The best wine books are both illuminating and entertaining. More scholarly tomes have their place on your bookshelf, but if I'm considering giving a wine book as a holiday gift, I prefer something a little more lively.
My suggestions this year focus on a tremendously readable memoir, a comprehensive wine course and a collection of wonderful writing about all things wine.
Wine memoirs can be a little self-indulgent, so I approached "A Vineyard in Napa" (University of California Press, $29.95, 284 pages) with some skepticism. However, the story of the Shafer family of Shafer Vineyards -- as told by Doug Shafer and his collaborator, Andy Demsky -- is funny, inspiring and instructive. The book traces the
But "A Vineyard in Napa" is much more than the Shafers' story. Doug Shafer places the family's journey in historical context, offering a window into the development of the Napa Valley over the past 40 years, from a bucolic time when vintners drove beat-up pickups, to the touristic, flashy, well-heeled place it is today. And in detailing some of the day-to-day tasks that confront any vintner, Shafer also educates the readers about everything from bugs to Brettanomyces.
For a more conventional type of instruction, there's "Kevin
The wine course is amazingly comprehensive in its roughly 350 pages: It not only covers all the world's major wine regions, it also addresses such subjects as how wine is made; how to taste and describe wine; food-and-wine pairings; even a list of good-value wines for $30 or less. Pages are crammed with all manner of facts and trivia, including vintage assessments, production numbers and brief histories. The lessons each conclude with a quiz of sorts, to test whether you were paying attention. The videos are helpful, too: If you want to learn to say "gewürztraminer,"
When New York Times reporter Frank J. Prial was assigned to write a wine column in 1972, it was the first regular coverage of wine in a general-interest U.S. newspaper. In the 40 years since, the Times has published some great musings on wine, written by Prial and others, and "The New York Times Book of Wine" (Sterling Publishing, $24.95, 592 pages) contains more than 150 of these articles, spanning more than 30 years.
Most of the pieces are by Prial, who retired in 2004 and died in November, and by Eric Asimov, the current wine critic, but 27 other writers are included. The late R.W. "Johnny" Apple, the Times' globe-trotting bon vivant, contributes several entertaining pieces, for example, while Harold McGee, best known for his writings on kitchen science, tackles a couple of wine's more technical issues.
The topics, though always rooted in wine, are wide-ranging, with everything from restaurants to wine gadgets to regions. It's the sort of book that you can pick up for a few minutes or a few hours.
A pocket wine guide makes an excellent stocking stuffer for any wine lover. The two best ones are by Hugh Johnson and Oz Clarke. Both are priced at about $15 and pack a lot of information into a small format. I might give the edge to Clarke, simply because I like his witty writing style.
Contact Laurie Daniel at firstname.lastname@example.org.