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Wine & Spirits Books 2021: the best

If you're in need of some reading inspiration, take a look at our end-of-the-year round up of the best, hot off the press, wine and spirits books.

This year delivered a very healthy and high yielding crop of books that wine and spirits lovers will want to line their shelves with.

Knowing more about the cultures, regions and people behind each bottle only makes drinking an even more complete and enjoyable experience. These books are a testament to that.

Perfect companions for a long evening, glass in hand, reading by the fire. Both interesting and beautiful, these titles also make perfect Christmas gifts.

Best Wine books 2021

On California: From Napa to Nebbiolo… Wine Tales from the Golden State

Edited by Susan Keevil, published by Académie du Vin Library
£24.95 from Amazon UK | $36.73 from Amazon US

Although 2021 robbed us of the great Steven Spurrier, his legacy lives on through, amongst many other things, the Académie du Vin Library, a publishing project he revived in the last years of his life. On California is a formidable compilation of essays from British writers on all things California.

The book follows the same format as previous publication On Bordeaux. It offers a comprehensive and multifaceted overview of the topics and issues that built the past, shape the present and frame the future of wine in the Golden State.

Contributors include names familiar to Decanter readers, such as Clare Tooley MW, Hugh Johnson, Jane Anson, Elin McCoy, Stephen Brook and Margaret Rand, among many others.

Oz Clarke on Wine: Your Global Wine Companion

by Oz Clarke, published by Académie du Vin Library
£23.99 from Amazon UK | $44.34 from Amazon US

Another brilliant title from Académie du Vin, penned by the bigger-than-life Oz Clarke. Trained as an actor before becoming a wine writer, Clarke’s Shakespearean vocation comes through in each paragraph of this memoir/travelogue/wine manual.

An exploration and celebration of the pleasure of great bottles and of sharing it with others. Revel in Clarke’s oratorial writing, which flows with a spring in its step and a hint of mischievous laughter behind each word.

South of Somewhere: Wine, Food and the Soul of Italy

by Robert V Camuto, published by University of Nebraska Press
£18.99 from Amazon UK | $18.60 from Amazon US

If you’re prone to pandemic blues this one is not for you. Robert V Camuto’s South of Somewhere is a seductive travelogue that will have you reaching for your passport and booking a plane ticket. A great evocation of the places, people and culture of Southern Italy that vividly captures the passion and fatalism that run through the region’s veins and pulse in its soul. Your wine writing answer to an Antonioni film.

Following titles dedicated to France and Sicily, this is the third book that Camuto has penned for the University of Nebraska Press ‘At Table’ series.

Château Haut-Bailly: an exceptional terroir

By Jane Anson, published by First Press Editions and Château Haut-Bailly
£55 from Berry Bros. & Rudd London | €65 from Mollat | US $75 from Sotheby’s New York & Hong Kong

Jane Anson’s exceptional new book documents both the past and present of one of Bordeaux’s most-loved estates. Twenty years in the making, the beautifully written and designed book traces the roots of Château Haut-Bailly, Crus Classés de Graves back to the 14th century, detailing the property’s rich heritage, its remarkable owners, pioneering precision viticulture and great vintages from the 20th century, concluding in the unveiling of a brand-new cellar earlier this year.

The estate is offering one Decanter reader the chance to win a copy of the book, in French or English. Simply email the answer to the following question to editor@decanter.com for a chance to win:

The mention ‘Cru Exceptionnel’ appeared on the labels of Haut-Bailly for more than 100 years, what was the final vintage with this historic reference?

Inside Burgundy – the second edition

by Jasper Morris MW, published by Berry Bros & Rudd Press
£65 from Berry Bros & Rudd London | US $90 from Sotheby’s New York & Hong Kong

When Inside Burgundy was first published in 2010 it was received with much excitement and showered with accolades, including the André Simon Drink Book of the Year award. Following his retirement in 2017, Jasper Morris MW took up the challenging task of updating his encyclopaedic oeuvre. His three years of work are now available in this second edition, which even those who bought the first might be tempted to get.

Most of the producer profiles have been completely rewritten and details of the vineyard holdings been expanded and/or updated. The chapters on geology, weather and winemaking have also been revised, reflecting the ongoing pressures and tensions imposed by climate change. The edition also includes fresh maps and a breakdown of planting plans for important vineyards.

What makes Morris’ writing interesting and relevant, now as before, is his ongoing fascination for his chosen specialism. ‘Burgundy: still a source of magic? It is for me!’ he writes. And he successfully seduces readers with his studious yet engaging writing.

