It's been another good vintage for wine books. The crop of pocket guides is bigger than ever. Three of note are "Wine Tasting" by Michael Broadbent (Simon & Schuster, $5.95), "Italian Wines" by Burton Anderson (Simon & Schuster, $5.95) and the revised edition of "The Pocket Guide to Wine" by Barbara Ensrud (Perigee, $5.95). By their format, pocket guides are but a frame for wine information. Hardbacks are the flesh, providing the comfort of a good read on a winter's night. Here are three of this season's hardbacks for the wine enthusiast.
"Italian Wine" by Victor Hazan (Knopf, $17.95): Assuming that we drink wine to suit an occasion or a particular meal, Hazan has divided Italy's multitude of wines into five types: big reds, medium-range reds, light reds, light and crisp whites and fully and fruity whites.
It's an approach that works as long as you dip frequently into the index and maps for cross-reference. But that's part of the fun. Hazan -- husband of Italian cookery author and lecturer, Marcella -- includes a chapter on how and when to serve Italian wines. Italy, he maintains, offers the world's widest range of table wines, i.e., wines to drink with meals.
For a native Italian who divides his year between Bologna, Venice and New York, Hazan writes with a relatively neutral, impersonal tone, the stance of an outsider. It's a pity. It would have been more interesting, without detracting from the book's substance, to have learned more about its author's world and personality. Nevertheless, Hazan's book is definitely one to add to the far-too-limited selection of books on Italian wine.
* "On Wine" by Gerald Asher (Random House, $15.95). Readable, entertaining, gently informative and blessedly untechnical, Asher's book is a collection of his essays in Gourmet magazine. Asher, a wine importer and merchant, is widely travelled, well connected and knowledgeable, all of which comes across in his writing in a clear, unaffected way. The essays range from the elitism of the three feasts of the Burgundian calendar (Les Trois Glorieuses), to the virtually unknown vineyards of Cyprus, to the dilemma of matching wine with Oriental food. Over all, Asher reminds us that wine is fun. It's a book to dip into and savor; an excursion.
* "Wine East of the Rockies" by Hudson Cattell and Lee Miller (L & H Photojournalism, $17.50). This is a black-and-white photographic guide to the people and places of the quiet, unheralded, expansion in winemaking in the eastern United States. While the text, by Cattell, editor of Wine East magazine, traces the development of the wine industry in the East, it is the photos that dominate the chapters. In addition, there are brief, simple descriptions of grape varieties, native, hybrid and vinifera, illustrated with appropriate wine labels. Available from wine shops and the publishers, 620 North Pine Street, Lancaster, Penn. 17603.