Holiday Gifts for Wine Lovers: My Favourite Wine Books
With about a month to go until the holidays, and the Belgian weather turning grey, wet and chilly, I am ready to dance with the Spirit of the Season – that elusive wraith which brings the scent of pine trees, cookie spices and mulled wine.
Apart from quality time with family and friends, my favourite pastime on cold and dreary winter nights is to curl up in my comfy, worn-out reading chair with a glass of wine and a good book, and just forget about the world. Any pick from my ever-lengthening ‘to read’ list will do, but since I munch my way through a good many wine books – and this is a wine & words blog after all – I want to point out a few of my personal favourite wine reads (and hopefully hear some from you in return).
Who knows, maybe the list can serve as an inspiration for your holiday shopping list. After all, a happy food-and-wine-loving friend or relative is likely to return the favour in the form of unforgettable experiences and liquid treasure. 😉
As you will see, I’m skipping the well-known wine bibles and encyclopedic classics, such as Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson’s The World Atlas of Wine, Jancis Robinson’s Wine Grapes, Jancis Robinson and Julia Harding’s The Oxford Companion to Wine, Kevin Zraly’s Windows on the World or Karen MacNeil’s The Wine Bible. Not because they wouldn’t be among my favourites – to the contrary, these are amazing works that deserve to crown every wine lover’s bookshelves, but they have featured on so many lists already, that I prefer to focus on works that are perhaps slightly less known.
So here we go. I’m numbering the books for clarity’s sake, but they’re really in random order. I love them all for different reasons.
1. Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine
by Madeline Puckette and Justin Hammack
Like the Wine Folly website and newsletter, ‘The Essential Guide to Wine’ is a great resource. Clear and well-considered infographics give insights in wine fundamentals, wine styles, grape varieties and a large number of important wine regions worldwide. Each time, Madeline and Justin manage to add just the right amount of detail to find a balance between readability and educational value.
My favourite parts of the book are the grape variety aroma wheels, which are excellent to train your brain and senses in picking up specific aromas in varietal wines. Those alone make it worth while to get the book, and on top it’s got clear maps, well-illustrated articles on wine basics, and food & wine pairing charts!
Language: English. 240 pages.
2. Wine Science
by Jamie Goode
This is the kind of wine writing we don’t get nearly enough of: well researched, grounded in science, and with an eye on what happens in the vineyard, in the cellar and in our bodies when we consume the wine. Furthermore, the author manages to explain these complicated topics in a clear and comprehensible manner.
Wine Science covers a wide range of subjects, from soils, biodynamic viticulture and canopy management over oxygen, oak impact and sulfur dioxide all the way up to flavour perception, mouthfeel and health benefits of wine. With each topic, Jamie strikes a good balance between clarity and depth. A great resource for science-minded wine lovers of various backgrounds and training levels.
Language: English. 216 pages.
3. Taste Buds and Molecules
by François Chartier
I found this beautifully edited book many years ago, at a time when I’d decided on a topic for my sommelier thesis but struggled to find the right angle to get started. It ended up being just what I needed: a new approach to food and wine pairing, based on the aroma compounds food and wine have in common, in order to achieve innovative, surprising and (hopefully) delicious new combinations.
Especially in the later chapters, the scientific basis gets a bit shaky, but that’s not the book’s most important value anyway. It leads to new directions in food & wine pairing, and it doesn’t fail to inspire, by its wonderful graphics, creative layout as well as its experience-based flavour matches and recipe ideas.
Language: English (original: French). 224 pages.
4. Secrets of the Sommeliers
by Rajat Parr and Jordan Mackay
This book had been recommended to me by friends, and I’m glad I bought it. It’s a stylish edition, and it opened a window on a part of the wine world that was largely unknown to me: the US fine wine, high-end restaurant and wine trading world.
When you live in Europe, with its long wine history, it can be easy to overlook (or undervalue) the wider wine world. After all, so many gorgeous wines are made on our doorstep, and life is too short to master it all. In ‘Secrets of the Sommeliers’, Rajat Parr does a good job of merging the old and the new world, sharing interesting stories and tips & tricks from his own experiences as a sommelier and wine professional.
