For wine lovers, the only thing that is equally pleasurable to drinking the fruit of the vine is enhancing one’s knowledge of the vinous treasure. Sure, there are online resources galore to brush up on your wine expertise, but many are akin to by the glass offerings, which just won’t do when you are seeking a jeroboam-sized increase in your mastery.
Finding a wine book that suits your needs is not as easy as it sounds. Many of the best-selling titles are beginner’s guides filled with information that you may already be familiar with or with graphics that look good on social media but are meaningless and repetitive on the printed page. Others, especially single subject books, border on textbook style and are jam-packed with minutiae but offer no enjoyment to the reader. Whether it be a broad overview of wine around the world or a deep dive into a single region, we seek out a broad knowledge base on the part of the author that appeals to oenophiles at different stages of their journey. We also prefer books that are written in conversational rather than professorial tone, because unless you are pursuing an advanced certification in wine, learning about it should be as pleasurable as drinking it. And most of all, we like a book that encourages us to open a bottle and bring the words on the printed page to life.
So for those whose libraries extend to bottles as well as books, here are the classic must-have tomes.
If you have one wine book in your library, experts agree that it should be the latest edition of Jancis Robinson and Hugh Johnson’s World Atlas of Wine. First published in 1971, it has sold almost 5 million copies worldwide and with good reason. In an engaging and easy to read style it offers a wealth of information on classic wine regions and up and comers alongside eye-catching photography and wine country maps. Whether you are a seasoned collector or just dipping your toes into the world of wine, this is one wine book your library should not be without.
This 800-page tome covers the storied wine regions you would expect plus emerging and long overlooked production areas around the world. Published by National Geographic, this completely updated and revised version of a wine-world classic contains more than 400 images and 100 detailed maps. In addition to tasting notes, vineyard profiles, tasting room guides and a troubleshooting guide to wine flaws, The New Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia includes tips from well-known sommeliers and thousands of recommendations for reds, whites and rosés organized by producer and vintage.
Written by noted Champagne expert Peter Liem, this award-winning box set includes a pullout tray with seven detailed vineyard maps that beautifully illustrate the region’s terroir. Many of us are familiar with Champagne the beverage, but very few have the in-depth knowledge of the appellation itself and its subzones that is provided in this book. Champagne: The Essential Guide to the Wines, Producers, and Terroirs of the Iconic Region lives up to its lengthy title with an exploration of not just the brands that dominate the marketplace but profiles of small grower-producers and a captivating look at the history and legends of Champagne.
The history of Barolo and Barbaresco, the legendary wines made from Nebbiolo, is intertwined with the tales of the noble families of Italy’s Piedmont region. In this comprehensive overview of Italy’s finest grape, the land it grows on and the people who turn it into wine, acclaimed critic and author Kerin O’Keefe brings the wines made around the city of Alba to life. Although the vintage and tasting notes could use some refreshing, there is enough background and history here to add substantially to your body of knowledge on Italian wine.
Sotheby’s Wine teamed up with Bordeaux specialist Jane Anson and British wine merchant Berry Bros and Rudd to create an updated guide to the terroir, chateaus and wines of Bordeaux. While many of us know the most renowned wines of the zone, with Inside Bordeaux Anson takes us on a journey that explores a more diverse view that includes next-generation producers, the acceleration of organic and biodynamic viticulture, and terroir-driven winemaking. Besides profiling well-known chateaus and hidden gems, the author also reveals recent research by experts at the University of Bordeaux that discusses the terroir of essential chateaus and appellations.
Ask almost anyone in the American wine industry how they first became interested in wine, and the answer is likely to be “Kevin Zraly.” With more than 3 million copies sold, the wine educator’s Windows on the World Complete Wine Course is one of the best possible ways to explore wine from the major categories glass by glass. This updated volume is jam-packed with information on key grape varieties, winemaking technique, types and styles of wine, and how to decode a wine label, but most importantly it is a tasting textbook and guide to wine that will ratchet up your understanding of the real-life application of words on a page.
If you find yourself going down the rabbit hole of wine grape genealogy and parentage and want the definitive answer to your queries, look no further than this encyclopedic guide to practically every wine-producing variety known to humankind. Written by acclaimed wine authority Jancis Robinson MW, Master of Wine Julia Harding, and botanist and grape geneticist José Vouillamoz, this cloth bound volume includes gorgeously illustrated gatefolds with the family trees of grapes and classic ampelographic illustrations. From defining the varieties’ origins via DNA analysis, Wine Grapes also tells the story of how the grapes were named, their many synonyms, where they came from, and where they are now cultivated and made into wine.
Veteran wine journalist Peter Hellmann chronicles the stranger than fiction tale of Rudy Kurniawan, who rose from obscurity to acclaim as the foremost purveyor of the hardest to secure bottles known to man. Of course, it all turned out to be an elaborate con, but Hellmann’s fast-paced and engaging style will draw you in as effortlessly as Kurniawan entrapped the globe’s leading wine sellers and buyers in his too good to be true scheme.
Written chapter-by-chapter by a global team of 38 on-the-ground experts and edited by seasoned wine journalist Jim Gordon, Opus Vino may be the first wine book that covered the entire world of wine rather than the tried-and-true locales that readers had come to expect. In addition to introductions to such well-known regions as Napa, Bordeaux and Rioja, the team went further afield to cover settings as diverse as Georgia, Mexico and Japan. Each of the 109 sections takes a deep dive into a winegrowing area with detailed listings of individual wineries and the wines they produce. It’s interesting to note how many “rising stars” at the time of publication are now standard-bearers of their region and the varieties grown there.
First published in 1994, the latest version of Jancis Robinson and Julia Harding’s exhaustive tome contains almost 4,000 entries on a diverse range of wine-related topics. In addition to regions and grape varieties, The Oxford Companion to Wine Fourth Edition also covers subjects as evergreen as the history of wine and some of history’s greatest connoisseurs and tasters and more modern topics like wine apps and chemical additives. A team of 180 writers contributed to this edition, which includes a list of the world’s controlled appellations and allowed grape varieties, maps of all major wine regions, and many handy diagrams and charts. While much of this information may be available online, what you may come across will not be as thoroughly researched and thoughtfully presented as it is in this comprehensive volume.
If there is anyone in the world of wine as charming and gregarious as Oz Clark, we have not met them. His personality truly shines through on the page, and as he tells the story of abandoning his acting career to pursue the pleasures of the vine, you feel as if you are there with him every step of the way. Within the fast-paced stories you will find explorations of major varieties and the style of wine they produce, the effects of climate change on wine, and the types of wine we can expect to be drinking in the future. There are wine books that you may turn to from time to time in order to burnish your knowledge or appreciation of a style or region, and then there is Oz Clarke on Wine, which is a page-turner that you won’t want to put down.
And, of course, you know you’re not going to get away without us recommending our book! Written by us with our friend and colleague Kevin Zraly, Red Wine delves into fifty different single varieties and regional blend styles, covering grapes from Agioritiko to Zinfandel and everything in between. We also wrote about blended single appellation styles like Bordeaux, Chianti and Rioja. Each chapter is packed with tasting notes, suggested food pairings and recommended wines from everyday bargains to worthy splurges, plus gorgeous photography. Don’t just take our word for it on this one; Red Wine won the Gourmand International Award for Best Wine Book in the World in 2018.