With over 800,000 copies in print, the just newly edition Karen MacNeil’s The Wine Bible is a must-have book. Revised and updated, the “bible” includes more than 400 new photos, all in color for the very first time.
Former wine correspondent (yes that title did exist) for the Today Show on NBC and host of the PBS series Wine Food & Friends with Karen MacNeil, the author is also the creator and editor of WineSpeed, a digital newsletter in the United States.
We thought it would be a great time to talk to Karen MacNeil who lives in the fabulous Napa Valley about her newly released third edition.
YTW : What did trigger your passion for wine ?
Karen MacNeil : “I started drinking wine relatively early. I was about 15 years old, and I immediately fell in love with that. I it was a very humble wine, I think it cost $0.89 or so, maybe a dollar a bottle. But there’s something so archetypal about wine. I love the fact that, you know, it’s a way of taking nature into your body and you can do it every day. It’s astounding. It is, in fact, like food in that regard and I loved the idea of wine and History and culture. Wine was so inspirational to me and I sensed it was almost alive. It was just an amazing beverage and I think all of these factors are why wine became, in a sense, the beverage of religion as well, at least in Western Europe. So it was not hard to fall in love with wine. And besides, it tastes great.”
YTW : There are more and more emerging grape varieties, new appellations and regions to talk about. So how do you select?
Karen MacNeil : “The Wine Bible in this third edition is quite comprehensive. All of the mainline regions of Europe and the Near East are included, as well as all of the major wine regions of South America and North America, and increasingly, of course, all the wine regions of Asia. China is an important wine producer now, as is Japan. And so I suppose readers could find a little area that I did not talk about, but I think it’s a pretty comprehensive. But certainly you could spend years and years drinking different recommendations in the Wine Bible and never get bored and never repeat a wine twice.”
YTW : Over the years, we have seen some trends like years ago, which was about biodynamic wine, and then it was natural wine and then, orange wine made a comeback. What’s next, do you think, in terms of those trends?
Karen MacNeil :” I don’t think that wine is particularly trendy. Everything that you’ve just mentioned is actually many centuries old. Wine has been made biodynamically for centuries. What we call natural wine today was the way wine was historically made without any additives and with just grapes by themselves. Wine is based on viticulture and viticulture cannot move very quickly. It takes about four years of growing a vine before you have enough grapes to make a commercial crop that you can make wine from. So wine, by its very nature, is a very slow process. You know, it doesn’t lend itself to trends. And I think that’s one of the best things about it.”
YTW : You talked about the Asian area. What surprised you the most when you started to get interested in this emerging wine area?
Karen MacNeil : “One of the most astounding facts that I discovered in my research for the chapter called Wine in the Ancient World is the fact that the very first evidence that we have of wine goes back to ancient China about 9000 years ago to an area called Jiahu. But even today, wine is being made on the edge of the Gobi Desert in Northern China. It’s being made at 10,000 feet in the Malaysian mountains in the Tibetan autonomous region in China. It’s quite astounding to watch these both ancient but also new wine areas emerging in Asia.”
YTW : Should Europe be afraid of of the growing Asian wine business ? Should the Old World actually be taking more into account what’s happening in Asia ?
Karen MacNeil : “I don’t think so in the sense that I don’t think Europe has to worry. The traditional wine regions of Europe are still fantastic. And there have been, you know, hundreds and hundreds of years of wine culture in those regions. And they those regions will not hopefully go away. I think that Asian production actually expands the pie, it doesn’t divide the pie.”
YTW : I know it might be difficult, but what’s your go-to wine or go-to region or go to appellation?
Karen MacNeil : “Every night I drink a glass, at least a glass of Champagne. I love sparkling wine and Champagne in particular. Sometimes they say that it’s indispensable to marital harmony. Then when I’m thinking I’m often having a glass of Champagne while I’m cooking. Lately I’ve been loving Pinot Noir, both coastal from the California coast as well as Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley of Oregon. And because I live in the Napa Valley, I also just adore the cabernet sauvignon.”
YTW : In the edition world, we have seen many wine guides disappearing because of the shifting interest towards apps and the digital world. So what do you think of that evolution?
Karen MacNeil : “There are a lot of wine books, and you’re right, some of them are very specific guides to a given region. But that’s not what the Wine Bible is. It’s a global book that sort of explains viticulture and winemaking. One of my favorite chapters is Ten questions that all wine drinkers ask. It’s a very practical book, and it does cover every major wine region in the world. So can a digital entity do that? Yes. Over time. I have my own digital newsletter called Wine Speed, which it’s free. I invite your readers to sign up for. What a digital information can do is give us that information very quickly. So these are just two different communication vehicles for something that we all love, which is wine. I don’t see them as in in competition with each other.”
YTW : What would you say to someone who is still not afraid but is not comfortable about discovering wine? Because it can be intimidating and complicated when you go to a wine shop…
“Wine is so delicious and it’s so fascinating that generally speaking, people just by happenstance start anywhere they want and then discover more and more from there. So I’m not sure that wine needs to be as intimidating as it sometimes is, because it can also be very simple. It’s simply liquid flavor. If food is solid flavor, wine is just simply liquid flavor. And if you think about it like that and think about it as something that will enhance a meal every evening, then I think you’re thinking about it in the right in the right way.”
“It’s kind of like walking around a pool over and over again and really wanting to go swimming, but being afraid to step into the pool. So I would say just jump into the pool anywhere. You don’t have to start in a certain country or with a certain style of wine, just jump into the pool.” – Karen MacNeil, author of The Wine Bible
WIth new chapters about Great Britain, Croatia and Israel, the third edition of the Wine Bible contains enlarged and updated chapters on France, Italy, Australia, South America, and the United States, along with fully updated chapters on Germany, Spain, China, and Japan. Besides, you will find a greatly expanded Grape Glossary of more than 400 grapes, along with a Wine Word Dictionary of wine terms in French, Italian, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Hungarian, and Greek.
The Wine Bible, third edition, Karen MacNeil, Workman Publishing, 2022