From anthologies and introductory guides, to stunning photography of Bordeaux’s first growths, these wine books could make last minute Christmas gifts or relaxing reads over the festive season. See below.
Best wine books of 2016
Pocket Wine Book 2017 Hugh Johnson
What began 40 years ago as ‘an exercise in crowding angels on a pinhead’ has become the world’s bestselling wine book (more than 12 million copies sold). You’ll certainly need a bigger pocket, as it’s now up to 340 pages, but it’s still manageable, reliable and crisply eloquent. Johnson is ably abetted by 30 regional correspondents, edited by Margaret Rand. Review by Brian St-Pierre
£5.50 Amazon Buy now
Hugh Johnson on Wine Hugh Johnson
Something of an anthology, with a touch of memoir (see p16). We’re all outriders in this, in a way, even those who have never met Hugh, as it’s a collection gathering together evocative reminiscences tagged as ‘the good bits from 55 years of scribbling’, that will also often be touchstones for the rest of us, part of all our shared memories, experiences, and epiphanies on the long and winding wine road.
It’s like a mosaic; some tiles are plainer than others, but they help define the pattern, from the man who once wrote of his approach to wine: ‘The painter is in love with the sitter…the way the pleasure of wine renews itself bottle after bottle, vintage after vintage, year after year, is the most exciting discovery of all.’ Aside from the pleasures of his prose, there is something else important here, too often missing elsewhere: perspective. Brian St-Pierre
£16.59 Amazon Buy now
Volcanic Wines John Szabo MS
It’s one thing to be thought-provoking, which Volcanic Wines certainly is, but it’s another to also be quite as appealing as it is, and with such ease. The subtitle says much about his approach to their underpinnings: ‘Salt, Grit and Power’, but there is also a light sense of wonderment, as he takes us on an amiable tour of surprising hotspots around the world – some now cooled down, some not – and discovers the virtues of their wines.
They may account for only a small amountof wine, but it’s a memorable tally, ‘highly distinctive, individual expressions’, the author notes, ‘stubborn holdouts in a world of merging flavours’. Lavishly illustrated and with excellent maps, it covers the grapes, wines and winemakers in nine major regions around the world, notably in North and South America and Europe. If the next good conversation about wine moves uphill from terroir to topography, as it should, and embraces even more territory, this book will be counted as an important fine first step. Brian St-Pierre
£27 Amazon Buy now
American Rhône Patrick J. Comiskey
American Rhône by Patrick J. Comisky is the story of how a loose, idiosyncratic group of winemakers pursued an ideal, often centred around Syrah, ‘a grape peripatetic in style’ that can create uncertainty as well as enthusiasm, forever on the threshold of being the Next Big Thing. Any narrative featuring such a colourful cast, especially Robert Parker Jr, Randall Grahm and the Perrin family, is bound to be entertaining, but the author also weaves in provocative threads about how we perceive and appreciate wine. Brian St-Pierre
£19.99 Amazon Buy now
Wine Course Andrew Jefford
Andrew Jefford’s Wine Course is the book I’ll give my son when he graduates from school; there is simply no other introductory book that will bring him over to my side of the bridge so reassuringly and effectively (and I’ll sneak a few peeks inside, to recalibrate myself from time to time). It’s well-designed in every sense, from the introductory ‘So What?’, through ‘Tools’, ‘Elements’, and ‘The Journey’, with bright shards of marginal asides and concise boxes of fact files, all reflecting his belief in the truism that wine is a gift that keeps us close to home, in every sense. Brian St-Pierre
£14.99 Amazon Buy now
The Club of Nine Andy Katz
And your luxury? That would be The Club of Nine, a large – scale book of eye – and mind openingly stunning photographs of Bordeaux’s first growths by photographer Andy Katz. In the words of Jane Anson, who contributes essays on each, they are ‘the greatest wines of a region that gave birth to the idea of a global fine-wine market’. Here they get the portraits they deserve. Repeated viewings are irresistible. Brian St-Pierre
£45 Katz Photography Buy now
A new publishing company, Infinite Ideas, has begun with a bevy of titles, some resurrections of updated classics, some new, in sturdy, well-designed paperback formats, priced at £30 each. It’s a mixed bag: Sherry, by Julian Jeffs, is still thorough and magisterial; Monty Waldin enthusiastically digs deep, leaves no manure unturned, and makes a convincing case for Biodynamic Wine (though his enthusiasm may not be easily contagious); while Nicholas Faith’s The Story of Champagne is updated rather casually. Brian St-Pierre
Sherry £30 Amazon Buy now
Biodynamic Wine £30 Amazon Buy now
The Story of Champagne £25 Amazon Buy now
The best of the bunch are Madeira: The Islands and Their Wines, by Richard Mayson, which shines an evocative light on that fascinating place and its array of unique wines, and The Wines of Austria, by Stephen Brook, a well-written survey which demonstrates convincingly that there is a great deal more to be discovered among its offerings than Grüner Veltliner and Gemütlichkeit. Brian St-Pierre
Madeira: The Islands and Their Wines £30 Amazon Buy now
The Wines of Austria £30 Amazon Buy now
Brian St Pierre is the author of A Perfect Glass of Wine and seven other books on the subject of wine.
Edited by Laura Seal for Decanter.com
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