My wife and I give her brother a mixed case of wine every Christmas. He's not really into wine--like many people, he drinks it once in a while and serves it at special occasions. But recently, he has started getting a little curious. So this year my wife suggested including a book, something nice, but not too dense.
My choice is "Red and White, Wine Made Simple" (Wine Appreciation Guild, $25) by the gifted, irreverent Max Allen, one of Australia's young Turk wine writers. "Red and White" does exactly what it claims to do. In brief and witty chapters, Allen gives an introduction to the inner sanctum of wine and its making. This is not a ratings book or an encyclopedia. Rather, it is the best "read" I have come across for those becoming passionate about wine.
Most wine lovers almost certainly will have a copy of Hugh Johnson's "The World Atlas of Wine" in the bookcase--or maybe more than one. It may be the most important wine book ever written. It certainly is the most dog-eared book in my own, rather too massive collection. I have a copy of every edition, and I simply cannot exist without it.
No matter how many copies you have, get the new edition, published by Mitchell Beazley ($50). It's completely revised and updated, this time with the help of Jancis Robinson. Robinson is one of the few wine writers in the world who can challenge Johnson for influence and importance, and their collaboration has produced simply the best wine book in the world. If it were just a collection of detailed maps of wine regions all over the world, it would still be of unparalleled importance, but the accompanying text is incisive and instructive. It would make a wonderful present, but you'll also want to purchase one for yourself.
A third book has impressed me for its wine content, though it's not really a wine book: "Charlie Trotter's Meat and Game" (10 Speed Press, $50). Trotter, who operates a Chicago restaurant of the same name, has written a series of very fine cooking manuals, and since he is, to my taste, one of the finest chefs in the United States, his books are well read and frequently used in our house.
This book breaks new ground in its explanation of wines and how they might accompany food. Each recipe is accompanied by a brief 75-to 100-word essay by sommelier Belinda Chang that covers not only which specific wines go with each dish but why those wines will work. The writing is of such high quality that it makes you want to try the dish just to enjoy the wine and food pairing.
A few months ago, someone wrote to me about the newly created "California Wine Map" (Global Graphics, $6); order by calling (760) 967-6400. I reacted with a bit of a yawn; such things are available by the dozen. So it came as a surprise when the map itself turned out to be one of the best, least expensive touring guides on the market.
I took it with me on a recent trip to Mendocino County and found it to be accurate, helpful and well worth its modest asking price. Hundreds of wineries are shown, including very valuable information about hours of operation, tastings and tours.