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The best wine and spirits books 2023

A prolific publishing year yielded a variety of insightful, juicy titles. Here's our pick of the best wine and spirits books of 2023.

This year has been interesting, if challenging, with social, political and economic volatility keeping news streams lively and baffling. The overall instability has fuelled a hunger for analysis and context, in turn shedding new light on the past couple of decades.

The wine and spirits publishing year reflected this general mood, with outstanding titles covering a wide range of regions and issues with depth, insight, wit and critical thinking.

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Beyond the inevitable reference titles (on which 2023 also did not disappoint, not least with the release of a revised, fifth edition of The Oxford Companion to Wine), the titles below offer something more: context, analysis and a platform to discuss broader issues.

The release of these excellent books might have been overshadowed by the multiple challenges the wine, spirits and hospitality industries experienced in 2023 (staff shortages, duty increases, inflation, etc). They should not, however, be overlooked; many of them will surely become even more relevant in years to come. And they all make for interesting, though-provoking and beautiful Christmas gifts.

Best wine books 2023

The New French Wine – Redefining the World’s Greatest Wine Culture

by Jon Bonné, published by Ten Speed Press
Available from Amazon UK

Jon Bonné’s nine-year research on the deep transformation of the French wine landscape since the turn of the millennium, has yielded a comprehensive and insightful two-volume opus. The work puts Bonné’s conversational and witty style to good use, delivering a personal, opinionated account of the momentous changes – cultural, historic and socio-economic – that changed the way the French produce and drink wine. A truly fascinating and thought-provoking read that raises deep questions about how France (and Europe) positions itself in the world today – as a leading wine producing country and otherwise.

The Complete Bordeaux Vintage Guide: 150 Years from 1870 to 2020

by Neal Martin, published by Quadrille Publishing
Available from Amazon UK

Rather than merely listing growing conditions and regional variability, Neal Martin takes readers on a journey back in time. Each vintage is put in historical, cultural, social and economic context, making this volume much more than a factual Bordeaux reference book (which it also is). Although playful, Martin’s tone and approach are no less informative and informed, bridging spiritedness and erudition with ease.

How to Drink Australian – An Essential Modern Wine Book

by Jane Lopes and Jonathan Ross, published by Murdoch Books
Available from Amazon UK

American-born Lopes and Ross developed a love for the diversity and exciting evolution of the Australian wine scene while working as sommeliers in the antipodean country. Now back in the US – where they launched an import business dedicated exclusively to Australian pours – they have also worked hard to produce this wonderful book that captures the complexities, stories and many nuances of one of the world’s most important wine producing nations. Technical, historical and geographic information is delivered alongside profiles of key producers, while acknowledging the presence and role of the native peoples of Australia – an important debate with which Australian producers are increasingly engaging.

Vintage Crime: A Short History of Wine Fraud

by Rebecca Gibb MW, published by University of California Press
Available from Amazon UK

A condensed, enjoyable and insightful overview of the many ways in which, since it has existed, wine has been adulterated, ‘bettered’ and counterfeited. By analysing the many altering processes (ill-intended or not), cons and heists involving the precious nectar, Gibb raises interesting and timely questions about the nature of wine itself, the complexities of the industry and the concepts of fault, fraud and authenticity. That Gibb does so in an approachable and engaging way only makes this book more relevant.
(Gibb is donating a percentage of the book’s royalties towards research on a cure for Duchenne muscular dystrophy.)

Other wine titles of note:

The Wines of Piemonte, by David Way, published by Infinite Ideas
Available from Amazon UK
Thoroughly researched, this book offers, perhaps for the first time, a balanced and in depth overview of the region’s many varieties, varieties and appellations. Rather than giving disproportionate weight to the flagship Barolo and Barbaresco, Way challenges readers to engage with Piemonte’s diversity and complexity.

Vines in a Cold Climate – The People Behind the English Wine Revolution, by Henry Jeffreys, published by Allen & Unwin
Available from Amazon UK
England has been the protagonist of one of the wine industry’s fastest-moving case studies of the early 20th century. Henry Jeffreys traces a trajectory of overall success and incredible evolution, from the mavericks of the 1980s and 90s to the establishment of today’s powerhouses. But he is not afraid of asking pertinent, sometimes uncomfortable, questions and of raising the many issues (quality, price point, positioning and growth limitations) that loom large.

The Book of Sherry Wines, by César Saldaña, published by Almuzara
Available from Amazon UK
Although first released in Spanish in 2022, the very good English translation of Saldaña’s epic journey through the world of Sherry only hit anglophone shelves in 2023. As the Andalucian appellation experiences an exciting moment of self-discovery and reinvention, it’s well worth having this comprehensive tome at hand.

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Best spirits books 2023

The Essential Tequila & Mezcal Companion: How To Select, Collect & Savor Agave Spirits

by Tess Rose Lampert, published by Union Square & Co.
Available from Amazon UK

Agave spirits have been having ‘a moment’ over the past decade, evolving from niche quirky choices to subjects of cool geekiness. This comprehensive title captures that newly-acquired status, with quasi-encyclopaedic thoroughness. It includes 300 tasting notes and producer profiles, food pairing advice, cocktail recipes and an overview of production methods, history and appellations. The quality of the photographs helps to transport the reader to the landscapes and mythology of agave for a complete, immersive experience.

Signature Cocktails

by Amanda Shuster, published by Phaidon
Available from Amazon UK

The striking yet systematic design, in true Phaidon style, adds to the appeal of this collection of 200 classic cocktail recipes. Amanda Shuster, a Brooklyn-based drinks writer, provides historical and cultural background, outlining the origin and evolution of the cocktails and referencing the venues and/or mixologist behind each concoction. A beautiful, thoroughly researched and approachable work.

The Essential New York Times Book of Cocktails

edited by Steve Reddicliffe, published by Cider Mill Press
Available from Amazon UK

This ‘elevated and expanded’ re-edition of The New York Times iconic reference book was released in late 2022 and therefore missed last year’s round up. It’s almost mandatory to rectify its absence by including it in 2023’s must-have titles. Edited by Steve Reddicliffe and with contributions by the likes of Eric Asimov, Mark Bittman and Amanda Hesser, this deserves a place on the shelf of all foodies and cocktail aficionados. 624 pages and 31 chapters of pure, sophisticated New York happy hour delight.

Perfect. Three cherries

by Adam Handling, published by A Way With Media
Sold as a single volume (£30) or as part of a limited edition box set (£160), both available from adamhandling.co.uk

In counterpoint to the New York-centric titles above, this book brought a modern British touch to the cocktail publishing scene. The Scottish-born chef of Michelin star restaurant Frog by Adam Handling compiled recipes from six years of menus at his central London Eve Bar, located downstairs from the flagship Frog, with the help of his mixology team. The recipes created by Handling & Co reflect his trademark focus on British produce and sustainability, with each cocktail presented in three variations: classic, modern and zero-waste.

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