One of the great benefits of modern wine drinking—and what makes this arguably the greatest time in history to drink wine—is the dizzying diversity of what’s now available to us. Land prices, climate change and curiosity have rewritten the borders of wine’s where and what on every continent. Natural wine has challenged established hierarchies and introduced us to places—from the Czech Republic to Mexico—that we’d never consumed wine from before. That movement has also unlocked the inherent biases and revisionist histories that have been absorbed into wine’s history—and challenged them. How we talk about wine has likewise expanded and contracted at a rapid pace.
The question, then, is How does one navigate it all? The answer is that no one really has the answer. Learning about wine is about making connections—between your own personal tastes and a means of describing it, between the wine in front of you and larger pattern that connects grape, soil and method all over the world. But it’s also about connecting the values of a wine and winemaker to the values of the drinker.
In the latest addition to the PUNCH library, The Essential Wine Book, Zachary Sussman set out to write a pocket guide that might serve as a snapshot of what is driving the conversation in wine today—a guide to the zeitgeist, if you will. In a little over 300 compact pages, he has covered dozens of regions, and what makes each relevant today; he’s mapped out essential producers and wines that aim to show the breadth of diversity and most progressive visions for each place; and he’s detailed the importers and retailers who have helped shape modern wine consumption in the U.S. But within these pages, there are bigger questions about culture and values tucked in between the hardworking text, mostly because those are the questions essential to understanding wine today.