Wine Books for Holiday Presents
This year saw a veritable flood of wine-related books. As always, some were good, some were great, and some were dreary. We'll skip the drear—it's already a worrisome enough holiday season without nattering on and on about bad books. And in fact, if cheering up is what you're after, one solution (at least for people who like wine) is to dash out and buy The Wine Snob's Dictionary, by David Kamp and David Lynch. Kamp, who writes and edits at Vanity Fair, is the satiric impresario behind the Snob's Dictionary series of books; Lynch, who I'm assuming supplied the insider-wine-info—and, knowing him, no small percentage of the wit as well—has written all over the place, including for F&W. (He's also co-author with Joe Bastianich of Vino Italiano, one of the best books out there on Italian wine.)
The Wine Snob's Dictionary operates nicely in its dual role of snarkily taking apart wine-geek pretensions while actually imparting useful information at the same time, e.g., "Volatile Acidity: Common wine defect caused by excessive production of acetic acid, resulting in a vinegary smell. Traditionally abbreviated to V.A. by Snobs, who like to use the term to intimidate pourers and sommeliers."
Heading entirely in the other direction is Clive Coates magisterial (really) The Wines of Burgundy. Nigh on 900 pages of Burgundy-detail, with lucid tasting notes going back to vintages in the 1960s, a section of precisely detailed maps, and substantial profiles of vintages, producers and appellations, this is not a book for the casual wine fan. But people who are into Burgundy rarely fall into that category anyway.
Since there are, of course, a lot of casual wine fans out there, it's probably more appropriate to throw a copy of Tyler Colman's A Year of Wine their way. Colman, alias Dr. Vino, takes a seasonal conceit as the organizing principle of his lively, approachable, basic guide to wine. It's a loose structure—I'm not sure why one should travel to Oregon in July rather than August, say, or June, though I'm happy to agree that Grüner Veltliner does have a green, nifty, springtime feel to it—but it's a functional one, and Colman's advice throughout is presented in pleasantly non-technical, casual language.
For friends who like a little conflict with their Cabernet, buy them a copy of Alice Feiring's part-vino-autobiography/part-impassioned-screed The Battle for Wine & Love. Feiring is as fervently in favor of funk, wildness, tradition, organic viticulture, natural yeasts and so on as she is fervently against new oak, large corporations that make wine, cold maceration, and the influence of wine critic (and F&W contributing editor) Robert Parker, among other things. The result is a bit like touring the world's vineyards with a slightly crazed and often funny Bohemian Luddite who REALLY loves wine—or at least loves the wines that she doesn't really hate. This makes for a fairly entertaining romp. The Parker-bashing gets tedious, to say the least, but it's made up for by passages like Feiring's account of working the harvest at Clos Roche Blanche, which is both lyrical and deeply real, and makes most of her philosophical and esthetic points more effectively than the portions of the book that are more overtly tendentious.
If you're the kind of person who likes food with their wine—which I suppose means if you're breathing and ambulatory, and your jaws still work—then it's worth checking out Cathy and Tony Mantuano's Wine Bar Food. This isn't technically a wine book; instead, it's a cookbook that happens to focus on fairly simple (and mighty delicious) recipes inspired by the wine bars of several Mediterranean cities: Venice, Rome, Barcelona, Athens, etc. Tony Mantuano is the longtime chef (and partner) at Chicago's Spiaggia; we ran a few of these recipes in our April issue last year, so feel free to test-drive one or two before shelling out for the book. Or just throw caution to the winds—my guess is you won't regret it.
Lastly, in a more broadly alcoholic way, there's Kingsley Amis. Everyday Drinking: The Distilled Kingsley Amis is a reissue of three books on wine, liquor and beer that he wrote between 1971 and 1984. Some of the terms are dated, but Amis's gracefully lethal wit is as fresh now as it was then. Regarding serving Champagne: "...see that the wine is properly chilled; not less than two hours in the refrigerator is my advice. This should be common knowledge, but the world is full of idiots who buy a bottle at the supermarket, let it kick around half the morning in the boot of the car, open it on arriving home and are amazed when the stuff goes all over the kitchen ceiling." Not one to mince words, Mr. Amis, but then he never was.