The South America Wine Guide – The definitive guide to wine in Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Brazil, Bolivia and Peru

by Amanda Barnes, self-published (printed by Kingsbury Press)
£35 from the author’s website

An outstanding, self-published, effort by regular Decanter contributor Amanda Barnes. Beautifully written and designed, with stunning photography, this book offers a passionate and knowledgeable journey across the wine landscapes of South America. The book covers Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Brazil, but also Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, Columbia, Venezuela and Ecuador, countries that readers might be surprised to see included in a wine book at all.

Based in Mendoza, Barnes has the benefit of experience as an insider rather than a curious visitor, which only highlights how awkward, and ‘socially distanced’ other wine books can be. None of that here: Barnes is highly engaged, and engaging, with the people and landscapes whose stories she recounts.

Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book 2022

Edited by Margaret Rand, published by Mitchell Beazley
£11.04 from Amazon UK | $12.18 from Amazon US

Stocking filler alert!!

There’s a reason why classics become classics. Their staying power is testament to their renewed relevance and capacity to appeal to faithful as well as new readers alike. All this could be said of Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine, now in its 45th year of publication. Edited by Margaret Rand and enlisting an impressive line-up of regional experts, the Pocket Wine Book offers a quick reference guide to grape varieties, wine and vintages to buy, as well as producers to look out for and food pairing advice. This edition also includes a colour supplement on The Ten Best Things About Wine Right Now.

Decanter at Home – Masterclass tickets selling fast

Book now for:
Vérité: The evolution of a decade
Château Angelus: A philosophy of excellence
Bonneau du Martray: One site, two Grands Crus

Best Spirits books 2021

The Oxford Companion to Spirits and Cocktails

Edited by David Wondrich and Noah Rothbaum, published by Oxford University Press
£29.50 from Amazon UK | $50.48 from Amazon US

A first, ground-breaking edition that will sit alongside the iconic Oxford Companions to wine and beer. This major scholarly reference work explores all the historical, technical, and cultural aspects of the distilled branch of the alcohol family.

Like its wine and beer counterparts it includes over a thousand entries, which also cover cocktails, cocktail bars, and influential bartenders, with contributions from experts all over the world in a range of industry sectors. Edited by David Wondrich, senior drinks columnist at the Daily Beast (DB) and author of the hugely popular Imbibe!, and Noah Rothbaum, editor for the Half Full section at the DB. The duo also co-host the DB’s award-winning podcast Life Behind Bars.

The Japanese Art of the Cocktail

by Michael Anstendig and Masahiro Urushido, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co
£17.18 from Amazon UK | $19.15 from Amazon US

Japan has been setting the pace in mixology for quite a few years now, thanks to the distinctive style of its bars and bartenders – particularly the scene in Tokyo. This is reflected in multiple books dedicated to Japanese mixology that have been released this year. Leading the way is The Japanese Art of the Cocktail, written by Michael Anstendig, editor-in-chief of Hanna Lee Communications, and Masahiro Urushido, head bartender at the legendary Greenwich Village bar Katana Kitten, one of the world’s most celebrated drinking dens. The book includes more than 80 recipes for cocktails and snacks that have featured on Katana Kitten’s menu, as well as contributions from other top mixologists who have been influenced by Japanese cocktail culture.

Fans of Japanese mixology should also seek out the beautiful The Way of the Cocktail: Japanese Traditions, Techniques, and Recipes by Julia Momosé and Emma Janzen.

A Journeyman’s Journey: The Story of Jim McEwan

by Jim McEwan and Udo Sonntag, published by Plassen Verlag
£44.47 from Amazon UK | US$73 from Amazon US

Now one of the best known figures on the Scotch whisky scene, Jim McEwan began his career as a cooper at Bowmore Distillery. He went on to become the legendary Master Distiller of Bruichladdich, where he played a leading role in popularising single malts and breathed new life into the distillery. His autobiography is an enjoyable and inspiring read for whisky and history enthusiasts alike – and definitely a good one for under the Christmas tree.

The Big Book of Amaro

by Matteo Zed, published by Countryman Press
£19.82 from Amazon UK | $15.99 from Amazon US

An in-depth exploration of Italy’s traditional bitter digestif, in all its complex variations. Beautifully illustrated, it offers an encyclopaedic yet user-friendly take on how the drink is made, looking at its full history, from medieval alchemic concoction to modern hipster sensation. The author, Matteo Zed, is bar manager of the iconic The Court in Rome, a professional background that explains his knowledge and practical understanding of amari. His varied advice includes bottle recommendations, cocktail recipes and use in the kitchen, both as pairing drink and cooking ingredient.

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