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Best wine books of 2015: Decanter reviews

Looking for some Christmas gift inspiration or a good book to relax with over the festive season? How about one of these excellent wine books, all reviewed in 2015 by Decanter's editorial team and contributors.

Read our Luxury wine gifts guide for something a little more special.

See below for a selection of the best wine books of 2015. All of these books were reviewed by Decanter’s editorial team or its contributors this year. The following reviews are not ranked in any preference order.

Where possible, a link to an e-book version has been added, so you can download your chosen book and get reading straight away.

Breakfast in Burgundy

Raymond Blake
Skyhorse Publishing, £15.99, $22.95

Raymond Blake, wine editor of Ireland’s Food & Wine magazine, is a dashing Dubliner married to Fionnuala, the city’s premier classical violinist, to whom he has dedicated this book. Under the subtitle A Hungry Irishman in the Belly of France, he treats the reader to a two-decade romp through their first idea of buying a house in the Côte d’Or to becoming part of the Burgundy furniture. People, places, endless menus – some simple, some inspiring – and bottle upon bottle, all are recounted in a manner as gloriously coloured as the roof of the hospices de Beaune.

Shadows in the VineyardsShadows in the Vineyard

Maximillian Potter
Hachette, £19.99 (hardback), $9.99

It is the stuff of nightmares for wine lovers and auction houses, and the sort of real-life plot that writers dream about. Shadows in the Vineyard tells of how world-famous Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (DRC) was in 2010 held to ransom by an unknown assailant who threatened to poison its most precious vineyard, La Romanée-Conti.

A huge police investigation is mounted after DRC co-director Aubert de Villaine receives a capsule containing a map and a blackmail letter at his home address – a sequence of events made more gripping because this is no mere fiction. (CM)

Rich, Rare & Red: A Guide to Port

Ben Howkins
Quiller, £16.95, $20.00, fourth edition

Howkins’ book has brought a few generations into the Port fold, and here it is again, updated and reading as well as ever. When the book first appeared, patamares, the bulldozed terraces that replaced dry-stone walling, were all the rage; now they’re being adapted to more conservation-friendly methods. Then it was auto-vinification; now lagares are back. Port is better than ever, the region has a new confidence, and this book will both instruct and entice you.

The History of Wine in 100 bottlesoz clarke history of wine in 100 bottles slim

Oz Clarke
Pavilion Books. Google play £10.04, Amazon Kindle £10.04

Strap yourself in for a whirlwind history tour of the some of the world’s most renowned wine regions and wines at key moments in their development, with well-known critic and author Oz Clarke. By its nature, this book won’t give you the depth of detail offered by some of the weightier tomes on the market. But, this concise and well-written book makes an enjoyable and informative read, and the structure means it is easy to dip in and out. (CM)

Decanter.com published excerpts of this book over the summer. See them here:

History of wine in 100 bottles: Barolo | Prestige Cuvées | Tokaji, 1571 | The birth of Claret

The Five Minute Wine Book

Tony Aspler
Bev Editions at Smashwords, £3.21; Kindle, $4.99

This is a collection of Aspler’s Toronto Star columns going back to 1976, written with typical brio and never taking more than five minutes to read – hence the title. A good, entertaining read.

The Oxford Companion to Wine, 4th edition

Jancis Robinson MW and Julia Harding MW
Oxford University Press, £40

The Oxford Companion to Wine, 4th editionCriticism just bounces off these edifices as Jancis Robinson MW, Julia Harding MW and their hordes of advisors and contributors simply know everything there is to be known about this subject.

Nonetheless wine, like any field of knowledge, is in a constant state of flux, and this fourth edition has been more thoroughly revised than any of its predecessors. so there are 300 new entries, as well as revisions.

As well as a huge weight of information, this wonderful book also manages to entertain and delight. Even the bibliographical entries can provoke a smile. Who’s for Pearson and Goheen’s Compendium of Grape Diseases, or F Accum’s Culinary Poisons?

Wines of France

Benjamin Lewin MW
Vendange Press, £49.95, $42.00

This study of the wines of France breaks new ground for the stupendously industrious Benjamin Lewin MW. His previous wine books had been projected at insiders. In contrast, this new book is far more introductory, exploring the major regions: their grape varieties, terroir, economic structure and top names.

In all respects this is an admirable introduction to French wine, taking the place of Clive Coates MW’s magisterial study of the subject 15 years ago. The only drawbacks are, as with Lewin’s previous books, its immense weight – don’t drop this on your foot – and its fairly alarming price.

Wine, Moon and Stars

Gérard Bertrand
Abrams Books, £12.99, $10.78

The subtitle of this memoir is ‘A south of France Experience’, which it is, expansively – an eloquent love letter to Languedoc- Roussillon, its layered history, stony soil and forthright wines. Bertrand’s father was an innovative winemaker and rugby player, and he has happily followed the same trajectory, sometimes simultaneously (in a scrappy family, he notes that, at least, ‘everyone was in agreement about rugby or winemaking’.)

Bertrand now owns and operates 11 wineries, and is convinced that much of his success comes from farming organically and biodynamically. You may or may not think much of the concept, but he makes a thoughtful case for it, and there is quite a bit of proof in the glass: though his wines can be a bit feral at times, they are sold around the world, and have won an abundance of medals in international competitions, including a harvest of more than two dozen in the Decanter World Wine Awards 2015.

Exploring-&-Tasting-Wine-Book-4Exploring and Tasting Wine: A Wine Course with Digressions

Berry Bros & Rudd Wine School
BB&R Press, £30

This is the London merchant’s Wine School course book (how to taste, grape varieties, choosing and enjoying wine) with, as the title suggests, digressions, aka ‘discussions’. The design is terrific, the presentation fresh, the colour printing excellent. The flavour diagrams are particularly good. It’s fun and stimulating, and written by people who know exactly what’s going on in each region because they spend a lot of time there. Clever design and presentation packs with a huge amount of information, well written, without any feeling of indigestion. A star wine book buy.

See Decanter.com’s excerpts of the book here: How to hold your own wine tasting | How to understand wine

The Charlemagne Connection

RM Cartmel
Crime Scene Books, £7.99, $13.99

A crime novel written by an ex-GP, set in Burgundy. Fans of Cartmel’s The Richebourg Affair (2014) will find this just as good a read.

The Wine Bible

Karen MacNeil
Workman, £16.99, $24.95-$39.95

The text is really quite good in this ‘lively course’. And there’s a pile of it (1,008pp): it’s like answering the telephone to a dear friend who you know will never stop talking.

See Decanter.com’s Christmas wine and food page for more festive articles

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