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A Vintage Year for Wine Books: Gifts for Oenophiles who Are Also Bibliophiles

By Sharon Kapnick

Need any gifts for wine lovers or those curious about wine this holiday season? You’re in luck. This is a fantastic year for wine books, with revised editions of old classics and first editions of future classics. The authors are some of the best writing on the subject today. Many are Masters of Wine, experts who earned the certification that’s as hard to get as a bottle of 1947 Château Pétrus. You might be so carried away, you’ll have to get one or two presents for yourself!


Wine Style: Using Your Senses to Explore and Enjoy Wine
Mary Ewing-Mulligan and Ed McCarthy
Wiley, $24.95

While wines have generally been categorized by region of production and grape variety, there is a movement afoot, started by hip wine shops and restaurants, to group them by style. That’s what Ewing-Mulligan and McCarthy do here.

Together, this very well-respected husband-and-wife team have written seven Dummies books about wine; they also write for newspapers, magazines and wine journals. Ewing-Mulligan, the first woman Master of Wine in the US, heads the International Wine Center. McCarthy is a prominent Champagne expert.

In Wine Style they break down the world of wine into 10 categories: Fresh, Unoaked White Wines; Earthy Whites; Aromatic Whites; Rich, Oaky Whites; Mild-Mannered Reds; Soft and Fruity Reds; Fresh, Spicy Reds; Powerful Reds; Rose Wines in Two Styles; Sparkling Wines in Two Styles. The book is chock-full of useful information — which categories many varietals fit in, what characteristics they share, which producers to look for, what foods go with each style, etc.

Those who are interested in learning more about wine, thinking about it from a different perspective or branching out from drinking the same old same old will find Wine Style to be their cup of tea — er, glass of Beaujolais.

Windows on the World Complete Wine Course, 2006 Edition
Kevin Zraly
Sterling, $24.95

When Zraly couldn’t find a book to use as a text for his course at the Windows on the World Wine School, he wrote one. The next best thing to taking his entertaining course is buying this special 20th anniversary edition of his book, which provides a good introduction to wine. It covers many of the important regions, grape varieties, trends and Zraly’s favorite producers, importers, regions and critics.

There are sections on food-and-wine pairings and wine-buying tips. The book has several sections especially relevant to restaurant sommeliers: wine service and storage, the creation of restaurant wine lists and award-winning wine lists. That’s because Zraly was wine director of Manhattan’s Windows on the World restaurant, where he worked from its opening in 1976 until Sept. 11, 2001, and assembled the wine list that at the time had the largest sales in the US. Today he’s vice president and head of wine service for the Smith & Wollensky restaurant group. More than 16,000 students have graduated Zraly’s course, and more than two million copies of the book have been sold. Zraly must be doing something right.


The World’s Greatest Wine Estates
Robert M. Parker Jr.
Simon & Schuster, $75

This “Greatest” book is written by the man who today has the greatest influence on wine. Those who revere Robert M. Parker Jr. will have to have The World’s Greatest Wine Estates. In the book Parker features 156 estates — "the best of the best" — that he believes consistently make the most superb wines.

"Trying to Define Greatness" forms the opening section of the book. "More than anything, this is a book about artists, craftspeople, revolutionaries, and traditionalists who have one overwhelming trait in common — they are irrefutably dedicated to the pursuit of excellence....,” he writes. “They have taken a commonplace beverage and transformed it into art.”

Where do these remarkable wines come from? About 70% are from France (80), Italy (22) and California (22), with the rest from Germany (8), Australia (8), Spain (6), Austria (5), Portugal (3), Argentina (1) and Washington (1). There’s also a section called "Future Stars: Some Prospects to Think About", giving hope to 107 others that one day they too will make it to the top of Parker’s pantheon of all-stars.

