Behind the Book – A Natural History of Wine

‘Ian Tattersall and Rob DeSalle have written one of the most fascinating wine books ever. Consummate scientist-storytellers, they take us into ‘universes’ of wine that have rarely been explored before. I loved reading this book!’ – Karen MacNeil, author of The Wine Bible

Wine and science may seem like an odd combination, but the two subjects unite in A Natural History of Wine, an enticing new publication from Ian Tattersall and Rob DeSalle. This book by two esteemed scientists and frequent collaborators, mines history, biology, anthropology and beyond, in a quest to reveal what science can tell us about wine, and visa versa.

In anticipation of Yale’s Tasting Notes, a pre-Christmas blog series from Rob DeSalle and Ian Tattersall, we asked Rob DeSalle to reveal the inspiration behind the book, and suggest why wine has been loved by so many, for so long.

A Natural History of Wine

Tacuinum Sanitatis (XIV century)

Rob DeSalle answers our questions about new book, A Natural History of Wine

What inspired you to investigate the natural history of wine?

We were inspired to do this book when we found ourselves drinking wine as an inspirational aid while writing our last book together, on the evolution of the brain. It occurred to us that wine is a wonderful perspective through which to view almost every area of natural science.

Why are humans so enamoured of wine?

There are plenty of evolutionary scenarios to explain both our ability to metabolise alcohol and our propensity to seek it out. Quite honestly, though, wine itself transcends purely reductionist explanations. It appeals comprehensively to our senses, but it is much more than simply a sensory stimulus. It is a wonderful metaphor for some fundamental aspects of human experience.

Do you have a ‘favourite fact’ about any particular wine or vintage?

This book is about wine itself, rather than about particular wines, or styles of wine. However, a particular favourite is the ‘Prephylloxera’ bottling from Mount Etna, made from ancient gnarled vines that somehow survived the epidemic that almost destroyed the wine industry in the late nineteenth century.

Where is wine going?

The chemistry of wine won’t change in the future, and more than likely the genetics of wine won’t either. But as an extension of the human spirit, wine will continue to challenge human creativity in exactly the same way it first did seven or eight thousand years ago.


A Natural History of Wine by Ian Tattersall and Rob DeSalle is available from Yale University Press

A Natural History of WIne

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