In Wine: A Graphic History, Benoist Simmat, Daniel Casanave, and SelfMadeHero offer an accessible glimpse into the centuries-spanning history of the nectar of the vine.
From pioneers of the natural wine movement to those who populate their wine apps with every white, red, and rose sipped and savored, the world is experiencing a newfound appreciation for wine. For neophyte oenophiles who don’t have time to sift through the scrolls of Mago or page countless back issues of Wine Spectator, writer Benoist Simmat and illustrator Daniel Casanave provide the most comprehensive graphic telling of the centuries-aged and sordid legacy of the nectar of the gods and the vine from which it stems. However, the reading of Wine can feel a bit bulky, oftentimes making readers drop their eyes to footnotes and flip to the back for a look at the endnotes in order to fully immerse themselves in the meticulously sourced information that Simmat and Casanave have illustrated in both images and words.
Simmat and Casanave’s graphic novel is a tome unto itself, weighing in at over 250 beautifully illustrated pages spanning wine’s inception to its reinvention. If you’re looking to gain a full-bodied understanding of wine through the centuries and how various cultures from the Etruscans to the Islamic world have evolved and perfected the process of winemaking, then Wine will most likely prove the only book you’ll ever need. More so, it’s bound to be the most accessible book on wine that’s been written to date. Sure, most novice wine aficionados know about the early history of wine––the symposiums of ancient Greece, the Roman bacchanalia, the middle ages––but with chapters on ‘The Gauls and Their Wine’, ‘The Complex East’, and ‘Green Revolution’, it’s a sure bet that Simmat and Casanave have done their due diligence in covering all the historical terroir in between where grapes have grown and wine has flowed.
While this book is an accessible look at viticulture from ancient times to today, it is not a book that can, nor should, be read in a single sitting, lest you miss much of the detailed, pertinent information Simmat and Casanave have painstakingly included . That said, the book can be a bit of a slog to get through at certain intervals because of the overwhelming amount of detail. And as mentioned above, reading Wine can feel somewhat cumbersome due to the many foot- and endnotes that interrupt the general flow and pacing of each chapter. Perhaps there was no other way to include translations of terminology and other bits of vital information, but doing so in this manner comes at a cost: keeping the reader from being totally engaged in the many vignettes and stories the authors use to illustrate wine’s colorful past and present.
Overall, Wine: A Graphic History may be a dense read, but that density teems with a robust history that whets the palette of both seasoned or newfangled oenophiles. Yet even with its minor flaws, Wine should prove a more than suitable introduction to the wide world of the nectar of the vine, and for the most part, an enjoyable read throughout.
Benoist Simmat (W), Daniel Casanave, (A) • SelfMadeHero, £15.99
Review by John Trigonis