The Great Wines of America: The Top Forty Vintners, Vineyards, and Vintages
Paul Lukacs
W.W. Norton, $29.95

How does Lukacs, author of the award-winning American Vintage: The Rise of American Wine, pick his greats? He spotlights wines with a "consistent record of excellence to be ranked with the world’s best.” “I tried to choose wines with inherent high quality in the glass,” he writes, “as well as some significance that transcends the glass. That significance might be historical or regional (or both), but I wanted the story of each wine to be more than an extended tasting note. That is, every wine in the book is representative, tasting of itself and of more than itself — a grape variety perhaps, or a place, style, or winemaking vision.”

Lukacs is concerned with diversity, “the diversity of varietals, regions, and styles that defines contemporary American wine at its best.” He sets forth a personal choice that is as interesting as the stories he tells. He presents some wines that the mainstream wine publications probably wouldn’t — wines from Missouri, Michigan, New York and Virginia among them — but this reviewer commends him for that. Willy and Fred Frank, for example, make fantastic Rieslings in New York’s Finger Lake region, and Larry Mawby makes wonderful sparkling wines in Michigan, which has more in common with the Champagne region than most of California. Lukacs has put together another engaging look at U.S. wines.

The Great Wines of France: France’s Top Domaines and Their Wines
Clive Coates
Mitchell Beazley, $50

Renowned British wine writer Clive Coates has published a magazine called The Vine since 1985 and written five other books about French wine. He’s a Master of Wine who’s been honored by the French with the Chevalier de l’Ordre de Mérite Agricole. In his latest work, he profiles more than 40 estates in eight regions, telling the stories of some of France’s most prominent wine families and most famed domaines. The second part of the book consists of tasting notes.

To Coates, “a great wine, the moment you savour it, offers you a glimpse of perfection. Like a great piece of music or a great painting, there is an element of certainty: you feel it could not be any better.”

His emphasis here is on wines from Bordeaux (10), Burgundy (11) and the Loire (8), which make up the bulk of the book. Some may be disappointed to find only one Alsatian producer and just three Champagne makers. Nevertheless, Franco-oenophiles who treasure the wines of these esteemed estates will also treasure Coates’s new book.


Judgment of Paris: California vs. France and the Historic 1976 Paris Tasting That Revolutionized Wine
George M. Taber
Scribner, $26

Every journalist’s dream is to be in the right place at the right time — to be there for that world-altering event. On May 24, 1976, Time Paris correspondent George Taber was the only reporter to attend wine merchant Steven Spurrier’s tasting in Paris that changed the course of wine history. That’s when, as Taber wrote in his short article for Time, "California defeated all Gaul,” and a couple of little-known California wines bested the coveted white Burgundies and red Bordeaux. Just the day after Taber’s article appeared, wine shops were selling out of the California wines. At last, they were getting some respect.

Twenty years later, when the two Napa Valley wines that won the top honors a 1973 Château Montelena Chardonnay and a 1973 Stag’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon became part of the Smithsonian’s permanent collection, Taber realized he had a book on his hands.

The first third of Judgment of Paris deals with the history of California wines, the second with the tasting itself, and the last with the impact it had on the world. Which was huge. As Robert Parker wrote in 2001, “The Paris tasting destroyed the myth of French supremacy and marked the democratization of the wine world. It was a watershed in the history of wine.”

Fortunately, Taber was there to capture what otherwise might have been overlooked, and then again to write the full account of the lead-up to and aftermath of this pivotal event.

A History of Wine in America: From Prohibition to the Present
Thomas Pinney
University of California Press, $45

The first volume of A History of Wine in America, From the Beginnings to Prohibition, was published in 1989. Pinney, an emeritus professor of English at Pomona College in Southern California, picks up here where he left off. He begins with the National Prohibition Act of 1919 and the ensuing devastation of the wine industry, repeal, the troubled 1930s, and moves on to what he calls “countercurrents that eventually turned the tide.” Then come the war years and the struggles afterward that slowly led to the improvement in the 1960s and 70s in quality and numbers in California. (After World War II there were 414 wineries in the Golden State. The number declined until 1970.) Other states are included too. The two volumes of A History of Wine in America are major contributions that comprise the definitive history of American wine.

Page Two of Reviews>>



©2005 Sharon Kapnick for SeniorWomenWeb
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