Living an hour from the Northern California wine region (Sonoma & Napa Valley's) there's quite a focus on wine wherever one goes. Over time, my interest in wine has grown and I eagerly seek out new wine related books. When I pick up a new wine related book my excitement peaks in anticipation of learning more about wines around the world. Often though, I'm disappointed to find page after page of encyclopedic winery descriptions coupled with details on specific bottlings to purchase that are usually hard to find and very expensive. I rarely make it through the whole book without losing interest and I'm no closer to being able to effectively navigate a restaurant wine list or stroll through my local wine purveyor's with confidence.
Three recently published wine related books depart, however, from usual: The Sommelier Prep Course by Michael Gibson, Oldman's Brave New World of Wine by Mark Oldman, and Secrets of the Sommeliers by Rajat Parr and Jordan Mackay. Each book is different from the other, but they all have one theme in common: they try to teach you to navigate the wild and twisty passages of the wine world rather than provide a list of vintages and chateaus to remember. There's no getting away from having to learn about regions, vineyards, chateaus and varietals, but these books tend to approach that learning from the top down so you can go into it as deeply as you're comfortable with at any point in time. I see myself going back to these books periodically to pick up more detail over time.
But enough chit-chat let's get on to the books!
The Sommelier Prep Course by Michael Gibson (2010, Wiley)
Gibson's book is by far the most academic of the bunch and lays a wide foundation of all that is wine. There are introduction chapters on viticulture (growing grapes) and viniculture (making wine from grapes). The rest of the book is a dissection of grape varietals and the regions where they're grown. The detail gets deeper and deeper. You can happily just learn that there's red and white which may come from either the new world or old word. Or you can keep going and drill down into the various countries, how their wines laws are organized, what grapes are available, and the various regions and sub regions within. This is all presented extremely well and consistently throughout with charts, tables, and even some quizzes at the end of each chapter to keep you on your toes.
Oldman's Brave New World of Wine by Mark Oldman (2010, W. W. Norton & Company)
Next up is Oldman's book, which has a lighter and more airy feel to it. Oldman doesn't take the same structured approach as Gibson's book to wine discovery, but there are many similarities in their style and presentation. Oldman also provides plenty of charts and summaries to help you navigate wine. His premise is that different wines excel in different areas of the world and these wines aren't always correlated with price. He takes the reader on a world-wide trip where he points out various grapes and then discussions each grape and region, while providing interesting back stories from someone that's been living this for many years. What's really great is the concise summary and "cheat sheet" after each grape. The summary includes a quick to read graph containing price and "adventure" level, other similar types of wines, and even a small section that has other wines to try if you liked the one from that section. The cheat sheet is indispensable, with pronunciations, food pairing suggestions, and a small list of producers that Oldman likes.
Secrets of the Sommeliers by Rajat Parr and Jordan Mackay (2010, Ten Speed Press)
Finally in our trio of wine books, there's Parr and Mackay's book, which takes on a different tone. Where our first two books are a gentle stroll with a helping hand, here we're pushed running full speed ahead into the wine world. Parr and Mackay's book is verbose with many stories about the wine industry, wineries, famous sommeliers, tasting, pairing, serving, and even ordering wine. I found parts of the book fascinating--providing an inside look into how the professional wine industry works. There are some great tidbits in there too about uncovering great wines from specific areas, but that information is hidden in the text. There are also a few recommendations for specific wines, but I find that information much less useful that the general background that the book provides.
Disclosure: Review copies of books discussed in this post may have been provided to Project Foodie by publicists and/or publishers.