WINE BOOKS FOR WINTER READING AND SIPPING

The coming winter months are a good time to curl up with a book and (of course) a glass of wine. And what better time to fortify your wine knowledge? How about a resolution to better appreciate the diversity of wine? Here are three recommendations for good reference books you will enjoy reading and will help you enjoy wine more. I’m often skeptical of wine and food pairing advice. But “The Food Lover’s Guide To Wine” by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg (Little, Brown, $35), the culinary authors’ eighth book, is a notable exception. Page and Dornenburg begin with the recognition that wine is food, quoting Michael Pollan’s healthful advice: “Drink wine. With food. Not too much.” Noting they love food first and wine second, the authors declare their greatest interest in wine is “its ability to make food taste better.” Their focus on flavor, both of the wine and the food, is a key to enhancing the food/wine experience. The book is distinctive for its approach of asking sommeliers their thoughts and advice about such things as their favorite grapes, regions and pairings, along with wine service instructions. These insights mostly avoid geek-speak and really bring the topic to life. Providing context, Page and Dornenburg begin the book with an informative timeline of wine in America. Throughout the book, helpful sidebars, lists, and tips provide additional detail and perspective. Given that wine is a beverage meant to be enjoyed daily, I especially appreciated the list of wine best buys – 150 wines under $15. The book covers more than 250 types of wine with information on pronunciation, grapes used, origins, top producers flavor profiles, and food pairing ideas. It is so packed with information I expect to be referring back to it many times. It seems wine educator Mark Oldman’s mission is to make wine fun, interesting and accessible for novices, while turning more experience wine drinkers on to new taste experiences. Oldman has pursued this in gigs with Rachel Ray and PBS and in his first book, “Oldman’s Guide to Outsmarting Wine.” In his newest book, “Oldman’s Brave New World of Wine” (W. W. Norton, $20), he enlists chefs, winemakers, sommeliers and celebrities in the effort. With these contributors and a lively writing style, Oldman’s book mirrors his goal for wine: it’s fun, interesting and accessible. It is a good introduction to the world of fine wine with forty chapters covering white, red, rose and sparkling wines from all over the world. The book’s strength is Oldman’s insistence on introducing readers to wines that are not “the usual suspects.” He takes us on a journey through “brave new pours,” grape varieties and wines that may be obscure to most Americans but are well known in other countries, with distinctive flavors and usually of moderate cost. I especially like the informative boxes that accompany each chapter. They provide quick reference for wine characteristics (flavor profile, cost, pronunciation, and food affinities), and purchasing advice. And fun graphs charting the “adventure factor” of the wine. As Oldman writes, “Why should insiders have all the fun?” “The Finest Wines of California,” by Stephen Brook (University of California Press, $35) is a different kind of reference book. Brook recognizes trying to write a comprehensive survey of California wine is a futile exercise. So, he presents precisely what the book’s title promises: his opinion of California’s finest wineries and wines. Still, he manages to cover nearly 100 producers. These were chosen, Brook explains, first for quality but also availability and consistency over time. The guts of the book, then, is the profiles of the selected producers, with each generally including a history, wine production methods, and wine tasting notes. The author deserves credit for sticking his neck out in the last chapter where he lists what he considers to be California’s 100 finest wines from among those profiled in the book. Though British, Brook certainly is qualified for this task, having written 15 books (including a previous one about California) and writing about California wine for Decanter and The World of Fine Wine. Maybe that’s why the book begins with informative and sometimes provocative essays on California wine history, wine culture, grape varieties, evolution of wine styles, business and more. I found these as intriguing as the profiles. Brook provides not just interesting information about producers he believes deserve the attention. He also offers the reader a distinctive perspective on California wine. For that alone, this book deserves your attention.

About Rich

I first became interested in wine while I worked in numerous liquor stores during college in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. In the years following college, I researched, tasted, traveled to vineyards in California and Europe, participated in countless tastings. I began writing about wine in 1995 with a column in Out Front Colorado. For me, wine is more than a drink. It is food. It is a connection to the earth. It is culture. There is just something amazing, even magical, about the transformation of grapes into wine. It is also remarkable how drinking wine with food enhances the taste and enjoyment of both. Appreciation of wine has become an integral part of my approach to life, which emphasizes balance, respect for nature, physical and emotional health, and an appreciation of our nature as social beings. In 2006, I was awarded a fellowship to the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers.