Here are books that served as background, many of them used as primary sources of information for the content of this web site. Many are works of reference, some presented more as entertainment, but still offering much educational material despite the less intimidating format. They are listed in my subjective order from most-to-least important as the answer to "What books should I have in my wine library?" Clicking on the title or cover of many of these will open a new browser window on Amazon, where the books may be purchased. (We thank you for each sale, which contributes to the growth and maintenance of the Professional Friends of Wine site, as well as your personal wine education.)
Companion to Wine,
compiled and edited by Jancis Robinson (Oxford University), is our favorite source and reference for wine information. It is the most ambitious, comprehensive and authoritative wine-themed encyclopedia yet published. Entries cover a wide range of common and technical topics addressing nearly every aspect of wine appreciation, commerce, culture, history, production, service, variety, etc. Over 3,000 entries, alphabetically arranged, explain matters from the obvious to the obscure, presenting a much wider scope of subjects than previous similar reference volumes. Each entry is contributed by one or more of 70 top experts from their particular field or specialty of wine study. Charts, illustrations, maps, and photographs help to illuminate throughout. If wine interests you beyond idle chatter, this is the one reference you should own.
||Academie du Vin, Wine Course by Steven Spurrier & Michel Doraz (GP Putnam & Sons). At its core, this is one of the best of all wine appreciation text books. It presents a logical and organized approach with chapters on chemistry, consumer issues, the vine life cycle and physiology, as well as the requisite geography, viticulture, production, and variety description categories. Hopefully, recent editions have incorporated developments and discoveries in the nearly three decades since first published, since some of the finer points and details are either inaccurate ("excess of glycerol will also help the formation of fine 'legs'') or out-dated ("Ampelography ... is imprecise", etc) and the wines used as examples are now relics. Even in its original, obsolete edition, it is an overall excellent guide to appreciating and understanding wine.
Wine Grape Varieties in California, various authors & contributors (University of California) is a general primer on wine grape characteristics, as well as a collection of detailed profiles of 36 separate varieties. Each includes such detailed information as the source or origin of the variety, descriptions of the vine, leaves, and fruit, clonal information, viticultural practices, winery use, etc. As a field guide, this book is invaluable for any Californian growing grapes or making wine from them; it also provides first-rate background for greater depth of perception in the wine consumer.
NOTE: Any information about similar English-language publications for wine grapes grown in Asian, Australian, European, South African, or South American countries would be greatly appreciated. eMail Jim LaMar
Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including Their Origins and Flavours by Julia Harding, Jancis Robinson and José Vouillamoz (published in England by Allen Lane/Penguin and in the USA by Ecco/Harper-Collins). This is the most comprehensive and up-to-date tome on varieties of wine grapes grown throughout the world, includes vine morphology, viticultural characteristics, typical sensory descriptions, etc., along with images and charts. Unique among the references I've found, the researchers combined DNA fingerprinting techniques and historical records to trace parentage and reveal familial relationships between varieties. Excellent explanations of the various reproductive terms, processes and results, such as crosses (natural versus man-made), clones, and hybrids. In addition to the hard cover version, there is also a Kindle version at considerable savings, but the format makes the familial charts hard to follow.
The Great Wine Grapes
by Bern C Ramey (Great Wine Grapes, Inc.). This large,
artistic format, contains portraits of sixteen white varieties
and fourteen red, beautifully photographed by the author's
son Timothy B Ramey, accompanied by calligraphic typography covering
the style, history, geographic extent and commercial outlook of each grape, along with
viticultural profile by
Dr Lloyd Lider. Although the book is out-of-print and some content is out-of-date, used copies are available periodically and the volume is worth adding to any wine library, if strictly for the beauty of the photographs and calligraphy.
The late Bern Ramey
was a member of the first graduating class of seven from
the UC Davis School of Viticulture and Enology, along
with Peter Mondavi and the late Joe Heitz. This book took
over twenty years to complete.
NOTE: Many of Tim Ramey's
photographs are reproduced, with permission, on the pages
of PfW's Varietal Profiles section, but these do scant
justice to the dramatic beauty of the originals. Tim Ramey
Photography is located in Chicago, Illinois.
The World Atlas of Wine,
by Hugh Johnson (Simon and Schuster): Beautifully design
and organized, includes lots of photos, drawings, graphs
and charts, in addition to maps covering geography, topography
and rainfall, not to mention the author's impeccably well-written
Without regard to political boundaries and borders, nearly all wine-growing and producing locales are beautiful. Grapevines are rather like humans in their preference for climates rendered temperate by coastlines, elevation, or riverbank.
