Even in a relatively mild winter, there are ample opportunities to curl up next to a fire (or a “Yule Log” DVD) with a good book (or e-reader). And a glass of wine, of course. A hearty red, in most cases, or something fortified or sparkling or, well, anything. And just to make the elements even more compatible, why not have your reading be wine-centric? There’s a wealth of options with themes that are entertaining and edifying. Among my favorites:
For getting more comfortable with wine:
Andrea Immer Robinson’s “Great Wine Made Simple.” The North Dakota native’s simple, straightforward, but sometimes sassy voice is the perfect entree into not only learning but understanding wine. Equally worthwhile: Eric Asimov’s “How to Love Wine,” Matt Kramer’s “Making Sense of Wine,” Natalie MacLean’s “Red, White and Drunk All Over” and Kevin Zraly’s “Complete Wine Course.”
Fitting wine: Landskroon Paul de Villiers Paarl Cabernet Sauvignon, a bold beauty showing how good South African wine can be.
For getting even more comfortable with/serious about wine:
Karen MacNeil’s “The Wine Bible.” Living up to its lofty title, this encyclopedic panorama covers the gamut of grapes and regions, with MacNeil’s deft prose breaking down often-complex or arcane topics. Close runner-up: “Mark Oldman’s Guide to Outsmarting Wine,” with tons of tidbits and shortcuts to developing insights and perspectives on different types of fermented grape juice. Also worthwhile: Jancis Robinson’s “The Oxford Companion to Wine” and Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson’s “The World Atlas of Wine.”
Fitting wine: Georges Vigouroux Gouleyant Cahors, a malbec that bridges the Old and New Worlds.
For diving into history:
It’s a tie: Don and Petie Kladstrup’s “Wine and War: the French, the Nazis, and the Battle for France’s Greatest Treasure” and Benjamin Wallace’s “The Billionaire’s Vinegar.” The former is a splendid account, equal parts rollicking and harrowing, of how some of France’s foremost vintners made it through an occupation and a war. The latter is like a Dan Brown novel, a page-turner covering four centuries of wine appreciation and swindling, with equally unforgettable characters both familiar (Thomas Jefferson, the Koch brothers) and lesser-known (a certain Hardy Rodenstock). Also worthwhile: George Taber’s “Judgment of Paris” and Elin McCoy’s “The Emperor of Wine.”
Fitting wine: Rodney Strong Knotty Vines North Sonoma Zinfandel, from vines planted in 1904.
For learning to really love wine:
Kermit Lynch’s “Adventures on the Wine Route.” The incredibly eloquent wine importer imparts his first journeys to French wineries and the indelible characters he encountered. An example of Lynch’s incisiveness, on why wine tastes better at the place of origin: “It’s like [hearing] Debussy on a rainy night in Paris. The wine is not different, you are.” Also worthwhile: Terry Theise’s “Reading Between the Wines” and two by Gerald Asher, “A Carafe of Red” and “A Vineyard in My Glass.”
Fitting wine: Domaine Vieux Télégraphe Chateauneuf-Du-Pape, from a winery Lynch discovered on his “Adventures.”
For pairing food and wine:
Evan Goldstein’s “Perfect Pairings.” Not only does the master sommelier provide sharp, often surprising insights into this daunting realm, he also provides 50 recipes by his wife, Joyce, to go with particular bottles. Also worthwhile: Karen MacNeil’s “Wine, Food & Friends” and two by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page, “What to Drink With What You Eat” and “The Food Lover’s Guide to Wine.”
Fitting wine: Donnhoff Nahe Riesling, a white that will match an almost endless array of food.
For a bit of mirth:
David Kamp and David Lynch’s “The Wine Snob’s Dictionary.” Biting wit and a let’s-not take-wine-or-ourselves-too-seriously approach make for delightful reading, with lots of LOL moments. Also worthwhile: Richard Betts’ “The Essential Scratch & Sniff Guide to Becoming a Wine Expert,” which is just what it sounds like.
Fitting wine: Bonny Doon “Le Cigare Volant,” an “homage to UFOs”: the name translates as “flying cigar.”
But wait, there’s more:
For those who’d rather peruse on the big screen than the small type, here’s some fabulous viewing that also requires some reading (as in subtitles, since both are French). “You Will Be My Son” (viewable via Netflix) is a compelling drama/mystery about an aging Bordeaux vigneron’s painful attempts to forge a succession plan, with a fantastic performance by Niels Arestrup, pictured. “Blood on the Vines” (“Le Sang de la Vigne”; must be purchased, alas) is a series of 90-minute mysteries starring Pierre Arditi as a wine expert-turned-sleuth; it will delight fans of the Inspector Morse and Lewis whodunits and has enough vinous material to please cork dorks.
Fitting wine: Chateau Saint-Sulpice Rouge, a marvelous intro to Bordeaux.
Follow Bill Ward on Twitter: @billward4.