Best wine books for Christmas 2013

xInevitably, 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 that have impressed me most. There’s a link to Amazon UK against most titles, and buying via such a link earns wine-pages a small commission.

xEncyclopaedia of Champagne and Sparkling Wine
Authors: Tom Stevenson & Essi Avellan
Publisher: Absolute Press
Price: £50.00.

Champagne authority and wine-pages columnist Tom Stevenson has brought in rising star Essi Avellan for this completely revised edition of his epic encyclopaedia of all wines sparkling. This 3rd edition really is epic: 40% larger than the previous edition published a decade ago, with 528 pages and 1,600 producers from around the world rated and profiled. Obvious expansions are in England, where the sparkling wine industry has boomed in the last decade, but the Cava, Prosecco and Franciacorta growth is there as are expanded industries from Chile to China. Champagne accounts for the bulk of the content of course and the book mixes a massive amount of factual information that even the geekiest of fizz geeks will find fascinating, with strongly stated opinions about quality. One of the stars in the Pantheon of essential wine text books.

x500 Wines for 100 Occasions
Author: David Williams
Publisher: Apple Press
Price: £18.99

Good friend and fellow member of The Wine Gang, David Williams was writing this book when we travelled to together in the spring and we had many a laugh imagining just what occasions might be included – some not fit to print. But in fact the book is a really interesting and remarkably scholarly one. Beside obvious occasions like Christmas and Father’s Day, David suggests wines to suit everything from baptisms to having the boss to dinner. For each he sets the likely scene with amusing precision: for example, to relieve the tedium of election night, he suggests a wine-themed party game that should liven things up, and if the occasion is a confrontation with a difficult neighbour, some soothing wines to make the peace. But David’s serious wine knowledge means the wines recommended are of high quality and the reasons for their inclusion well thought out. Original, amusing and actually quite useful!

xWines of the New South Africa – Tradition and Revolution
Author: Tim James
Publisher: University of California Press
Price: £27.95

Despite its 350 years of winemaking history, South Africa is an entirely suitable candidate for a book celebrating the ‘new’. In the 25 years since the fall of apartheid and the country’s re-emergence onto the world stage the speed and extent of the wine industry’s renaissance has been remarkable. Tim James, a well-respected South African wine journalist who lives in the country, is careful to establish his impartiality from the outset. This is a country in which the political context of wine and the wine business cannot be ignored. James tackles sensitive and complex issues like land ownership and the progress of black empowerment with steely objectivity. Indeed, in the often enlightening opening chapter all of the country’s current wine challenges and opportunities are explored. Each of the Cape’s wine producing regions is explored in depth, with a map and scholarly introduction spanning from earliest plantings to recent developments. Profiles of all the significant wine producers follow, and once again James’ economical writing style is business-like and accurate. This is certainly no coffee-table book. Monochrome throughout, illustrations are confined to a few simple maps and tables. In a multi-media world that is arguably old fashioned. However, it is a terrific book, never dull, and written with both cool precision and passion for the subject.

xThe World’s Shortest Wine Book: 21 Ways To Get More Out Of A Bottle Of Wine
Author: Simon Woods
Publisher: Simon Woods
Price: £2.56

The irrepressible Simon Woods has published this book for Kindle (or iPhone, Android device or computer running Kindle software) and whilst its 49 pages probably do make it the world’s shortest, it is packed with information that is all about approachability and no-nonsense advice for the (relative) wine novice. 21 short chapters are all intended to help you get more out of a bottle of wine and cover topics from choosing glassware, to the point of sniffing a glass of wine. It won’t appeal to the serious wine freak, but it is fresh, fun, cheap and founded on Simon’s wealth of expertise and knowledge.

xPocket Wine Book 2014
Author: Oz Clarke
Publisher: Pavilion
Price: £11.99

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. It is a concise but fact-packed volume, an A-Z of over 1500 entries spanning wine countries, producers, personalities and more.

x1001 Beers You Must Try Before You Die
Author: Adrian Tierney-Jones
Publisher: Cassell
Price: £20.00

And if you tire of wine (seems unlikely I know), how about beer? Topping previous “300 Beers” and “500 Beers” titles, this massive paperback (960 pages) does what it says on the jacket: it recommends 1001 of the world’s greatest beers, as a probably impossible ‘bucket list’ of the world’s best brews. They are presented by style, and I have to say is extremely well done with photos of every bottle, a full background to the brewery and what makes the beer special, and a tasting note. Makes you thirsty just looking at it…