be a better teacher.”
MacNeil is excited about the culture of wine, which she believes is as strong as it ever was here in America. And that culture is gaining momentum. According to the Wine Institute, as of 2014, there are 10,417 bonded wineries in the U.S., and retail sales increased 1% to an estimated $37.6 billion dollars last year. From these figures alone, it seems that MacNeil’s excitement is warranted and that a major overhaul of her book, originally published in 2001, is quite necessary given the growth of existing markets, the importance of emerging markets and the influx of people joining the wine trade.
And as global markets expand, MacNeil is on it. Her new edition concludes with chapters on Asia—a story not often told or explored. “Scientific research is so global that emerging regions can get up to speed on viticulture and winemaking techniques, and there’s no more laborious trial-and-error for decades,” says MacNeil, who admits that newer regions are a constant surprise—that technological advances are disrupting negative assumptions.
Also, MacNeil reveals nine elements that she believes all great wines share (up from five in the first edition). “What makes wine great? It’s the central question,” she notes, “and we all want to drink great things.” She believes in wines that are irrefutably great, just as Shakespeare is an undeniable master playwright. “There’s a difference between subjectivity and objectivity and you can’t erase the question of wine being good if you like it,” MacNeil reasons.
“But I think there is a higher aspect to wine.”
She’s also introduced new ideas like “choreography,” and how it pertains to wine. “We think about wine almost in one plane. It has a smell, a taste, a finish, all of which is true, but in fact, wine is more holographic on the palate. It has velocity, shape, movement. Some wines burst on the palate and die out, while others are slow to evolve on the palate and then explode.”
Beginning in October, MacNeil will set out on a 15-city book tour promoting the updated edition of The Wine Bible, which will be available at bookstores nationwide and at Amazon.com. To order a personalized signed copy, to to The Wine Bible.