Recommended wine books for Christmas 2014

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Inevitably, a whole flood of wine-related books is timed to capture the lucrative Christmas market. Here’s a run-down on half a dozen of them. Note that there’s a link to Amazon UK against most of the titles here, and buying via such a link earns wine-pages a small commission

xWine & Food
Author: Jane Parkinson
Publisher: Ryland Peters & Small
Price: £18.94, buy at Amazon

Jane’s first published book is coffee table-sized and in full colour throughout, the design is sharp and it features fine photography. But it is Jane’s thoughtful and original take on some fairly well-trodden themes that sets the book apart. All the guidance and tricks to forming ace food and wine partnerships are contained in Jane’s ‘go to guide’, but really this is two books in one: whilst other titles have explored every inch of food and wine matching, Jane begins her tour with a specific focus just on wine, with information-rich features as well as ‘Post-it’ style notes that encapsulate essential details in easily digested form. A series of short essays pop-up throughout, covering interesting wine topics before food and wine matching begins to dominate proceedings. Main food groups are taken in turn, and as Jane delves into specific cuisines, cooking styles and ingredients she teases out suggested food matches, and the rationale behind their choice. A book that balances knowledge and enthusiasm with skill and lightness of touch.

xThe Tapas Bar Guide
Author: Anthony Rose and Isabel Cuevas
Publisher: Grub Street
Price: £8.94, buy at Amazon

Another good friend (and another fellow member of The Wine Gang), Anthony Rose, is the man behind the drinks recommendations in this extremely useful paperback where he has teamed up with Spanish food expert, Isabel Cuevas, to present their joint guide to the best places for tapas in London and beyond. It is very nicely done, for as well as blow by blow accounts of what to expect food and wine-wise at scores of tapas bars and restaurants, there’s a large selection of tapas recipes, a handy glossary of less familiar culinary terms one might come across, and a primer on the history of tapas and it evolution to become a global phenomenon.

xThe Concise Guide to Wine and Blind Tasting
Author: Neel Burton and James Flewellen
Publisher: Acheron Press
Price: £23.75, buy at Amazon

This scholarly – and in some ways old-fashioned – text book doesn’t really cover new ground or do so in a particularly revolutionary way. It’s a sold primer on wine, written in a no-nonsense style and presented plainly and factually, with illustrations limited to some monochrome maps. But having said that, it is an extremely well organised book that describes all of the world’s significant wine regions succinctly, emphasising not only the ‘typical’ characteristics of different grape varieties, but how regional styles, growing conditions and traditions affect these. Sections on techniques and tips, crib sheets and organisational advice for blind tasting will all appeal to those keen to further their knowledge through tasting.

xBiodynamic, Organic and Natural Winemaking
Author: Britt Karlsson and Per Karlsson
Publisher: Floris Books
Price: £14.94, buy at Amazon

Subtitled “Sustainable Viticulture and Viniculture,” this book from Swedish wine writers Britt and Per Karlsson is a fairly heavyweight tome, dense with information, and yet full of quite absorbing detail that made it interesting for me to dip in and out of as chapters caught my attention, rather than reading from cover to cover in one prolonged session. The do’s and don’ts of organic, biodynamic and natural winemaking are covered in depth, with lots of well-argued reasoning as to the efficacy of these techniques (it strikes me that the Karlsson’s do come from a ‘pro’ position on these wine making philosophies), and fascinating chapters like a really detailed glossary of what additives are allowed in wine, or natural means of controlling vineyard pests, make for really interesting reading for both winemakers and wine lovers alike.

xMadeira: The Mid-Atlantic Wine
Author: Alex Liddell
Publisher: C. Hurst & Co.
Price: £16.99, buy at Amazon

A niche subject it may be, but the wines of Madeira surely deserve such a thorough and wonderfully obsessive book as this, a brand new and extensively updated edition since the 1998 original. Author Alex Liddell is Mad for Madeira, and this is a beautifully presented but sparsely designed mini-masterpiece on the subject with barely an illustration in sight, just chapter after chapter of insight and knowledge to pore over at leisure. Reminiscent in some ways of the sadly missed Faber & Faber titles like Hanson on Burgundy and Stevenson on Alsace that were essential reference works, this book covers every aspect of viticulture, assessment of the island’s lodges, vintages and wines.

xDrink London
Author: Euan Ferguson
Publisher: Frances Lincoln
Price: £7.37, buy at Amazon

This thick, neat little book does what it says on the tin, yet unlike some of the rather worthy but perhaps slightly staid established pub guides, it is colourful, upbeat and modern, written by Time Out magazine’s bar and pub writer Euan Ferguson. It’s far from just beer, as he focuses variously on the best gastro pubs, best for cocktails, best for wine and spirit lists and ‘With a Twist’, some of the capital’s most interesting watering holes that break the mould in one way or another. A very worthwhile companion for visitors and Londoners alike.

xPocket Wine Book 2015
Author: Oz Clarke
Publisher: Pavilion
Price: £3.99, buy at Amazon

Brand Oz is big business thanks to his TV presence and string of regular wine guides and other books. But that is not to diminish the man in the slightest: he remains one of the world’s great authorities on wine and his annual guide is, along with Hugh Johnson’s of course, a terrific way to keep up to date with the whole world of wine. The 23rd edition is a fact-packed volume, an A-Z of over 1500 entries spanning wine countries, producers, personalities and more.