Two top reads for the wine lovers on your list

ladaniel@earthlink.net.December 9, 2013 

It was a bountiful wine grape harvest in much of California this fall. The crop of new wine books has been less plentiful. But even if quantity was down, quality has been excellent, with a couple of must-haves.

The first edition of “The World Atlas of Wine” was published in 1971; the sixth edition, out in 2007, is an important book in my reference library. Now British writers Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson have released the seventh edition of “The World Atlas of Wine” (Mitchell Beazley, 400 pages, $55). A lot has changed in the past six years, and “World Atlas” acknowledges that evolution.

Among the trends that get new attention are sustainable viticulture and wine production; increased use of alternative bottle closures; and renewed interest in Italy’s indigenous grape varieties. There are also some great new photographs and illustrations.

Since this is an atlas, most of the book is devoted to the world’s wine regions. A lot of the new content is focused on wine production outside Europe. New World changes include better coverage of Canada, an entire chapter on Virginia and expanded sections on Australia and New Zealand. And Asia is given more space, especially China, where more wine is being consumed as well as produced.

As is the case in any book that tries to be comprehensive, there are some deficiencies. Paso Robles, one of California’s most dynamic wine regions, gets a mere two paragraphs — about what it was given six years ago — and much of that is devoted to high-volume producers rather than the well-known boutique brands. Perhaps it’s time for Johnson and Robinson to make a trip.

The most useful wine book I’ve seen in ages is “Complete Wine Selector” by Katherine Cole (Firefly Books, 256 pages, $24.95). The subtitle is “How to Choose the Right Wine Every Time,” and this book will go a long way toward helping you in that task. But its content goes much further.

Much of the book is devoted to “Wine Styles” — for example, lively, aromatic whites or firm, medium-bodied reds. For each style, Cole — the wine columnist for the Oregonian in Portland — offers examples of varieties that fit the style, then she drills down using one wine as an example. There are food matches and loads of recommended wines, including a “best on a budget” list. Each section also has three “master-classes” that discuss issues related to that style of wine — residual sugar in riesling, for example, or the meaning of “reserve” on a wine label.

The rest of the book covers such topics as buying wine (including a list of the world’s best wine shops); navigating a restaurant wine list; serving and drinking wine; and how wine is made. That’s a lot of information for a book that’s well under 300 pages. The book is also well-organized and visually appealing, so it’s easy to read. A great book for a novice, but even a seasoned wine drinker is likely to learn something from it.

PICK OF THE WEEK

Testarossa 2011 Rincon Vineyard Chardonnay ($41)

Testarossa makes a lot of Central Coast chardonnays, but this one from a Talley vineyard in Arroyo Grande Valley is particularly good. It offers racy lemon and pear fruit with some creaminess and toasty oak.

Laurie Daniel’s column is special to The Tribune.

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