The best wine books are illuminating and entertaining. More scholarly tomes have their place on your bookshelf, but if I’m considering giving a wine book as a holiday gift, I prefer something a little more lively.
My suggestions this year focus on a tremendously readable memoir, a comprehensive wine course and a collection of wonderful writing about all things wine.
Wine memoirs can be a little self-indulgent, so I approached “A Vineyard in Napa” (University of California Press, $29.95) with some skepticism. But the story of the Shafer family of Shafer Vineyards — as told by Doug Shafer and his collaborator, Andy Demsky — is funny, inspiring and instructive. The book traces the history of the winery from 1973, when John Shafer (Doug’s father) decided, at age 47, to move his family to the Napa Valley and plant a vineyard, to its present-day status as one of the valley’s icons.
But “A Vineyard in Na pa” is much more than the Shafers’ story. Doug Shafer places the family’s journey in historical context, offering a window into the development of the Napa Valley over the last 40 years. And in detailing some of the day-to-day tasks that confront any vintner, Shafer also educates the readers about everything from bugs to brand names to Brettanomyces.
For a more conventional type of instruction, there’s “Kevin Zraly’s Windows on the World Complete Wine Course” (Sterling Epicure, $19.95). Zraly’s first version of the book was published in the mid-1980s, long before the Sept. 11, 2011, attacks brought down the World Trade Center, home to Windows on the World restaurant, where Zraly was wine director and ran a wine school. (The wine school relocated and continues today.) The book has had frequent updates, but this 2012 version turns the book into a multi-platform wine course. Scattered throughout the book are codes for your smart phone that will take you to one of Zraly’s brief videos.
The wine course is comprehensive: It not only covers all the world’s major wine regions, it also addresses such subjects as how wine is made; how to taste and describe wine; food-and-wine pairing; even a list of good-value wines for $30 or less.
When New York Times reporter Frank J. Prial was assigned to write a wine column in 1972, it was the first regular coverage of wine in a general-interest U.S. newspaper. In the 40 years since, the Times has published some great musings on wine, written by Prial and others, and “The New York Times Book of Wine” (Sterling Publishing, $24.95) contains more than 150 of these articles, spanning more than 30 years. Most of the pieces are by Prial, who retired in 2004 and died in November, and by Eric Asimov, the current wine critic, but there are 27 other writers included. The topics, though always rooted in wine, are wide-ranging, everything from obituaries to restaurants to wine gadgets to wine regions. It’s the sort of book that you can pick up for a few minutes or a few hours.
PICK OF THE WEEK
Anglim Winery 2010 Cameo ($24) This white Rhone-style blend, made up mostly of grenache blanc and viognier, offers a nice combination of liveliness and richness. It displays fleshy white fruit and some creaminess without being at all heavy.