Books are a great gift for grape geeks

This seems to have been a great vintage year for publishers of wine books. In addition to the annual guides and "teach yourself to taste" tomes, there is an interesting collection of everything from a first-person story of starting a vineyard to in-depth explorations of single wine regions to a history that traces wine's journey over 8,000 years.

The grandaddy of this year's crop of wine books is "Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including Their Origins and Flavors" by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and Jose Vouillamoz (HarperCollins, Nov. 2012, $175)

I have long treasured a much more modest book Ms. Robinson published in 1992 on grape varieties and anxiously was awaiting this new and definitive volume, hoping Santa might deposit it under my tree. After reading many negative comments regarding the quality of the printing and binding, I've decided to wait for a second printing. In the meantime, one can read the first 36 pages at (search "Wine Grapes").

"The Wine Region of Rioja" by Ana Fabiano (Sterling Epicure, June 2012, $35)

The first American book devoted exclusively to Rioja, it is beautifully illustrated with color photographs and detailed maps. Beginning with a detailed history of the region, it covers the terroir, grape varieties and profiles of producers of Rioja wine as well as Spanish wine laws. Ms. Fabiano delves into the culture and cuisine of Rioja, further embellished with recipes. This is the most comprehensive book on Rioja wines to date.

"The Complete Bordeaux: The Wines, the Chateaux, the People" by Stephen Brook (Mitchell Beazley, Nov. 2012, $60)

In this revised version of a 2004 book, the author has provided an encyclopedic examination of the communes and appellations of Bordeaux with assessments of 1,000 major properties. Again, the detailed maps are a helpful addition. This is an essential addition to any Bordeaux-lover's library.

"Bordeaux: The Wines, The Vineyards, The Winemakers" by Oz Clarke (Sterling Epicure, June 2012, $35)

This also is a revision of an earlier Bordeaux monograph by Mr. Clarke. Once an actor, he has an entertaining writing style and makes amusing observations and comments as he visits 300 important chateaux in the region and profiles the properties.

"Wines of the Southern Hemisphere" by Mike Desimone and Jeff Jenssen (Sterling Epicure, Oct. 2012, $24.95)

This is the first comprehensive book to focus on this blossoming region south of the equator that daily gains in prestige and recognition for its delicious and affordable wines. It provides a historical, geographical and enological overview of the region and the key producers. There are interviews with winemakers and recipes for foods to pair with their wines.

"Inventing Wine: A New History of One of the World's Most Ancient Pleasures" by Paul Lukacs (Norton, Dec. 2012, $28.95)

A refreshing and informative romp through 8,000 years of wine history by a Loyola English professor who makes the journey not only educational but also provides a fascinating read. This is a perfect gift for both the neophyte and the learned wine buff. In the words of one reviewer, this is "A premier grand cru of wine history."

"Uncorked: My Journey Through the Crazy World of Wine" by Marco Pasanella (Clarkson Potter, May 2012, $24)

The author was previously a wildly successful designer of hotels and housewares, a teacher at Parsons School of Design and a columnist for the New York Times. In 2002 he purchased a historic building in Manhattan which ended up changing both his life and his career. This is the story of how he reinvented his life and became the proprietor of a Manhattan wine store.

"A Vineyard in Napa" by Doug Shafer and Andy Demsky (University of California Press, Nov. 2012, $29.95)

An engrossing first-person memoir of decades of building a respected Napa winery. Mr. Shafer's father, John, left a solid career as a publisher in Chicago and bought a 200-acre property in the Stag's Leap region. The story follows the growth of the Napa wine industry during the past four decades and his family's involvement in making an American First Growth winery.

"How To Love Wine: A Memoir and Manifesto" by Eric Asimov (Morrow, Oct. 2012, $24.95)

Mr. Asimov, the wine critic for The New York Times, believes that wine produces anxiety in people by intimidating them with tasting notes and fancy words. With warmth and candor and touching stories of his own experiences with wine, he demystifies wine, making it more approachable and enjoyable to the less-initiated.

"The New York Times Book of Wine" edited by Howard Goldberg (Sterling Epicure, Aug. 2012, $24.95)

This is a collection of 125 articles written by 29 New York Times wine and food experts such as R. W. Apple Jr, Frank Bruni, Frank Prial and Florence Fabricant, on everything from corkscrews and winespeak to pairing wine with food.

"Musings on Wine and Other Libations" by M. F. K. Fisher edited by Anne Zimmerman (Sterling Epicure, May 2012, $18.95)

M.F.K. Fisher was for 50 years THE American Grand Dame of gastronomy who wrote about wine and food, first from France and later from her home in Northern California. This compendium of her writing keeps her alive for another generation of gastronomes.

Certainly there is a book here that will thrill any wino on your gift list. You probably won't find them in your local bookstore but Amazon can zap them to you fast. My best wishes to you for a holiday filled with exciting wine experiences.

Elizabeth Downer:


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