A chance encounter with an obscure vintage made near Jerusalem leads journalist Kevin Begos to seek the origins of wine. What he discovers is a whole world of forgotten grapes, each with distinctive tastes and aromas, as well as the archaeologists, chemists, and botanists who are deciphering wine down to molecules of flavor. The characters in Tasting the Past include a young Swiss scientist who set out to decode the DNA of every single wine grape in the world; Middle Eastern researchers who seek to discover the wines that King David drank; and a University of Pennsylvania academic who has spent decades analyzing wine remains. The science illuminates wine in ways no critic can, and demolishes some of the most sacred dogmas of the industry: well-known French grapes aren't especially noble.
We travel with Begos along the original wine routes – starting in the Caucasus Mountains, where wine was domesticated eight thousand years ago, down to Israel and across the Mediterranean to Greece, Italy, and France, and finally to America, where California and Vermont vineyards are creating new wines by letting native and European grapes breed together. It's a melting pot of new tastes and possibilities. As he samples these wines, Begos offers readers tasting suggestions that go far beyond the endless bottles of Chardonnay and Merlot found in most stores and restaurants.
From this combination of journalism, history, science, and adventure travel, readers will learn the multicultural roots of wine while enjoying a full-bodied story with a rich, nutty bouquet and plenty of subtle nuances that will linger.
"In a personal, conversational style, Kevin Begos mixes poetry, history, geography, and science into a delightful volume in praise of unique, nearly forgotten grapes that give real meaning to terroir."
– Mark Pendergrast, author of Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World
"A myth-busting, history-reclaiming, science-centric, skeptical – and, yet, loving and respectful – tour of the history, the present, and even the future of wine production. Kevin Begos is an unrelenting and delightful detective."
– Cat Warren, New York Times bestselling author of What the Dog Knows: Scent, Science, and the Amazing Ways Dogs Perceive the World
"Earthy, with undertones of humor. This fascinating dive into the world of obscure wines will educate you, entertain you, and make you want to drink. Begos teaches us that a glass of wine isn't just a glass of wine, but a window into history, culture, and science."
– Matti Friedman, author of Pumpkinflowers
"Kevin Begos has pulled together a wonderfully surprising assortment of characters and threads to take us on his compelling journey into wine's origin."
– Alice Feiring, author of The Dirty Guide to Wine: Following Flavor from Ground to Glass
"Kevin Begos's exploration of the world's storied wines is an intoxicating blend of scientific inquiry, human culture, and natural history. Pull up a chair, open the book and pour yourself a glass to go with it – you'll enjoy it more than ever."
– Deborah Blum, author of The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York
"One of the most interesting books about wine I've ever read. It's Vin BC! Belongs in every oenophile's library."
– Eugenia Bone, author of The Kitchen Ecosystem
"Through mythology, history, flavor and science, Tasting the Past stretches across centuries and continents, helping us understand why the transformation of juice to alcohol continues to intoxicate us all. A compelling, sensual journey weaving past and present."
– Simran Sethi, author of Bread, Wine, Chocolate: The Slow Loss of Foods We Love
"Tasting the Past is a vintner's blend of science, history, travel, and tantalizing drink recommendations. It's the kind of book that will have you quoting passages at cocktail parties, making off-the-beaten-path travel plans, and seeking out unusual and obscure wines everywhere you go."
– Amy Stewart, author of The Drunken Botanist