Wine list offers ways to understand not only the geography of the wine but also its styles and cultures.
Studying cards, an integral part of wine education, is more than just knowing the location of wine-producing countries: it learns about sometimes (often) obscure sub-regions, influential climatic geographical features such as water and terrain, and even trade routes.
Sommelier Dustin Wilson, who studied geography in college, once told me that it was his love of maps and related cultural associations that drove him to a formal study of wine (and see where it got him: Wilson was a protagonist in 2012 SOMM film, led Eleven Madison Park’s prestigious wine program and is a co-founder of Verve Wine Stores and the new One White Street project in Manhattan).
“Maps are the key to understanding wine,” says Quentin Sadler, cartographer and head of e-learning for the Wine Scholar Guild, a Washington-DC-based study program offering specialized regional wine certifications. “They can show you so much … how the landscape works, what kind of conditions you have and therefore what styles of wine you can expect.”
“They bring to life the differences: you can see the proximity of the sea, the mountains up close. They place you in the place where you can see how wine regions interact, for example how the western wines from the southwest of France are closer to the style of Bordeaux, while the eastern appellations are more similar to the Languedoc. It all makes sense once you have studied the map. ”
In general, the more such details the better. But, says Steve De Long, designer of pro maps and other wine education tools (the grape variety table is a must for any oenophile), while details are important, “accuracy is much more. It’s shocking how many times I’ve seen regions in the wrong place! This is specialized knowledge, but the resources – wine laws, satellite maps of vineyards, etc. – exist to make them accurate. ”
Just like in wine, there are cards in all kinds of styles. As the name suggests, those produced by the Wine Scholar Guild are aimed at students seeking specialized knowledge, De Long’s cards can cross over from education to wall art, and others have created coloring books and puzzles to tease the mind into space memory.
Ready to study? Here are a few ways to navigate these wine routes.
Champagne, Peter Liem (2017 10 Speed Press). Liem’s elegant box set focused heavily on the Champagne region and includes a separate set of seven rendered cards from Louis Larmat, originally published in 1944. $ 75.
De Long. The maps and card sets were created by an architect and his designer wife and cover 24 regions in different formats – individual cards, bookshelf sets, posters and digital. The highly detailed maps are clearly marked with text, color-coded and contain important geographical details. All are retrieved so users can be sure of the information. De Long worked with Master of Wine Charles Curtis on a series dedicated to Champagne (example below), the first such update since the Larmat cards.
Joanie Metivier. The Canadian sommelier and author developed a duo of textbooks – one a regional coloring book and the other a more advanced version of 50 blank cards with theory questions typical of the exam. Wine Card eBook, $ 9.99 (pdf); $ 35.99 hard copy; Wine Regions Coloring Book (pdf) $ 7.99
Water and wine. This series of illustrated puzzles and posters was created by a Swedish sommelier and was born out of pandemic lockdown. Current puzzles include Italy, France, Spain and South Africa with plans for three more wine themes and a whiskey puzzle. Shipped from the EU, the price does not include shipping, taxes or custom fees. $ 49
Water and Wines, created by a Swedish sommelier, offers illustrated wine lists and riddles with grape varieties.
Wine Folly. Wine Folly is a graphic designer with sommelier accreditation and offers a set of cards for download or sale in hard copy. The theme by country and name, including the grape varieties, and the 12 x 16 print versions are spill- and tear-proof. However, the information is without sources, and historically the author has been less careful with fact-checking. So, buyer, beware. Cards are different prices.
Import of vines hosts an extensive store with specialty cards, including detailed California and other AVAs and several lovely vintage reproductions. Various prices range from $ 37.95 to $ 60, and most cards are available in canvas at an additional cost.
World Atlas of Wine, Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson (2019, Mitchell Beazley). The latest update of the venerable atlas leaves almost no stone unturned and covers all the regions with detailed maps and auxiliary information on winemaking. Highly concentrated on regions of the Old World, but now with more comprehensive information on previously diminished further cast regions. Very readable, despite the book’s weight. $ 35.99 on amazon.com
Online sources: Many regional wine agencies include maps on their sites, but for general knowledge, here are a few places to check:
Wine Scholar Guild. Easy to read and pleasing to the eye. These highly detailed maps (Catalunya on the left) show subzones and geographical features. Downloads from the site.
Vineyards.com. They may not be visually inspiring, but this is a good virtual clearing house of maps of the entire globe, with some notable wineries pointed out. The site contains other filters for downloading cards according to interest, but not all of these worked at the time of testing.
Winemaps.com is a global source that finds places to drink. Not so much an educational tool, but convenient to see where you can get the well-deserved glass when you finish your studies.