Wine books are great holiday gifts for wine-lovers. I’m writing this column of mini-reviews a little early because the first full day of Hanukkah this year falls on Thanksgiving Day, and I want to include that as well as Christmas and Kwanzaa. Here are some books I like:
• ”The World Atlas of Wine,” by Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson (Mitchell Beazley Press, $55). The seventh edition of a guide that started in 1971, it’s by two top wine experts – Hugh Johnson, a veteran writer whose “Pocket Wine” mini-guide is the world’s best-selling wine book, and Jancis Robinson, wine correspondent for the Financial Times of London, who oversees Queen Elizabeth II’s cellar. The large-format, 400-page tome describes every significant wine region, from France’s Burgundy to the Yamanashi Prefecture in Japan, with beautiful maps and photographs. If you own only one wine book, this should be it.
• ”Vertical,” by Rex Pickett (Loose Gravel Press, $23). Remember “Sideways,” the quirky novel and movie featuring the wine snob Miles (Paul Giamatti) and his slacker buddy Jack (Thomas Haden Church), which put California pinot noir on a pedestal and almost destroyed the merlot industry? Well, Pickett has brought back the prickly pair, on another wine-soaked road trip. Prepare to smile, and wince a little.
• ”Wine Appreciation: 500 wines for 100 Occasions,” by David Williams (Universe Press, $30). The wine columnist for The Observer newspaper of London gives you wine recs for life’s milestones, big and little. On a first date, a safe pinot grigio, because you don’t want to reveal too much; when you propose, a white viognier, exotic and glamorous; if you’re coming out, a Domaine Gerovassiliou Malagousia from Greece, because that country’s philosophers paid tribute to same-sex love; with the wine geek, a Pheasant’s Tears red wine from the ex-Soviet republic of Georgia because it’s seriously obscure; on your 100th birthday, an outrageously expensive vintage madeira, because you can’t take it with you. A fun read.
• ”The Makers of American Wine, a Record of 200 Years,” by Thomas Pinney (University of California Press, $35). After the pilgrims landed in the 1600s, it took Americans nearly 200 years to make wine with any real success. This book tells the story of the progress made since through the eyes of 13 people who influenced the trade, from Ernest and Julio Gallo to Robert Mondavi to Cathy Corison, one of the first major female winemakers. It’ll make you feel wine-literate.
• ”The Exes in my iPod: A Playlist of the Men Who Rocked Me to Wine Country,” by Lisa Mattson, (iTunes at exesinmyipod.com/purchase, $5). Mattson is a California-based wine marketer who took a wine course at Florida International University, got an editing job at the Wine News magazine in Coral Gables and went on to a career promoting prestige wineries. Now she’s written a steamy work of fiction inspired by some of the scads of failed romantic relationships of her wild 20s. As badly needed therapy, her female protagonist buys an iPod and downloads a song to represent each guy. For Kevin, the rich, divorced pro golfer who plies her with $200 cult cabs, her song is Black Eyed Peas’ “Fly Away,” because he promises her the moon and then, well, flies away. A wine-fan bodice-ripper.
• ”Grape Expectations: A Family’s Vineyard Adventure in France,” by Caro Feely (Trafalgar Square Publishing, $14 paperback): Remember “A Year in Provence,” the story of a London ad man who throws it all over to make a new life in the picturesque but rustic French countryside? This is a parallel adventure in which Caro and Sean Feely, self-styled British city-slickers, move to France’s Dordogne Valley to run a 25-acre biodynamic vineyard. Merry misadventures and all that.
Fred Tasker has retired from the Miami Herald but is still writing about wine. He can be reached at email@example.com.