With wine books, good things rarely come in small packages, but they often do come in pairs, at least this year. In many of these categories, we have two titles because the books are so stellar it's impossible to pick just one.
For the novice/intermediate enthusiast
The eye-popping, brain-boosting posts from one of my favorite websites (winefolly.com) have been compiled in a book. Madeline Puckette and Justin Hammack's "Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine" (Avery, 240 pages, $15) is equally entertaining and edifying, presenting seriously-easy-to-access looks at regions, grapes and ways to understand wine. Learning shouldn't be this much fun.
In a similar, and broader, vein, Patrick Mulligan and Ben Gibson in "A Visual Guide to Drink" (Avery, 204 pages, $30), covers not just wine but beer and booze. Again, the visuals and the written commentary are complementary and illuminating.
For the engaged enthusiast
Improving on near-perfection has been accomplished in new iterations of two fabulous compendiums, Jancis Robinson's "Oxford Companion to Wine" (Oxford, 835 pages, $65) and Karen MacNeil's "Wine Bible" (Workman Publishing, 996 pages, $25).
No two women — or men, for that matter — know more about the wild, wide world of wine than these estimable stalwarts. But there's not even a hint of haute in either of these weighty works. They speak in a language that wine lovers and wine likers can fully and readily appreciate.
MacNeil is especially down-to-earth, with deft pop-culture references and engrossing explorations of the many facets of fermented grape juice; bonus points for fabulous recommendations in her "Wines to Know" segments. While Robinson has added topics such as "earthworms" (which can have a marked influence on vineyard soils), her fourth edition "Companion" is a more academic work. But her prose is so conversational that even mundane topics become enticing; bonus points for new and massively improved maps.
For the California aficionado
Leave it to a sommelier to come up big. With 1,255 (heavy) pages of almost hernia-inducing heft, Kelli White's "Napa Then & Now" ($95, sold only at napavalleythenandnow.com) makes Jancis Robinson's and Karen MacNeil's books (at right) feel like trade paperbacks, at least physically.
This is, by far, the most thorough look ever at the top wineries in America's foremost wine region. With nifty historical anecdotes, tasting notes and perspectives that add perfect context, it never fails to enlighten us about the different subregions of Napa and 200 top wineries. A must-have for any Napa nut.
For those who want a book they can actually tote with them to Wine Country, Mike DeSimone and Jeff Jenssen's "Wines of California" (Sterling, 304 pages, $28) traverses the state's wine regions from Mendocino to San Diego, with in-depth info on top wineries and the people behind them.
For the vinous mystery buff
Wine-soaked whodunits, which barely existed a few years ago, seem to have become an actual genre. David Baker's "Vintage" (Touchstone, 320 pages $25) is a true page-turner, unraveling the search for a bottle of 1943 French wine absconded by the Nazis. That makes it appealing for history buffs, as well.
Even "more French" is a masterful, recently translated compilation, "The Winemaker Detective — An Omnibus" (Le French Book, 293 pages, $20, but 99 cents on Kindle as we went to press). Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noel Balen unspool three stories of a winemaker-turned amateur sleuth whose cases at times go well beyond France's borders.
For the fermented food and juice lover
Finally, rather than a pairing of books, we look at a book on pairing. Adam Centamore's "Tasting Wine & Cheese" (Quarry, 160 pages, $25) might be the best book on the topic I've ever seen. It's certainly the most useful in matching grape varieties with cheeses, several of them in each case (zinfandel with raclette, asiago and others). As experienced hands know, many wine-cheese pairings go awry mightily, and most are imperfect; Centamore's masterful work deconstructs and decodes that dilemma.
So smile and say cheese, and wine, and reading.
Bill Ward writes at decant-this.com. Follow him on Twitter: @billward4.