America’s massive, bestselling wine book has a new edition, 4 years in the making

After a painstaking revision that took author Karen MacNeil over four years, the new edition of The Wine Bible has just hit the shelves, and it’s clearly the author’s most accurate and in-depth version yet.

Selling more than 800,000 copies since its first release in 2000, The Wine Bible is the best-selling wine book in America and is considered a must-read for wine lovers and newcomers alike.

At more than 700 pages, the third edition (Workman Publishing, 2022, $39.99) is packed to the brim with all the world’s major wine regions, from the United States, France, and Italy to lesser-known places like China, Great Great Britain and Israel. There’s a grape glossary, a wine dictionary, a wine and food pairing guide, and a wealth of engaging facts, tips, history lessons, and essays.

Stickler for accuracy

MacNeil, an acclaimed wine writer, educator and Emmy-winning television host, recruited a team of researchers to help her complete the latest edition of the book. Many were students studying for professional wine certifications, such as the Wine & Spirits Education Trust.

“I’m very factual,” said MacNeil, who lives in Napa. “The students knew that it would make them go deeper in the subjects they were assigned, so many chose subjects they were not familiar with to expand their knowledge. Sometimes, they would have as many as 10 facts to research in a single paragraph.

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Rather than editing the book in order, MacNeil approached each chapter according to personal interest or the complexity of a topic, with nearly every section undergoing 30-40 iterations. This time, she started with Oregon, a region she said has made “huge strides” since the previous edition of The Wine Bible.

“I was very impressed with Oregon wine,” MacNeil said. “It is one of the regions that has changed the most. It was a nice chapter to edit, not like Germany for example. I learned early on not to leave Germany, Italy or Portugal until the end…bThe wines are delicious, but they are chaotic regions to research.”

What Neolithic period?

Along with new chapters on the wines of Britain, Israel and China, the book also introduces a new section on Wine in the Ancient World, which MacNeil said was the most difficult to write.

“During my research, I found some of the language very difficult to understand because scientists often use multiple ways to indicate a period of time,” MacNeil said. “One person might say, ‘5,000 years ago,’ while another might say, ‘3,000 BC.’ I had to do a lot of math to keep things straight.”

Although he was able to determine the Neolithic period as one of the most revolutionary in the history of wine (and mankind), it was not until he delved into his research that he learned that the historical period – and the introduction of wine – happened at different times in China, Georgia and Azerbaijan.

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“This was really confusing and really complicated stuff,” MacNeil said. “The chapter on Old Wines is short, but I think it’s one of my best because I worked so hard on it.”

Not so cut and dry

While writing the previous edition, MacNeil recalls that the section on Vouvray was particularly difficult. Produced from the white chenin blanc grape in France’s Loire Valley, Vouvray can vary widely from dry to dry (sweet) style and be a still or sparkling wine.

“It was almost impossible to determine the rules for labeling the level of sweetness,” MacNeil said. “The Public Relations department of the Loire Valley told me one thing, the wine producers told me something else, then the Vouvray Consortium told me something completely different. I kept pestering them to find out.”

As a result of MacNeil’s nagging, the Vouvray Consortium, a group responsible for maintaining wine standards, eventually met with Loire winemakers to develop a standardized method for indicating the level of sweetness on wine labels. The method became standard practice for Vouvray producers and is still in use today.

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What makes great wine great?

As MacNeil reflected on what part of the book he most enjoyed writing, he said the opening chapter, “What Makes Great Wine Great,” was his favorite. In it, she describes what she calls, “The 12 Attributes of Greatness,” qualities she believes all great wines possess, such as balance, complexity, and precision.

“I’ve spent decades thinking about ‘what makes great wine great,’ so the number of ‘Attributes of Greatness’ has grown from five to 12 since the first edition of the book,” MacNeil said. “I think wine is not simply subjective. There are archetypal principles all over the world that make a wine great, no matter the variety or the region.”

After nearly five years of painstaking work, MacNeil said she’s proud the book is finally on the shelves and looks forward to hearing from readers.

“Writing such a large book can be a very lonely job and you can go years without receiving feedback,” he said. “You have to trust your own sense of whether you’re on the right track. My hope is to start hearing from people who find the book valuable. That makes me truly happy.”

Writer Sarah Doyle can be reached at 707-521-5478 or [email protected]

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