The Wine Bible, Second Edition
by Karen MacNeil
Back in 2000, the Wine Bible was a revelatory publication. It transcended the usual wine drivel; Karen offered real information in a well written and distinctive voice.
The Wine School opened a year later, and we used the Wine Bible as a textbook in our wine diploma programs. As the decade wore on, the world of wine moved on but the book didn’t. By 2009, it was in desperate need of an update, but none were forthcoming.
Until now. This update is revelatory. Brilliant, articulate, and nuanced; This is the book to buy for anyone who want to learn about wine.
I love this book, but there are several points where incorrect information is given. For instance, contradictory details about phylloxera in Argentina are given in several chapters. Despite that, this should be under every wine lover’s tree this holiday season. Link to Amazon.
The Oxford Companion to Wine
by Jancis Robinson
Dry, opinionated, and essential: The Oxford is the book every sommelier should own. The 4th Edition builds on the already considerable strengths of the 3rd Edition. As a reference book, it is invaluable. Great details on the ever growing world of wine: markets, grape varietals, viticulture, regions, geology, and history are all covered.
As a professor in the wine trade, I refer to this book on a daily basis. This is a book for wine aficionados: it would be overwhelming for a person just learning about wine. Link to Amazon.
Terroir and Other Myths of Winegrowing
by Mark A. Matthews
This book is on my personal wish list this holiday season. Mark Matthews is a professor in the Viticulture & Enology department at the University of California, Davis. His specialty is in vine water stress. While that doesn’t sound all too interesting to the average wino, he is a dynamic professor with a common sense approach to wine (I was his student in the late nineties).
If you want a book that will debunk a lot of myths about wine (something we do a the Wine School) then this is the book for you. Get ready to have some sacred cows of the wine trade –terroir, anyone?– toppled.
Plonk Wine Club
Let me state this flat out: I am not a fan of wine clubs. As a general rule, they are not good values and the wine selections are pedestrian. However, I understand why wine clubs are popular. It’s an easy gift for a wine lover: It takes away the stress of purchasing wine as a gift.
So I made a challenge for myself. Are there any wine clubs out there that rise to the level of “Wine School Approved”?
The first thing I discovered was that wine clubs marketed heavily on the web, and most reviews included a veritable ocean of affiliate links. That in and of itself isn’t damning (I used affiliate links to the books I recommend) but the fact that the wine clubs with the highest affiliate payouts were the ones that also were more likely to be recommended. It also seemed like most wine clubs were reviewed without ever being a client.
I selected six of the best wine clubs and signed myself up. In the future, I may review the mediocre wines I received in most of the wine clubs. However, I think the major takeaway of the experiment is that there is a single good wine club.
Plonk Wine Club delivered from very good wine. A Pinot from Willamette Valley, a white from Santorini, a red from Corbieres, a Chinon. All in all, a very diverse and interesting selection of wines. The selection weren’t all up to our standards, but far and away beyond what any other club offers.
Holidays Wine Gifts
Nobody likes a gift that looks like cheap swill, but on the other hand, no one likes an overly pretentious gift, either. The trick with giving a gift of wine is it should look familiar, appear expensive, and taste amazingly delicious. If you can keep the price under $15, all the better! A bottle of red from Paso Robles (anything but zinfandel) is the best way to go.
The trick for us wine geeks is to not be too wine geeky during the holidays. After all, we want people to like us, right? For starters, don’t pull the wine snob card at a party. Bordeaux is a big no-no. Bring California wines that have big flavors and easy to navigate nuances. All in all, you need the wines to taste wonderful and intriguing regardless of how sophisticated your guests are. This is where you bring in the red zins.
If you have a “normal” American family, then your holiday dinner is a mashup of dozens of different traditions. Flavors are going to collide. And if it’s a pot-luck, well, things may get pretty ugly. Vienna wiener Jell-O, anyone? Beef and Marshmallow Surprise?
In such a scenario, wine pairings have to be very flexible, but also work on their own: You never know when you may have to pour yourself a hefty glass and hide out in a back hall with your Metallica-loving cousin. Oftentimes, a Lambrusco is a great option. Seek out bottles from Grasparossa di Castelvetro.
The Manhattanized Gift
The gift of wine can be a great way to express your admiration for a person’s refinement and social standing. This is when you give Bordeaux. If you have the dough, a 4th Growth is the way to go. Otherwise, a Margaux bottling will do. On a tight budget? Then seek out an Haut Medoc.
A Perfect Gift for an S.O.B.
Have someone on your holiday list that is “all hat and no cattle”? Whether it’s a despised boss or an obnoxious nouveau riche uncle, the goal is to give them a nice steaming pile of holiday cheer… without them ever knowing it. The trick is to choose a wine that is mediocre, but has all the trappings of a top-notch luxury wine.
Perception is everything for folks like this. Here are some ways wine is designed to seem expensive, even if it’s not:
Make sure the bottle is heavy. People perceive heavier bottles as luxury goods. Also Stay away from stelvin enclosures (aka screw caps) as well. The most important element is the label. It should be uncluttered and have a cream background. Some gold or embossed accents are a plus.
If you find a wine with all these elements, the giftee will think you spend hundreds of dollars.
For Foodie Friends and Family
What do you get someone who dreams of foie gras soup and Black Bear burgers? Definitely not a membership to PETA, for starters. If you opt for wine, it will need to live up to the dreams of this pork belly poet. It will need to be exotic and forceful, with a shovel-full of gritty tannin, maximum spice, and decadent fruit. For this, I suggest a bottle of Gigondas or Chateauneuf du Pape.
Ultimate Stocking Stuffer
Am I on your holiday list? If so, then this is the wine I want. I may be a wino with a penchant for Bordeaux and Priorat, but for the holidays I love me an Aussie top drop. A bottle of Heathcote Syrah is yuletide cheer in a bottle.