Writing about wine can be a challenge, made easier with a semi-simple goal that pertains to all such endeavors: Know your audience. With this column, I'm aiming for wine enthusiasts, people who enjoy and, to varying degrees, want to learn more about fermented grape juice. Creating a comfort zone for consumers, telling cool stories and not talking down to Cupcake fans and up to the Lafite-Rothschild crowd are part and parcel of that. So naturally, when compiling a list of my favorite wine books of the year, I gravitate toward works that accomplish that. (I have been striving to replace "the best" with "my favorite" for some time now, because the former phrase is so very subjective.) Here, then, are some 2016 wine books that should have broad and specific appeal for wine enthusiasts:
"24-Hour Wine Expert," by Jancis Robinson (Harry N. Abrams, $12.95).
This book doesn't quite live up to its name, but only because the esteemed English writer packs so much into a mere 112 pages that it probably should be digested over several days. Robinson covers a wide range of practical topics (foremost among them: how to choose and taste wines) and packs her regional breakdowns with some swell tidbits and tips. Her prose is like the best British texts: simple yet elegant, eminently approachable and laced with a bit of catty wit.
"How to Drink Like a Billionaire: Mastering Wine With Joie de Vivre," by Mark Oldman (Regan Arts, $28.95).
Wit is at the heart of this book, but so is wisdom. With his trademark accessible, personal style, Oldman unfurls all manner of advice, with the ultimate goal of helping us 99 percenters imbibe like the hoity-toity do. Packed with informative infographics and incisive insights, Oldman's book, like the others here, is great not only for diving in deeply by a fire but also perusing a few pages a time.
"But First, Champagne: A Modern Guide to the World's Favorite Wine," by David White (Skyhorse Publishing, $29.99).
Speaking of regal matters, this is an instant classic, the definitive guide to the sparkling wine of a justly ballyhooed region. Pop open this book and immerse yourself in the people and places of the past and present that provide us with a plethora of scintillating celebratory beverages (which actually are grand for all occasions). As with the wines themselves, White's most joyous accomplishment is in the finely etched details.
"French Wine: A History," by Rod Phillips (University of California Press, $34.95).
Wow, is this ever packed with details. A comprehensive look at the past, present and future of the world's foremost wine region, Phillips' lively masterwork seamlessly wraps culture, politics and religion into an adventurous saga covering 25 centuries and a fascinating array of happenings into a compelling and engaging narrative. History lessons should always be this engrossing. It's best paired with a glass of lordly Bordeaux or lowly Languedoc wine.
"Windows on the World Complete Wine Course," by Kevin Zraly (Sterling Epicure, $27.95).
This book has been on this list before and probably will be again, because America's peerless vinous mentor keeps updating and improving the book, with better maps and more fascinating minutiae, among other enhancements. Zraly is the best kind of teacher, passing along info and insights but also providing the most valuable lesson: learning how to learn, practically and intuitively. This is the once and future benchmark, surprisingly entertaining and thoroughly edifying.
Bill Ward writes at decant-this.com. Follow him on Twitter: @billward4.