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Page Turners for Wine Lovers

People in the wine business who know Kevin Zraly understand that he likes to ask questions and then answer them.  He’s just that kind of guy.  And that process really works out well if you want to learn about wine, whether you’re a neophyte or have memorized all the crus of Burgundy.

Zraly has been teaching wine for 40 years, 35 of them with his Windows on the World Wine School.  The latest edition of Kevin Zraly’s Windows on the World Complete Wine Course ($19.95) is one of three wine books I would recommend as great holiday presents – the other two being Wines of the Southern Hemisphere and The New York Times Book of Wine.  All are from Sterling Epicure.

But first Zraly.  His book is designed as a wine course, and I think it remains the best wine primer I have seen.  But it is also very easy to digest page-by-page as a book of information.  I’m sure there isn’t any wine expert whose knowledge couldn’t be added to or rounded out by reading this book.  It’s an excellent companion to have at bedside.  For example, you can slumber off into wine la-la land as you read – all on page 44 – how Burgundy wines are classified, the story of kir, Burgundy and barrels, another regional white grape (Aligoté), label info and vineyard yields.  So it’s also a very good resource.  Of course, a lot of the material about individual wineries may be obsolete by the time you wake up, but that’s what the next edition is for!

If it’s December, grapes are growing throughout the Southern Hemisphere, the subject of popular wine writers Mike DeSimone’s and Jeff Jenssen’s new book, Wines of the Southern Hemisphere ($24.95).  The inside cover illustration, a map of the world with the Southern Hemisphere on top, reminds us that we “northerners” sometimes think of ourselves as the standard and the southerners as interesting but different.

The book is a large one, giving in-depth descriptions of wineries in South America, South Africa and New Zealand and Australia.  It is well-written, but not something you would likely read from start to finish.  Instead, it is more of a resource, one that you would use to “look up” things – the background of a Bonarda you just bought or wineries of New Zealand’s South Island that you may visit on vacation there.  This should be on the book shelf in any complete wine cellar.

The Times Book of Wine ($24.95) is edited by Howard Goldberg, and it’s a long book of short stories about wine and food.  Often wine writers will grab up a couple of years’ worth of columns and publish them as a book – I stand guilty – but here the collection is more monumental.  They have taken up the wine writings of all the Times wine and food writers – Goldberg, Asimov, Prial, Fabricant, Apple, Grimes, Bruni – and included them in one fat volume. So approaching this book, we readers will probably flip through the table of contents until we see something interesting – say, Asimov’s piece on the rise of Mexican-American vintners or Apple’s rumination on Cognac – and then search out something new next time we pick it up.

Apple didn’t say it, of course, but the best to read a book such as this would be with a glass of Cognac in front of a winter’s fire while the grapevines shiver outside in the cold.  Unless they are DeSimone’s and Jenssen’s grapevines.

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