Wine Ink column: The gift of wine in words; books for the oenophile |

Wine Ink column: The gift of wine in words; books for the oenophile

"Napa Valley, Then and Now," by Kelli A. White.
Special to the Daily |


M. Chapoutier Belleruche Côtes du Rhône 2013, $12 —While this grenache-syrah blend is a great bargain from a famed producer, I chose it because of its label. You see, Michel Chapoutier believes that wine information should be accessible to all who wish to read it. Even the blind. So each of his wines includes a label written in Braille. Run your hand across the labels, and you will feel the Braille print details that include the producer, the vintage, the vineyard and region and the color of the wine.

Wine is a great gift anytime.

Simply choose a bottle and give it to someone you love, and you are an instant star. But for the holidays, it’s maybe best to purchase something that lasts longer than a single bottle of wine. A case, for instance, if you are feeling flush.

Or, perhaps, consider giving a book about wine.

Fortunately, there are a number of great wine books worthy of gifting to meet the needs of your favorite wine lovers. Here are a half-dozen (half a case?) with one signaled out for “epicness.”


By Kelli A. White

2015, Rudd Press, $95.

I promised the author that I would not use the word “tome” to describe this amazing work. Kelli A White, a respected Napa Valley sommelier (Press) and noted wine writer (Vinious), is now the unquestioned published authority on America’s most significant wine region, Napa Valley.

But I did not rule out the term “epic.”

Consider that “Napa Valley, Then and Now” clocks in at 1,255 pages, weighs close to 12 pounds and, rather than being a coffee table book, could be an actual coffee table. Its prodigious size has received more publicity at the hands of reviewers — many of whom are wine writers (Some of whom have been less than kind in their critiques based on, one can only assume, envy) — than the prodigious amount of effort that went into producing it. Make no mistake, this is an epic undertaking.

White opens the book recounting the history of the Napa Valley and then breaks down the region’s 18 appellations. But the book’s bulk focuses in stunning detail on 800 or so Napa Valley wineries, from Aubert to Ziata, with a profile of each and extensive — no, exhaustive — tasting notes. Personally, I found the profiles to be wonderful, individual snapshots of the valley’s most interesting winemakers. Speaking of snapshots, the book is illustrated with beautiful bottle shots by photographer Peter Fishel and an amazing collection of black-and-white stills of the valley and its winemakers shot by White’s fiancé, fellow sommelier Scott Brenner.

But the tasting notes — of, say, a 1968 Charles Krug Vintage Selection Cabernet Sauvignon, “A show-stoppingly beautiful wine that never fails to stun. Simply exceptional,” or the 2010 Hourglass Blueline Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, “Dark and juicy, open-knit and charming. Seductive aromas of sugared blueberries, baking chocolate and slate combine on the nose” — are themselves seductive and simply make you want to drink more wine.

This is the perfect gift for anyone who loves Napa Valley wines, especially collectors of same. At $95 (not including a table to mount it on, of course) it is a bit spendy, but it will be appreciated as its pages become wine-stained over the decades.

To order, go to


By Hugh Johnson & Jancis Robinson

Seventh edition, Mitchell Beazley, $60.

This is the book that heads the category, “If there is one wine book you must have.” Originally published in 1971, the current edition was updated in 2013. The “Atlas” features the most complete cartography (215 maps, to be exact) of the world of wine that exists in a single source. But beyond that, it includes pages of essential information about each region written by a pair of the most readable and relatable writers of wine.

A must have for any wine-lover’s coffee table.


By Karen MacNeil

Second edition, 2015, Workman Publishing, $25.

It is impossible to know everything about wine. That is part of its charm.

But if you read Karen MacNeil’s paperback powerhouse, you’ll surely know most of the stuff there is to know. Laid out in typical Workman Press style that makes consumption of remarkable amounts of info palatable by using ingenious graphs, boxes, call-outs and colors to delineate them, this 996-page tome (I made no promises to MacNeil) takes you on a tour through the world of wine, including a section on China, which MacNeil visited with great fanfare this past year.


By Ed McCarthy and Mary Ewing-Mulligan

Sixth edition, 2015, John Wiley & Sons, $23.

Go ahead, laugh. But with a million copies and counting in print, this basic book has likely answered more wine queries than perhaps any other ever published. The newest edition came out days ago and marks the second decade of this simple but accurate guide to all things wine.

My copy — my go-to copy to this day when I need to check something quickly — is dog-eared and torn with wines of old splashed across its pages. It is the second edition purchased new in 1998. I believe the first wine I spilled on it was a ’99 zinfandel.


By Richard Betts

2013, Houghton Mifflin, $14.

This 21-page book is hardly a tome and it is not altogether new. But it is a fun, instructive and innovative introduction into the olfactory joys of wine. If you have a “schnoz,” you can find a world of wonder on the pages of Richard Betts’ whimsical and innovative book.

Using simple illustrations by the ever-so talented Wendy MacNaughton, minimal copy and, of course, scratch and sniff scents that readers, or sniffers, can, well, scratch and smell, he distills the concepts of wine tasting into a simple process. Open a bottle, pour a glass, put your nose in it, sniff and sip. Do you get whiffs of cherries, raspberries and strawberries? Then the wine is likely from the red fruit camp and possibly indicates that it is a grenache or pinot noir.

Great fun for the whole family, Betts has also recently introduced “The Essential Scratch & Sniff Guide to Becoming a Whiskey Know-It-All.”

‘True Taste: The Seven Essential Wine Words’

By Matt Kramer

2015, Cider Mill Press, $19.

Matt Kramer, who writes a column for both Wine Spectator and Portland’s The Oregonian, has been a knowledgeable, soulful and opinionated wine writer for four decades. His latest book is not “essential,” as some of the others suggest, rather it is just a good read that will change the way you think about tasting wine. And that goes for weekend sippers to master sommelier candidates.

Essentially — there is that word again — Kramer argues that we have become hostages to wine-speak and have lost our way in how we taste and evaluate what we pour. Of course, there is no greater progenitor of that very thing than the Spectator. Rather, Kramer writes that we should think in broader terms using seven descriptors that will force us to internalize what we taste instead of just using a list of adjectives that fall from a chart.

This is a book, at 128 pages, that will fit on the table by your bed and is best read with a glass in hand.

Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass with his wife, Linda, and black Lab named Vino. He can be reached at

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