Does this mean we've become armchair oenophilespeople who'd rather read about Bordeaux than open a bottle? If so, I'd argue that the books we buy had better be good: not just instructional but well written; educational, yes, but also entertaining. Now, if you had read as many new wine books as I have recently (over 50 in the past few weeks alone), you'd realize how tall an order this is.
The largest category seems to be referencehardcover books with many hundreds of pages. That, apparently, is where the (relatively) big money is made. Not, mind you, by the writersbig money and wine writing are pretty much mutually exclusivebut by the publishers, who pay for one book and reprint it each year, calling it new by adding a chapter or updating vintage notes. This to me just doesn't seem fair, especially to the owners of last year's old "new" book, a big fancy volume that's suddenly outdated. I think that the owners of these books should get some sort of discount, or perhaps even a separate set of updates, so they aren't forced to fork over $50 or more for a new edition. That said, my favorite new reference work, Wine, is authentically new. Written (mostly) by a German with the French-sounding name André Dominé, at 928 pages it's also the biggest debut of the year. But its pages aren't mere padding: They contain a wealth of informationthink Gray's Anatomy with much prettier pictures.
Another major category for wine books this year is tasting guides. Of those that I read, my favorite by far is from Jancis Robinson, the British wine superstar. Her book, How to Taste, is unpretentious and breezy (she describes one wine as having a "whack of acidity that will crinkle the edges of your tongue") and contains plenty of exercises for training your sensesalthough tasters on tight budgets might wish that fewer required purchasing multiple bottles. How to Taste, by the way, is a U.S. remake of 1983's U.K.-published Masterglass (a title the Brits must have thought would intimidate Americans).