Correction: A previous version of this column incorrectly stated that Karen MacNeil had earned the title of master of wine.
The annual harvest of wine books is complete, in time for holiday gift giving. Here are a few that should please the wine lovers on your list. Because, after all, the only thing wine lovers love more than drinking wine is listening to ourselves talk about wine, and we need to read about it to know what to say.
In October, I wrote about two exceptional books. “The Oxford Companion to Wine, Fourth Edition,” edited by Jancis Robinson and Julia Harding (Oxford University Press, $65), is the ultimate wine reference book. “Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine,” by Madeline Puckette and Justin Hammack (Avery, $25), is a delightful and informative basic wine guide, ideal for beginners or wine buffs needing a refresher.
Karen MacNeil has released a second edition of her “Wine Bible” (Workman, $40), a popular guide for beginner-to-intermediate-level wine lovers. “The Wine Bible” is aimed at those who have caught the bug and thirst for knowledge but aren’t (yet) interested in the scientific research or encyclopedic coverage of “The Oxford Companion.”
A few books this year exchange the traditional reference model for narrative. “Tangled Vines,” by Frances Dinkelspiel (St. Martin’s Press, $27), is the story of the arson that destroyed a wine warehouse in 2005, claiming several vintages of wine from some of Napa Valley’s most elite wineries. Dinkelspiel weaves elements of a mystery novel with historical narrative, dissecting the personal rivalries of modern Napa while tracing the provenance of the oldest wine lost in the fire through the history of California wine. The result is the most engrossing and engaging book about Napa Valley since James Conaway’s two-volume saga, “Napa” and “The Far Side of Eden.”
As Dinkelspiel peels back the cover on Napa, French journalist Isabelle Saporta takes us inside what she calls “the cloudy world of French wine” in “Vino Business” (Grove Press, $26). Saporta escorts us to the posh Fête de la Fleur banquet at Vinexpo, the biennial trade conference where Bordeaux’s elite celebrate the luxe life. She guides us through en primeur, the springtime display of the recent vintage, where winemakers court critics and brokers with raw samples of unfinished wines for high stakes; the scores help set the prices consumers will pay for the wines two years later. The sordid tale of Saint Emilion’s troubled effort to establish a classification system, more about politics than quality, and the French wine industry’s struggle with pesticides provide additional fodder for Saporta’s investigative skills. “Vino Business” reveals the seedy business side of the romantic world of French wine.
In “The Silverado Squatters,” Robert Louis Stevenson’s account of a trip to California in the late 1800s, he wrote of Napa Valley vintners and their quest to find vineyard sites “more precious than the precious ores, that yield inimitable fragrance and soft fire; those virtuous Bonanzas, where the soil has sublimated under sun and stars to something finer, and the wine is bottled poetry.” Today, no one captures wine’s poetry better than Joseph Mills, who has just released a second edition of “Angels, Thieves, and Winemakers” (Press 53, $15). I raved about the first edition in 2008, and now Mills has tweaked a few poems and added some new verses. His voice rings true, plucking the heartstrings of wine lovers and helping us answer those who question our love of the grape. Not that anyone wants us to spout poetry, but Mills gives us voice.