Wine Guys

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Next to a good bottle of wine we don’t think there is gift more appreciated than a good book about wine. Our home libraries are stacked with books that have provided invaluable research for us through the years. Some of them are dated – especially the tomes whose reviews end in the 1980s – but most of them offer still relevant material.

In preparing this column, Tom was looking through his collection and came across an autographed copy of Robert Parker’s “Bordeaux: The Definitive Guide for the Wines Produced Since 1961.” He got Parker’s signature at a book signing at the Naval Academy in the mid ’80s when Parker had just burst onto the wine scene with his reviews of the 1982 vintage. The reviews in the book – perhaps Parker’s first – end with the 1983 vintage. Parker was all alone at his book-signing table when we met him – that wouldn’t be the case today.

There is no shortage of wine books on the market. If you are searching for a holiday gift for that wine enthusiast in the family, we have some recommendations. You first have to gauge their level of expertise – a book for beginners is not the book you want for those with a foundation in wine education.

It doesn’t get any more basic than “Wine for Dummies” by Ed McCarthy and master of wine Mary Ewing-Mulligan (John Wiley & Sons, $22.99). We bet this book is often bought as a joke for wine snobs, but despite its suggestive title, there is a ton of fundamental information about wine in this book. It provides a good explanation how wine is made, how it is described, what the terms mean, where it is grown. It helps readers understand the differences between grape varieties, what to look for in the label, how to read a wine list and how to serve a wine. It will not insult your intelligence.

Kevin Zraly’s “Windows on the World Complete Wine Course” (Sterling Epicure, $19.95)) is a more sophisticated and multi-platform book for both beginners. It too covers the basics but in a much more appealing manner with great visuals, a test at the end of each chapter, and smart-phone tags that will take readers to a file with the audible pronunciation of 1,300 key wine words. The lessons are organized by wine-growing regions, but there is also basic information that will give both novice and expert a good grounding in wine education.

One of our most used books in our library is Jancis Robinson’s “Oxford Companion to Wine” (Oxford University Press, $42). As an encyclopedia, it is not a book you read at leisure. It is a reference book to consult when you’re stumped by a word or want to know more about a region or grape variety. It is has been invaluable to us in researching this column. Robinson, one of the most respected wine writers in the world, also has how-to books for beginners and experts.

If you prefer to find your friend a gift that he or she can enjoy beside the fireplace this winter, there are a couple of books – some new and some old – which we recommend.

New on the market this year is “The New York Times Book of Wine” (Sterling Epicure, $24.95). Edited by Howard Goldberg, the book is a fabulous collection of wine columns published in the New York Times. We particularly liked those written by the late Frank J. Prial. Other contributors include H.W. Apple Jr., William Grimes, Frank Bruni and Eric Asimov. These universally well-written columns are informative but also entertaining.

If you want to entice a spouse to travel to wine regions, there is no better encouragement than “The World Atlas of Wine” by Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson (Octopus Publishing, $32). Now in its 6th edition, the book is a complete introduction to wine regions ranging from California to Slovenia.

There are books that focus on specific regions – Bordeaux, Rioja, the Barossa Valley, etc. – that also may pique your interest. If you are planning a trip to one of these regions, there is no better way to get into the mood than to read more about the wine made there.

Two other leisure books we recommend: “Wine & War” by Don and Petie Kladstrup (Broadway Books, $24). about how the French defended their wine cellars during World War II, and, “Last Call, the Rise and Fall of Prohibition” by Daniel Okrent (Scribner, $30).


Kendall Jackson Grand reserve Merlot Sonoma County 2008 ($26). This is a very classy merlot that is drinking beautifully now. The nose exhibits a cherry hint of oak profile with black cherry flavor and a hint of chocolate and balance oak in the mouth. A terrific merlot!

Clos de los Siete 2009 ($20). Now in its 8th vintage, this French partnership lead by consultant Michel Rolland has created an Argentine winner. A blend of malbec (57 percent), merlot, cabernet sauvignon, syrah and petit verdot, it exudes ripe plum and blackberry flavors. It is a good match to meats and wild game.

Villa Maria Private Bin Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2011 ($15). After having tasting a number of New Zealand sauvignon blancs that were mangled with sugar, we were pleased to find one that still represents the varietal character this grape and country offer. It has intense citrus and herbaceous aromas with the classic grapefruit and grassy flavors, fresh acidity and long finish. Villa Marie Estate, now celebrating its 50th anniversary as a family owned winery, offers an outstanding reserve sauvignon blanc and an excellent pinot noir too.


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