I believe that the traditional wine education curriculum focusses much too heavily on geography, while somewhat down playing the roles played by both grape variety and wine making science. Until thirty years ago, this was the valid way of learning about wine. In the past three decades, in both the vineyard and the winery, great technological changes (some would credit these as "improvements" what others would denigrate only as "shortcuts") simultaneously made wines more sound and palatable, but less unique to appellation of origin. So, I find this emphatically geographic approach outmoded and provincial, slanted to the promotion of wine commerce and the perplexity of wine consumers.
Tales: Reflections on Wine by
Gerald Asher (Chronicle). My favorite wine writer has
an informal and personal style that puts wine in context and the reader in places and with people, giving topics heart and soul, while serving lessons between the lines that are very entertaining and seldom dry; this collects
essays from Gourmet Magazine, where Mr Asher began as
wine editor in 1975, and adds previously unpublished
articles. See also these Asher titles which explore the heart and soul of understanding wine rather than explaining the details ...
A Vineyard in My Glass by Gerald Asher (University of California Press): Mr Asher presents wine essays so comfortably the reader scarcely realizes they are gaining knowledge and insight in addition to being amused and thoroughly entertained...
On Wine by Gerald Asher: An older offering that may be more difficult to obtain, but as with a rare aged wine, worth seeking out.
|A Companion to California Wine: An Encyclopedia of Wine and Winemaking from the Mission Period to the Present by Charles L Sullivan (University of California Press: Berkeley). Since the early 1980s, Mr Sullivan has established himself the leading historian for any topic relating to wine in California. This book is an excellent example of the breadth and depth of his research and expertise.
||Wine Myths & Reality by Benjamin Lewin (Vendange Press) is a very well-researched and thorough work with content much less provocative than its title. Topics are explored with more depth and logic and with less dogma and opinion than many other works that attempt to explain wine complexities.
|A History of Wine in America, Volume 2: From Prohibition to the Present by Thomas Pinney looks at how historical events of the 20th Century and how politics, economics, and social progress affected the spread of wine production across the United States and also the patterns and growth of consumption among its citizens.
An Introduction, by Maynard A Amerine and Vernon L Singleton (University
of California Press): Very good general wine book, THE
text for introduction to wine appreciation where understanding is more important than romance; available
in both hardback and paperback editions.
||How to Test and Improve your Wine Judging Ability, by Irving H Marcus (Wine Publications 1974): Just as the title of
this paperback promises; unpretentious, direct and to-the-point
with suggested exercises that remain useful and timely.
|North American Pinot Noir by John Winthrop Haeger (University of California Press) explores what was long held to be the underdog terroir for this variety. Vineyard and producer profiles are compared and contrasted to Burgundy; very scholarly.
Encyclopedia, by Ben
Turner and Roy Roycroft (Faber and Faber): This thorough and
invaluable reference is loaded with information, but succeeds by limiting its scope
to topics concerning or surrounding wine production (unfortunately
out of print). Although organized as more of an how-to manual than a reference,
Turner's The Winemaker's Companion has some similarity.
|| Kevin Zraly Windows on the World Complete Wine Course: 30th Anniversary Edition is designed as an introductory course on wine for restaurant wine service for the beginner. Although it heavily emphasizes basic characteristics of the worlds' wine growing regions and geography, it also touches on sensory physiology, viticulture, and wine production and is overall a very good basic book to be used as a prelude to further study.
|Wine: A Basic Course by Tom Forrest (Thunder Bay Press 2003) contains many beautiful full-color photos of wine processes and regions. The small format (5.5" x 7.5") makes it more suitable as a travel guide than a bookshelf addition. As with many books of this type, it could use more in-depth explanations and fewer specific vintage wine references, which render the material outdated soon after publishing.
Book of Wine, by Leon
Adams (Houghton Mifflin Company 1964): This well-meaning primer claims
to "untangle(s) the mysteries of buying, storing, serving and enjoying
wine" (but also barely explains or even completely ignores some important topics).
||The Joys of
Wine, by Clifton Fadiman
and Sam Aaron (Harry N Abrams, Inc. 1974): Another large format, loaded
with a very entertaining mixture of facts and topically illustrative
fiction; essays, short stories, photos, drawings, maps, charts,
instruction, etc. Unfortunately, this one is out of print, but The New Joys of
Wine, essentially the same book updated in 1990 with newer vineyard and vintage info, may be easier to find.
the Care and the Sale of Wine, by André L Simon (Duckworth & Co): dated material
(1920s), but interesting from the perspective of a merchant and
in the historical context.
by Michael Broadbent (Christie's Wine Publications): Another good,
basic wine appreciation text, although somewhat more high-toned,
less commonsense than Leon Adams' title.
of Taste, by Jean Anthelme
Brillat-Savarin translated by MFK Fisher (North Pointe Press):
French lawyer's 1825 thesis made up of "meditations," as opposed
to chapters, on wide-ranging elements and concerns in gastronomy;
considered a classic among gourmets and foodies; available as
hardback or paperback. Can be especially interesting to read while eating...