If you're starting to feel holiday-shopping panic with just a week left before Christmas, you might consider a book about wine as a good (and easy) gift for the wine lovers on your list.
Today, then, let's move directly to a few quick reviews of good wine books - a few new this year and a couple of reliable standards. These books should be available in good book stores and perhaps in wine shops; should you use the links provided below to order them from Amazon.com, we'll earn a small commission to help us pay the rent at WineLoversPage.com.
Hugh Johnson's World Atlas of Wine is no mere stocking-stuffer. This hefty, coffee-table volume would over-fill the largest mantel sock. But if you enjoy wine travel, whether in the real world or from your armchair, this classic atlas will take you around the world, with color photos and detailed topographical maps of virtually every wine region. Although the focus is on maps and wine geography, there's plenty of information about wine and tasting here to make this a full-scope wine reference book. The Fifth Edition, published last year with Jancis Robinson as co-editor), lists for a hefty $50, but Amazon.com is currently offering it for $30, a full 40 percent discount. To order:
Now to make things a little more complicated: Oz Clarke's New Wine Atlas, a direct competitor with Johnson's atlas, is similar in size and content, an oversize hardcover book offering maps, photos and information about wine regions around the world. Both Clarke and Johnson are respected British wine scribes. The books are about the same size, and list for the same price. How to choose? I'm a longtime fan of Johnson's prolific wine prose, and the partnership with Robinson makes a mighty strong team. But Clarke's writing style is clear and informative, too, and his reporting on less-familiar regions such as the former Yugoslavia and other Eastern European regions seems a bit more complete. The topo maps in the Johnson Atlas are probably more useful to serious wine enthusiasts because they clearly delineate major vineyard properties. But the Clarke Atlas offers attractive "panoramic" maps that help you get the lay of the land with clear birdseye views of many wine regions. To buy it from Amazon.com at a discounted $42 (30 percent off):
If you're seriously into food and wine pairing and cookery, you'll enjoy Great Tastes Made Simple by the sommelier Andrea Immer, subtitled "Extraordinary Food and Wine Pairing for Every Palate." It's full of demonstration recipes and detailed discussions about what wines go with them and why, and Immer's engaging style and accessible approach to wine makes it attractive. I love this kind of thing, and if you're a "foodie," you probably will, too. But it might be a bit too detailed for those who take wine and food more casually. It lists for $27.50 and is currently on sale for $27.50 (40 percent off) from Amazon.com. To buy it:
Here's another of those hefty volumes that might be daunting to a wine-appreciation beginner but that can transport a more passionate wine lover on an armchair voyage through the world's great cellars: The new edition of Michael Broadbent's Vintage Wine, subtitled "Fifty Years of Tasting Three Centuries of Wines." Broadbent, the head of Christie's wine-auction firm for a quarter of a century, assembles a lifetime of tasting reports on great wines, assembled by region and vintage, with ratings and details of how the weather contributed to each year's success. The focus is heavily on France, but there's room reserved for top tastings from Germany, Italy, California, Australia and more. Frankly, unless you have an exceptional cellar, there's little here of direct value to consumers. But for vicarious reading pleasure that's right up there with, say, studying baseball statistics of the 1920s, I can easily get lost in such trivia as learning that the 1930 vintage in Bordeaux saw "poor weather, execrable wine, no market and generally hard times for everyone." Or that the 1865 Beaune Premiere Cuvee Grizot from Bouchard Pere was still "All good: lovely colour, rich, good fruit, intense flavour, still retaining tannins" when Broadbent last tasted it in 1987. Enough! If you like this kind of thing, you'll know it. Listed at $50, the book is currently on sale for $35 (30 percent off) at Amazon.com:
Finally, a modest stocking-stuffer that really is stocking-size. I buy the updated edition of Hugh Johnson's Pocket Wine Book every year, and the just-out 2003 edition is no exception. Literally pocket size, it almost needs a magnifying glass to parse its tiny print, but that's how it packs a remarkable amount of consumer information into a very small package. Indispensable in the wine shop or restaurant, it lists thousands of wines from around the world, with brief tasting notes and Johnson's one- to four-star rating, plus his advice on which vintages are good and which are ready to drink. At a list price of $13.95 and a 40 percent-off sale price of just $8.37, it's mighty hard to come up with any reason why every wine lover shouldn't have his own copy. To order from Amazon.com:
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All the wine-tasting reports posted here are consumer-oriented. In order to maintain objectivity and avoid conflicts of interest, I purchase all the wines I rate at my own expense in retail stores and accept no samples, gifts or other gratuities from the wine industry.
Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2002
Copyright 2002 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.