Wine Book Basics

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the essential list for those wanting to learn about vino

by josh perilo

"you wine people have a real racket going over there at barnes and noble," my coworker said.

"whatever do you mean?" i replied.

"all i want is a book on wine for my mom," she continued. "and the section is, like, five shelves deep!"

i never thought i would ever say such a thing out loud, but she was right. there are too many books on wine! several decades ago, there might have been one or two dryly written reference books tucked into the "lifestyle" section or crammed into the "food and cookbooks" aisle. now the genre has exploded and become its own monster, spiraling off into wine and food pairing books, books on which vintages are good and which aren't, books on the history of wine and even books that focus on a more anecdotal side of wine and wine drinking.

most of these volumes serve a specific purpose, but for the casual oenophile it may seem a bit presumptuous to dedicate a chunk of one's salary to the acquisition of a wine library. like most things, less is more. there is no need to tithe your income in order to know what you're drinking and how it was made. there are a few books that can either be the building blocks for a future collection, or your crib notes for when you want to impress your friends and family.

for the wine enthusiast who is starting from scratch, there is one book that i recommend above all others. the wine bible by karen macneil ($19.95, workman publishing) delivers exactly what the title suggests. if you have a question about wine, big or small, this book tackles it in some way, somewhere within its 910 pages. the amazing thing about this book is that, despite its ominous sounding name and foreboding length, it is unintimidating and incredibly easy to read. it is, by no means, meant to be read from cover to cover. the first chapter, "mastering wine," gives a step-by-step, easy-to-understand explanation of the history of wine, how it's made, the major grapes and basic wine etiquette. every chapter after this breaks down into regions, sub-regions and sub-sub-regions. fun facts are sprinkled throughout, as well, making this the most enjoyable, quick overview of wine you will ever have at your fingertips.

for those who have a bit more knowledge under their belts and want a more complex and in-depth discussion about all things wine, look no further than the oxford companion to wine, edited by jancis robinson ($65, oxford university press). this hardcover reference book is the authoritative text on any question you could ever possibly have. while the wine bible addresses most questions and answers them as simply as possible, the oxford companion delves deep into obscure queries and ferrets out uber specific data like the legal minimum percentage of alcohol for a german auslese riesling. this is a book for those who adore minutiae and have a deep thirst for knowledge; an indispensable book for the extremely serious wine connoisseur.

going from in-depth information to specific in-depth information, oz clarke's new wine atlas ($75, harcourt) is the last book one will ever need on the subject of wine regions. beyond the obvious information like "what grows where" and "this region is next to that region," the book provides data on soil type, rainfall and microclimates. this all might be dry and bland if it weren't for the construction of the book itself. printed in gigantic, coffee-table proportions, the illustrated maps inside jump to life with breathtaking detail. the main maps for each sub-region are always topographical, with subset weather and rainfall supplements. more than just a tome of agricultural and geographical knowledge, this is a collection of lush maps that are easy to get lost in for hours at a time.

whether it's a stocking stuffer for the mildly curious, or an investment for the next robert parker jr., these wine book basics will have something for every fan of the vine.

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