Given the state of the publishing world, it should be no surprise that two of this year's best wine books are updated versions of old favorites.
And a dandy lot they are, providing elucidation and enjoyment for wine enthusiasts at all levels. That's true of the year's other standouts, including a couple of works homed in on California, a primer on healthy living through libations and an engrossing true-life mystery.
For starters — and this is the book I always recommend for "starters," i.e. folks beginning to dip their toes into the wine world — the 30th anniversary edition of Kevin Zraly's "Windows on the World Complete Wine Course" (Sterling Epicure, $27.95) takes a seminal, spectacular guide to our favorite beverage and makes it better than ever. Besides a long overdue redesign, this edition includes better maps, more charts and access to audio primers on pronunciations and videos on a variety of subjects.
Meanwhile, the semi-new-and-most-improved award goes to "Food & Wine 2015 Wine Guide" (Charlesbridge Publishing, $12.95). Instead of taking on the doomed task of being comprehensive and universal in a small-format 300 pages, the editors chose about 500 U.S. wineries they consider "reliable" and wrote extensive, excellent blurbs on them, with great info, context and recommended bottles.
A couple of passages about Minnesota natives: "Francophile Al Brounstein's stubborn determination to make wine his way, and his bedrock belief in his vineyards … paid off in giving Diamond Creek a lasting, passionate, deep-pocketed following." At Murphy-Goode, "the goateed former rock drummer David Ready Jr., the son of an original partner, oversees the vineyards and makes the tasty, large-volume wines."
The book also includes an extensive pairing chart and even some recipes; it is Food & Wine magazine, after all.
Diamond Creek, by the way, is one of 10 vineyards profiled in Liz Thach's "Call of the Vine: Exploring 10 Famous Vineyards of Napa and Sonoma" (Miranda Press, $19.99), perhaps the year's best book for cork dorks, particularly those of the California persuasion. The Master of Wine, Thach digs deeply into what makes these sites special. But the book is less about geology than people, as Thach spends time with the caretakers of these vineyards.
Her accounts work in part because of how well she chose her targets. Besides Diamond Creek, they are Beaulieu, Stag's Leap, Stagecoach (managed by former Minnesotan Gabrielle Shaffer) and To Kalon in Napa, and Bacigalupi, Hanzell, Hirsch, Monte Rosso and Seghesio Home Ranch in Sonoma. This is a book I wish I had written (and especially researched).
More Minnesota connections: "The Drinker's Guide to Healthy Living" (DGHL, $14.95), penned by Carleton College grad Gerald D. Facciani, covers more than just wine, delving deeply into the overall health of those who consume alcoholic beverages. Included are extensive looks into whether and how gender or ethnicity might be factors; what roles exercise, stress and sleep might have, and how diet and nutrition play into the picture.
But the book's overall theme is that we all must take control of our lives and lifestyles to optimize our health and longevity. Insightful and incisive stuff, in other words.
And now for something semi-completely different: a nonfiction account of, as the subtitle puts it, "The Plot to Poison the World's Greatest Wine," with some fascinating history augmenting the contemporary drama. Maximillian Potter's "Shadows in the Vineyard" (Twelve, $27) is primarily about a bizarre, nefarious plan to extort big bucks from perhaps France's most revered winery, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (DRC) in Burgundy, by poisoning the vines that produce grapes for $2,000-plus bottles of wine.
But there's much more at play in this book, with Potter delving into several historical threads over three centuries that all tie, if sometimes tenuously, into DRC's history. It's also clear that Potter got caught in the mystical ties Burgundy holds for those of us who love it, as he often gushes about the people, places and wines.
That makes this a must-read for Burghounds and a strong recommendation for those who love wine, history or mysteries. Or all of the above.
Follow Bill Ward on Twitter: @billward4