Language: English. 229 pages.
5. How to Taste: a Guide to Enjoying Wine
by Jancis Robinson MW
If you are new to wine – or you have been a wine lover for a long time but you want to brush up on the basics, this is an ideal book, and by one of my favourite wine authors – the ever-amazing British wine journalist Jancis Robinson.
The book has been in print since the early eighties, and has been revised a few times since. It lends itself perfectly as course material for introductory to intermediate wine courses, focusing on wine tasting basics (including well-thought-out exercises), before taking you along on a journey through the most common white and red grape varieties, to end with sparkling and fortified wines, food pairing dos and don’ts, and a useful glossary of wine terms called ‘wine and words’.
Language: English. 208 pages.
6. Perfect Pairings – a Master Sommelier’s Practical Advice for Partnering Wine with Food
by Evan Goldstein
Food and wine pairing is a topic dear to my heart, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a lot of wine books in my collection deal with exactly that. ‘Perfect Pairings’ was pointed out to me by a friend and it is indeed a great book, for wine novices as well as professionals.
It is above all practical, full of useful tips. As a bonus it adds several recipes and even entire menus. Each time a number of pairing suggestions illustrate the ideas and theories that were explained before. And the suggested wines come in different price categories: ‘everyday’, ‘premium’ and ‘splurge’, which makes the book even more usable and accessible for a wide wine-loving audience.
Language: English. 318 pages.
7. A History of the World in Six Glasses
by Tom Standage
And now for something completely different: a history book, which looks like a novel and uses iconic beverages as the threads that weave the story: from beer in Mesopotamia & Egypt or wine in Greece & Rome, all the way to tea in the British Empire and Coca-Cola in our globalised world.
It’s a fascinating read, which shows how significant our favourite beverages are, and how entwined in our cultures, politics, economics and religions. The author, engineer and computer scientist Tom Standage, writes compelling stories, full of historic references yet highly readable and entertaining. Or how a glass full of (the right) liquid makes the history lesson go down…
Language: English. 336 pages.
8. Why You Like the Wines You Like –
Changing the Way the World Thinks about Wine
by Tim Hanni MW
If you spend a lot of time among wine lovers, you inevitably come to understand that people’s taste preferences vary wildly, and play an essential role in wine appreciation. In his book, Tim Hanni challenges the standard ideas about wine tasting, wine preferences, ratings and the wine world in general, based on solid consumer research and spiced up with funny anecdotes, fitting cartoons and pointed metaphors.
This book gives back the power to wine consumers, in all their shapes, forms and vinotypes. In spite of the editing flaws, it should be mandatory reading for every wine professional, and makes an ideal gift for the rating-obsessed wine snobs in your life, as well as the ever-adventurous unconventionalists.
Language: English. 246 pages.
9. What to Drink with What you Eat
by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page
Another great suggestion from a trusted Vivino friend, so I purchased it in blind faith and haven’t regretted it for a single moment. This is much more than a wine book, as it encompasses a wide range of drinks and their qualities when it comes to food pairing: wine, beer, spirits, juices, tea, coffee – and even water.
It’s again a beautifully edited and comprehensive book, and so information dense that you need to savour and digest it piece by piece. After more general overviews and pairing basics, you get lists of common foods and the different beverages they pair well with. But my favourite parts are the high-end restaurant menus (with pairings) and the ‘desert island’ lists. The stuff dreams are made of!
Language: English. 368 pages.
10. Neurogastronomy: How the Brain Creates Flavor and Why It Matters
by Gordon M. Shepherd
This is not a wine book as such, but it’s one that die-hard wine lovers and foodies will find fascinating. After all, the more we understand about our perception of flavour, the better to maximise the pleasure we get from food and drinks.
Gordon M. Shepherd is a neuroscientist, who in this book takes us along on a journey through the mechanics of smell, how our brain creates flavour and how smell and flavour impact different aspects of our lives, from emotions and food preferences, all the way up to our language and thinking. He also devotes a few chapters to the impact of flavour on healthy eating issues, and how our senses change throughout our lives. Well written and packed with insights.
Language: English. 267 pages.