For two whole years I have resisted the lure of crass commercialism. Well, that's enough of that. When they tell you virtue is its own reward, they're not just kidding around. Hey, don't take my word for it, ask Anthony Bourdain.
We all know the joke about establishing what kind of girl you are. When I start “monetizing” and linking to Amazon, then you'll know for sure. The only thing that holds me back right now is whether it's actually worth the money. We'll see.
Without further adieu, here is the Wine Mule's Holiday Shopping Guide!
I like to read. These are worth reading:
The New France: A Complete Guide to Contemporary French Wine (Mitchell Beazley Wine Guides) (Hardcover). Andrew Jefford is a terrific writer, and his survey of French winemaking, published in 2002, is still amazingly up-to-date, anticipating the “natural” revolution that has taken so many French wine regions by storm. And there are some hidden treats. For example, in the section on the Loire is one of the clearest explanations of the biodynamic phenomenon, illustrated with some truly heretical commentary from Nicolas Joly. (I just looked at Amazon, and they're asking $90 a copy, used. So much for great gift ideas! Get it from your local library.)
Barolo to Valpolicella (Classic Wine Library) and Brunello to Zibibbo: The Wines of Tuscany, Central and Southern Italy. Nicolas Belfrage is still the guy I turn to for the details of Italian wines. Again, these were published in 2003, yet they are still timely; none other than Josko Gravner (accurately described as a “radical”) makes an appearance in the section on Friuli. The second volume is especially worthwhile, although admittedly not for the casual reader--unless you're really, really interested in learning about the mediocrity of Sardinia's Nuragus grape. (Oh, this is ludicrous! Amazon wants $69 and $79 each, respectively, in paperback, used. See above.)
Oldman's Brave New World of Wine (Norton). Mark Oldman is a wine popularizer—a guy who writes about wine for Everyday with Rachael Ray and talks about it on TV for PBS. This book was damned with faint praise when it was released in October 2010, and it is true that his complicated charts and celebrity-fawning can be hard to take. On the other hand, he's hip to a lot of the up-and-coming wines and regions; the “Culinary Sweet Spot” gauge is pretty straightforward; and honestly, I'd buy it just for the pronunciation guides. (On sale for $13 at Amazon! This is more like it!)
Reading Between The Wines (University of California Press): Terry Theise is that rare thing, an importer who lives his convictions. He believes in Riesling, especially when it's from the Mosel, with a faith that is profound. He was an early advocate of Recoltant-Manipulant (now known as “Grower”) Champagne, and I feel tremendously grateful for that, because if it were not for Terry Theise, I might never have known the pleasures of Chartogne-Taillet “Cuvée Fiacre,” a wine that literally stunned me into silence when I first tasted it. He's also an advocate of Austrian wines, and was instrumental in introducing Americans to the joys of Gruner Veltliner. I don't know how to classify this book, except perhaps as a long love-letter to the land, the winemakers who work the land, and the wines themselves that have moved his soul. Personally, I have reservations about some of his ideas, but in the scheme of things, these are piffle. As I wrote to a colleague, "It has caused me to re-evaluate the way I evaluate." ($17 and change at Amazon. Well worth it.)
The Science of Wine: From Vine To Glass (University of California Press): Jamie Goode is very knowledgeable about wine, and has a PhD in plant biology. He's also a pretty astute writer. The combination of these qualities make this book very worthwhile, especially for those of us who never took an organic chemistry course. Popular discourse on the making of wine is rife with misinformation, disinformation, and plain ignorance. The Science of Wine is the only antidote I know that can be safely used by non-scientists. ($30 and change at Amazon; you'll make it back winning bar bets.)
Update: Terry Theise has reminded me that science is not static, and that Goode has updated some of the information that appeared in "Science of Wine." So I'm about to order a copy of his latest, "Authentic Wine: Toward Natural and Sustainable Winemaking." ($16 and change at Amazon.)
Up-Update: My friend Jeff Waggoner sent me a link to Eric Asimov's Holiday Reading Guide. Asimov is correct in noting that one of Goode's attributes is that he says "We don't know, because there's no research" quite often. This was the case in "The Science of Wine," too. On the other hand, I think he's read a little too much Alice Feiring, because Goode is absolutely not a stooge for anybody, certainly not Constellation or Diageo or any of the other big boys in the business.
PS: The Oldman book was a freebie, sent last season, from an obviously misguided publicist. I'm supposed to disclose this or risk fearsome penalties from the Federal Trade Commission.