There are many books regarding the subject of wine, some more informative; others more illustrious. I’m constantly asked by friends and peers for reading recommendations. As books and articles are some of the most valuable tools for the student of wine, I have summarized a few key assets in my library. In no order of importance…
1. Windows on the World Wine Course by Kevin Zraly. This book covers a wide range of topics but Zraly does an excellent job of keeping the material light, easy to read, and fun to learn. He discusses key grape varieties, important wine making regions, wine label interpretation, and food pairings as well. Zraly also comments on the lifeline and untimely ultimate ending of one of the world’s most unique and successful restaurants for which the book is named, Windows on the World. Zraly honed his craft for more than 20 years working the floor of the restaurant located atop the World Trade Center, and his memories he recalls are heartfelt and somber. This book was given to me by my first employer when I began selling wine in NYC and I’ve referenced it many a time since then. 276 pages. Approximate retail price: $25.
2.) The Billionaire’s Vinegar by Benjamin Wallace. This book discusses the rare and collectible wine trades. Wine, like any other commodity, is often traded for both personal use as well as investment purposes. There are the reliable wines that will typically earn small gains, as well as the blue chip wines which bring fortune and prestige. The Billionaire’s Vinegar highlights the scandal surrounding the famous “Jefferson Bottles”, a collection of wine that was schemed to have belonged to Thomas Jefferson. The story that ensues involves many of the most affluent wine personalities in the world, and brings into question their credibilities as well as the concept of antique wines and the ethics involved with collecting. 319 pages. Approximate retail price: $25.
3. Great Wine Made Simple by Andrea Immer Robinson. It’s difficult to summarize the main concepts of winemaking into one book, but Robinson discusses wine in a very poetic manner. She covers all grape types, soil conditions, tasting methods, and most of all the importance of enjoying what’s in the glass. She also brings up the idea of climate influences, and offers a formula that wine is a product of its relative latitude, with certain color and fruit qualities resulting from where a wine is produced. She breaks down all the world’s winegrowing areas and classifies each as either a cool, moderate, or hot growing area, and attributes certain aromas and tastes to each zone. Although not a perfect concept, in theory it is quite logical. 325 pages. Approximate retail value: $28.
4. The Sotheby’s Wine Encylcopedia by Tom Stevenson. This book is one of the juiciest texts concerning wine, with a plethora of information regarding regions, grapes, labeling legislation, and historical references. The book is full of maps and other statistical information that makes researching specific topics a rather feasible task. He also discusses different vine growing techniques, synonyms for many of the world’s most prolific varieties, and also an illustrated guide on how to properly smell, taste, and ultimately spit wine when tasting. It’s enormous size and weight makes it less portable than most other books on wine, but as an educational resource, it’s worth its weight in gold. 664 pages. Approximate retail value: $50.
5. The Wine Lover’s Companion by Ron Herbst and Sharon Tyler Herbst. This encyclopedia-style book covers thousands of topics in an alphabetical format. The entries are concise yet informative, and offer easy and quick answers to the most complex wine inquiries. The appendices in the back are immensely helpful resources including, but not limited to, a glossary of wine terms, the hierarchy of bottle names and sizes, tips on selecting wine in a retail wine shop, and economic data regarding global consumption per capita. 667 pages. Approximate retail price: $15.
6. The Judgement of Paris: California vs. France and the Historic 1976 Paris Tasting that Revolutioned Wine by George M. Taber. The name pretty much says it all. The book reviews the events and characters of the famous tasting that, in effect, was the coming out party for the California wine industry. Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon and Chateau Montelena Chardonnay, both from California, placed first in a blind tasting amongst other French wines produced from the same grapes. Taber, who was the only reporter present at the tasting, artistically recaps the drama and awe of one of America’s finest moments in the world of viticulture. The book was eventually made into a movie, Bottle Shock, although the pleasures of the book far outweigh those of the movie. 330 pages. Approximate retail value: $16.