At the holidays, it's inevitable. Some books slip through the cracks and don't get read in time for the holiday roundup. One that eluded me until now is Paul Lukacs' "Inventing Wine: A New History of One of the World's Most Ancient Pleasures."
It's not for the casual reader, but the book makes the argument that the cultural significance of wine has changed throughout its 8,000-year history.
The writing can be slow going at first, a bit dry and academic, but it's worth the effort to follow Lukacs' meanderings back through the history of wine for nuggets like this one: "We today may think that the link between wine and food is of long standing, but in truth it is only about two hundred years old." So all this matching of food and wine is fairly new, after all.
Lukacs pulls out Alexandre Balthazar Laurent Grimod de la Reynière (quite the name!) from the early 19th century, when the Parisian published eight volumes of his "Almanach des Gourmands," ushering in "a new era in gastronomic literature -- writing centered on reflection instead of recipe."
Pull up a chair under a good reading light, pour yourself a glass of Madeira or Port and dip into this fascinating and enjoyable book from the author of "American Vintage" and "The Great Wines of America," rationing yourself a chapter a day. You'll be inevitably drawn in.
The payoff? The knowledge probably won't help you ace the master sommelier exam, but you'll gain a better appreciation for the ancient beverage we call wine.
"Inventing Wine: A New History of One of the World's Most Ancient Pleasures" by Paul Lucaks; W.W. Norton, $28.95.