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Shelf Help | The Year's Finest Wine Books

An opinionated selection of the year's finest wine books.

Each year, we at Food & Wine create our own invaluable wine guide, with succinct reviews and ratings for more than 1,400 wines from around the world. (To order the 2005 edition, for $11.95, call 800-456-4541 or click here.) We also look around to find the best of the rest in the world of wine books. Here are New York Sun deputy managing editor Robert Messenger's favorites.

The Wines of Bordeaux

BY CLIVE COATES ($60) Clive Coates writes about wine with English preciosity—the 1990 Vieux Château Certan has "splendid grip," the '86 Mouton is "real class. Very special," and an '82 Ducru-Beaucaillou is "rich, fat and composed"—but his knowledge of Bordeaux is nothing short of encyclopedic. He complements entries on what he terms "every château of note" with tasting notes and vintage assessments from 1952 to 2003.

Inspiring Thirst

BY KERMIT LYNCH ($40) Lynch is a hero to lovers of wine from Southern France and Burgundy, both for his importing business and for his 1988 book, Adventures on the Wine Route. Now Lynch has published a selection of writings from his 30 years of monthly brochures. Tracking the prices is eye-opening—in 1983, Clape's great 1980 Cornas sold for $8.75; the 2001 can cost seven times that much—but what's best are Lynch's stories: "Once in a while I think of writing...about the meals I have enjoyed chez Chave.... There were the sweetbreads and truffles he prepared, maybe the best meat dish of my life, served with plenty of good wines, of course, and then, from the sublime to the ridiculous, when I hit the autoroute heading off to Burgundy my car's engine expired in smoke. Tow truck."

Wine Report 2005

BY TOM STEVENSON ($15) This compact annual has pretty much everything you need to know about wine. Chapters on every major wine-growing region include news, vintage charts, lists of greatest and best-value producers and the like. Other sections cover organic wines, wine science and "exciting" finds, from an Australian Sangiovese to a Michigan Gewürztraminer.

Matt Kramer's New California Wine

BY MATT KRAMER ($25) Kramer's gift for elegant concision is perfectly on display here, in the year's best wine book. A short history of winemaking in California with detailed examinations of the state's major wine regions and wineries may sound dry but it isn't. "For decades," Kramer writes, "California winegrowers proudly pursued a mechanistic view of grape-growing and winemaking....It was an engineer's view of wine." Now, he says, it's as if "a race of Burgundians had secretly penetrated the minds" of California's best growers. "Everywhere the talk is about matching just the right rootstocks to every soil type in their vineyard."

Planet Wine

BY STUART PIGOTT ($30) Subtitled A Grape by Grape Visual Guide to the Contemporary Wine World, this is a fun whistle-stop tour. It consists of photographs—of vineyards, winemakers, roasted oak chips—with substantial captions that explain their significance. Pigott's irreverence adds to the book's charm. Grüner Veltliner is "the elegant sledgehammer," and Chardonnay at its best is like Nicole Kidman entering the room in a backless gown.

Published December 2004
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