The more you learn about wine, the more you realize how little you know.
And that’s completely OK. Aside from those seeking certification, there should be no destination. It’s all about savoring the ultimate lifelong-learning journey.
This year has brought us many books to edify and entertain us along the way. Some are broad, others narrowly focused. But all of these volumes are well suited for many an evening in a comfy-cozy chair, ideally with a glass of a favored fermented beverage.
The most comprehensive tome is actually an updated, revised version of a classic, “The World Atlas of Wine,” by Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson, in its eighth edition (Mitchell Beazley, $65). These two are arguably the best wine writers on the planet. They’ve beefed up every section with fresh material. (Yes, those who own previous editions should strongly consider ponying up for this one.)
The photography is gorgeous, the maps are illuminating and the writing is not only authoritative, but also graceful and incisive. That makes it ideal for enthusiasts of every stripe, from newbies to cork dorks.
A more casual approach guides a pair of other swell offerings. In “Wine Simple” by Aldo Sohm with Christine Muhlke (Clarkson Potter, $32.50). They fill four chapters — “What Is Wine, Anyway?,” “How to Drink,” “How to Evolve Your Palate” and “Wine & Food” — with boatloads of dandy tips, detailed lists and insightful asked-and-answered questions.
Charts such as “Wines With Bad Raps” (think Beaujolais and American chardonnay), blurbs on “How to Host a Wine Tasting” (i.e., same type of glass for everyone and no food until later) and roundups of underrecognized regions (think Galicia in Spain and Nahe in Germany) go beyond conventional wisdom. Great recommendations for specific wines, too.
Meanwhile, reading “Wine for Normal People,” by Elizabeth Schneider (Chronicle Books, $24.95) makes me wish I lived in the same city as the author so I could go to her classes. I actually have shared a glass with her on two occasions, and it’s great to see that her spirit and sharp-as-a-tack wisdom translate seamlessly to the written page.
Delving more deeply — and thus making this a recommendation more for fellow geekier sorts, Ian D’Agata studiously probes “Italy’s Native Wine Grape Terroirs” (University of California Press, $50). D’Agata’s engaging prose offers both clarity and approachability.
Not everyone might care which part of southeastern Sicily is a “grand cru” for the nero d’Avola grape or how garganega finds greater expression in one subregion because of higher gene activity in the grapes. But for those of us who do, this book is useful and offers stellar guidance on brands to seek out.
“Natural Wine for the People: What It Is, Where to Find It, How to Love It,” by Alice Feiring (Ten Speed Press, $18.99) is a lucid, accessible and occasionally droll text on the type of work being done in vineyards and cellars. With the recent opening of Bar Brava in Minneapolis (150 natural wines and counting), this book couldn’t be more timely.
Then again, all of the above volumes are “naturals” for wine aficionados.