Wine Book Reviews: The Wandering Vine

Posted by | Posted in Book Reviews | Posted on 06-16-2018

9781472938442It’s hard to imagine what the “Old World” wine maps would look like today had the Roman Empire never existed. So many lives, cultures, religions, and independent groups of people were crushed under the heel of Rome — but vineyards and wine spread out to almost all corners of Rome’s reach.

To cover the entire history of vineyard expansion under Roman rule would be a daunting task, and likely result in a heavy read. Luckily, Nina Caplan’s travel and wine memoir, “The Wandering Vine: Wine, the Romans and Me,” is a joy to read.

In the introduction, Caplan says her goal is to trace the path of the Romans, “back from England to France, Spain and Italy… an attempt to understand how they conquered the world through wine, and to look at some of the more unlikely consequences of that conquest.” She manages to weave together historical and modern wine stories expertly. Caplan travels from her home of England to Champagne, to Burgundy, to the Rhone, to Provence. She covers lots of Spanish and Italian regions (Barcelona, Tarragona, Seville, Palermo, Naples), and finishes up in Rome.

The story of wine, like the story of people, Caplan writes, is a story of displacement, of constant movement and adaptation. “How much duller our dinner tables would be if people and vines had ever learned to stay still!” she proclaims. “If we are lucky enough to happen on the right soil and left to inhabit it peacefully, we can root ourselves and flourish, to the benefit of all.”

Everywhere Caplan goes, she looks for historical traces of the Jewish people who once inhabited the specific area she is exploring. She incorporates Jewish history, and their connection to the particular area’s wine and vines, searching for remnants and finding common themes of oppression, expulsion, and forced conversion by Christians. I found these aspects of the book the most fascinating, as I feel many of these important stories are overlooked in the history of the Roman Empire.

Her writing style is playful yet precise, poetic with dashes of an academic historian. And her book is littered with little nuggets of wisdom and joyful proclamations: “We must live our lives, and honour with wine and with every sense at our disposal the roots and stems from which we sprang, taking our encounters, with the living and the dead, as we find them. Nothing – not grapes nor shades nor stories – is entirely irrecoverable…”

I think this book could appeal to serious wine geeks by adding a bit of historical context to regions we’re all quite familiar with. For casual wine fans and lovers of travel, this is an accessible and pleasant read that would pair perfectly with a sunny beach and, preferably, a chilled glass of wine.

Available now
$25, hardback
Bloomsbury Publishing

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