Nowadays there are multitudinous books about wine, which is something that makes us very, very, happy here at the Spanish Wine Experience. When we’re not out in the bars swilling too many glasses of red around our mouths, we’re thinking about wine, dreaming about wine, talking about wine and reading about wine.
From historical books to novels, and from niche topics to whimsy, there’s everything under the sun when it comes to wine literature. Indeed if you type ‘wine books’ into the Amazon UK website, you get 129,862 results! So…there’s a lot to sink your eyes into.
Given the varied nature of wine books we will drip feed you booze-fiends short lists over time, each one looking at a different aspect.
To begin? 5 general and geeky books for those of you interested in wine: processes, tastings, grapes, regions.
1. The World Atlas of Wine – Hugh Johnson & Jancis Robinson
Maybe my pride and joy, the World Atlas of Wine is a geography-nut’s wet dream. The first part of the book is an attractive crash course into the world of wine: history, processes, grapes and the like. The style is rather didactic and dry, but informative. Like a friendly and concise school teacher. The book really comes into its own, however, when the reader takes a joyous backseat and is taken all around the world, country by country, region by region at the hands of two of the world’s premier wine critics and educators.
Sometimes the detail is unnecessarily deep for the average Joe; often going into individual hills or plots of land within wine growing regions. But as a tome to give to an interested wine geek with a light/profound understanding of where everything is, it is unsurpassable.
As a reference or simply as an excuse for dreamy escapism, Hugh and Jancis have created a world class and defining academic book. I love it. If an OS map had had a baby with a wine guide, this would be the result.
For: wealthy wine geeks who have a real sense of terroir.
2. Grapes & Wines – Oz Clarke
No list by a British booze-fiend would be complete without one of the country’s favourite wine buffs. Jolly and eloquent Mr Oz Clarke has been writing books, speaking mellifluously about wine and educating the British people for decades.
This a bouncily written in depth look into wine from the wheres to the whats. Visually the book is a little fuddy duddy and outdated compared to the sexy Wine Atlas, but if you want to learn a lot of detail down to everything like yields, massal versus clonal selection, GM vines, and the Winkler and Amerine hear summation scale, then this is the book for you. Of course it covers the general stuff to: where did wine come from, what are the grapes, where do they grow etc.
The key is Oz. He takes you by the hand and writes with middle-class aplomb. I would always advise watching him on YouTube first, just to get his voice in your head. It makes it much enjoyable when you’re reading about soils.
For: people who want a wine hero to take them into the dark depths of wine.
3. Wine Folly – Madeline Puckette & Justin Hammack
The diametric opposite of the first two books. Wine Folly started off as a blog/website by the plucky Madeline and friend Justin. They’ve only been going since 2011, but attracted attention for their lighthearted and original way of describing wine aromas, flavours and colours. Not only that but they have de-pretentiousafied wine (yes, I know that’s not a word) and instead have the air of two of your friends chinwagging about the stuff.
More than the words, their maps and diagrams about all parts of the drink have become famous. They have stripped wine back into colourful Venn diagrams, charts, funky maps and cutesy graphics. The complete antithesis of the Wine Atlas’ cartographic nature.
If there was a criticism it would be that sometimes their descriptions lack a bit of accuracy and their information and diagrams can sometimes drift into the arbitrary or imprecise. But for people getting their toes wet in the world of wine, there’s no better or more visually attractive book. Also, the flavour/aroma wheels are really good for helping the average consumer pair food and wine.
For: millennials and people who want a fun and friendly entry to wine.
4. The Wine Bible – Karen MacNeil
This book is my happy place. A fireside wine book. One to curl up with and dive into with a big glass of something red at hand. This is a catch-all book. The real everything you need to know book. I mean, it is the Bible for a reason.
136 pages of semi-glossy pages take you through the introduction to wine: making wine, meeting the grapes, how to taste wine and the like. And following that, Karen takes us through the world for 800 more pages with lovely poetic and often amusing prose into what makes every region, every country tick. Her descriptions something take a turn for the too florid, verging on silly. But then, I’m always guilty of that too.
That’s not all. The book ends with some really useful information that often gets left out of many wine books, probably for its lack of sex appeal. Wine laws in various countries, a glossary, international terms and nomenclature, classification systems etc. It’s like the part of the Lonely Planet guidebook that isn’t fun to read, but is handy and might save your life.
For: the ultimate knowledge-hound wine lover.
5. The Oxford Companion to Wine – Jancis Robinson & Julia Harding
This is my personal Bible perhaps. Well, instead of Bible, maybe I should say it’s my personal Oxford Don; there at my beck and call to answer any quibble or question I might have.
When I’m not travelling the world and dreaming of holidays with my Wine Atlas or reading Karen MacNeil’s wine Bible as if it were a bestseller on the holiday reading list, I’m trying to write blogs, plan podcasts and organise wine tasting notes. Sometimes you need to leave frippery and whimsy aside and just get the cold hard facts.
This beast of a book, the heaviest of the lot, essentially functions like an encyclopaedia. Alphabetically sectioned. Everything you need to know about wine. Want to know about GSM blends? Go to ‘G’. Shiraz? ‘S’, of course. It’s not glamorous, and there’s only a few diagrams, maps, pictograms and the like, like a science textbook, but my goodness if it isn’t useful. That being said, this is a book by Jancis and Hugh, so there’s still a little space for opinion and wry humour.
For: detailed wine-geeks who need everything a the flick of a page