It’s been an excellent year for cocktail and wine books, and drinking up all this information is nearly as pleasant as downing a great glass of wine or a perfect cocktail (and offers fewer side effects).

By Ray Isle
November 26, 2019
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Wine Simple, by Aldo Sohm (Clarkson Potter)

Aldo Sohm, longtime wine director at NYC’s famed Le Bernardin, takes on the basic question of how you make a complex subject like wine simple enough so that someone just becoming interested in it won’t be daunted. As he writes, “Rather than a textbook, I’ve put together easy-to-absorb hits of information.” The result is a book full of insightful tips on major varieties and regions, how to taste, and how wine and food work together. With informative, clearly designed illustrations, it’s a great intro to the world of, well, fermented grape juice.

To buy: $32.50 at amazon.com

Courtesy of Amazon

The 100: Burgundy, by Jennie Cho Lee (Assouline)

This gorgeously designed book (typical for this publisher) is subtitled “exceptional wines to build a dream cellar.” That’s probably more accurate than the author intended, as most people in fact could only dream to own most of these wines, unless they happen to be millionaires. But who cares: Lee’s profiles of Burgundy’s top domaines are pithy and insightful, and the breakdowns of how many hectares each property owns in which cru are vital for Burgundy geeks. Plus, amidst famous names like DRC, Jayer, and Rousseau, Lee does scatter a few terrific, less well known, and less direly expensive domaines to seek out, like Taupenot-Merme and Cécile Tremblay.

To buy: $81 at amazon.com

Jim Murray’s Whiskey Bible 2020, by Jim Murray (Dram Good Books)

Jim Murray, probably the world’s leading whiskey expert, has published this guide for many years, but this is the first North American edition; appropriately enough, American whiskies—several hundred reviews of them—come first in its pages. Murray is erudite and opinionated, and, rare for spirits reviewers, funny, especially when being cutting: “...vat this with malt from Fettercairn and nearby Dufftown and you’ll have the perfect dram for masochists. Or those who have entirely lost the will to live. Jesus…” Great fun, and an invaluable buying guide.

To buy: $19.99 at amazon.com

99 Bottles: A Black Sheep’s Guide to Life Changing Wines, by André Hueston Mack (Abrams)

André Hueston Mack is an acclaimed sommelier and the owner of Mouton Noir wines. As he says on page one of this autobiography-by-way-of-bottles, “I also happen to be African American.” His point is that his identity gives him—partly because of the resounding lack of diversity in the wine business—a different (and vital) perspective on wine. What he doesn’t need to say, because this book does it for him, is that he’s also a lively raconteur, entertaining and insightful, whose love of wine and the wine-life is captured in each of the 99 wines he chooses. And he tells you how to track each one down, too—though he warns that the rarer ones may involve summoning “your inner Indiana Jones.”

To buy: $24.99 at amazon.com

Italy’s Native Wine Grape Terroirs, by Ian D’Agata (University of California Press)

For the Italian wine obsessive, there could be no better gift this season than Ian D’Agata’s extraordinarily comprehensive look into Italy’s wine grape varieties, where they grow, and how they express the character of that place. He is as thorough with noble varieties like Nebbiolo, the signature grape of Barolo and Barbaresco, as he is with obscurities such as Mayolet and Dorona, delving into history, specific terroirs, subzones, and top producers. Beach reading, no; but it’s winter. What do you need with a beach?

To buy: $50 at amazon.com

Natural Wine for the People, by Alice Feiring (10 Speed Press)

Wondering what the heck natural wine is and why you keep hearing about it? Or know someone in the same boat? Author Alice Feiring has done more than anyone else to clarify what qualifies as a natural wine and promote those wines in the U.S. Her latest book is a straightforward—as much as any explanation of natural wine can be—engagingly written and helpful guide to what she calls, with appealing directness, “wine without crap in it.”

To buy: $13.99 at amazon.com

Grasping the Grape, by Maryse Chevriere (Hardie Grant Books)

Maryse Chevriere’s utterly charming Instagram account, @freshcutgardenhose, uses witty line drawings to illustrate various somewhat baffling wine descriptions—“tightly coiled,” for instance. Her first book, an appealingly accessible intro to wine through the major grape varieties, just as effectively avoids pretension; a great gift for those just getting into this mysterious stuff called wine.

To buy: $11.99 at amazon.com

The Martini Cocktail, by Robert Simonson (Ten Speed Press)

Got a Martini fan in the house? Get them this book. Simonson, one of the best cocktail writers around, delves deep into the history of this classic cocktail, tracing it from its 1880s roots through Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms (1929)—“The sandwiches came and I ate three and drank a couple more Martinis. I had never tasted anything so cool and clean. They made me feel civilized.”—through the arrival of vodka and its 1950s infiltration of the Martini (thanks a lot, Mr. Bond), into the cocktail revival of the mid-2000s and beyond. A great read, and not at all diluted by the 75 pages or so of martini recipes that follow. In fact, Simonson’s historical detail and his practical mixing information go together perfectly. Rather like gin and vermouth, one might say.

To buy: $18.99 at amazon.com

The World Atlas of Wine, Eighth Edition, by Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson (Mitchell Beazley)

This is one of the most useful books a wine lover can own. The 2019 edition has a plethora of new maps and information, reflecting changes in the world of wine over the past six years or so. There’s expanded coverage of regions such as Alentejo, the Yarra Valley, and China; more content on climate change; and an updated, clearer and more effective design, making this edition the best yet.

To buy: $34.49 at amazon.com

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