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Wine books to brighten the holidays

By Dave Buchanan

With less than two weeks to go before The Big Day and the panic button staring at you right there, it’s still not too late to find the right gift for the wine lover on your list. But careful: How many reindeer bottle closures and cork Christmas trees does a person really need?

For those who can’t resist buying someone a Christmas wine, I suggest that unless you know that person really well, it might be wiser to offer a gift certificate (tucked into a decent wine glass) to the local well-stocked liquor store.

One personal Christmas favorite is giving and receiving wine-related books, which are plentiful this year. That plethora means you'll have to do some research (and some fast reading) to find the gems that, like a good wine, will last for years.

Two books that made an impression this year are Natalie MacLean’s “Unquenchable! A Tipsy Quest for the World’s Best Bargain Wines” (Perigee Books, 2011, $9.99) and Eric Asimov’s ”How to Love Wine: A Memoir and Manifesto” (Williams Morris, 2012, $13.98).

MacLean’s most-recent book follows her highly praised “Red, White and Drunk All Over: a Wine-Soaked Journey from Grape to Glass,” in which she recounts visiting grape growers from Burgundy to Sonoma Valley and offers insights to wines and the personalities behind the wines.

In "Unquenchable," MacLean continues the bright, friendly manner that we’ve long enjoyed on her blog and website and showcases Natalie MacLean doing what she does best: Hitting the wine trails to find very drinkable wines at affordable prices.

But tthis is more than simply a travelogue – “Unquenchable” offers us insights to her travels and great discoveries and underscores her role as an engaging and witty writer who entertains as much as she educates.

Reading this book is a fun tag-along on MacLean's never-ending search for the world’s best value wines while torpedoing those price-equals-quality arguments.

I would guess every reader of wine literature knows of Eric Asimov, the talented writer and chief wine critic for the New York Times.

His book “How to Love Wine” (also available, as are MacLean's books, as an e-book through Amazon) is written in the same conversant and easily readable manner as his immensely popular blog and column entries for the Times.

Asimov relates how it was on an early trip to Europe (as it was for most of us) where he first learned of a wine culture in which wine was part of and essential to daily cuisine. He notes that while wine has gained popularity in the United States (“...we are now living in the greatest time in history to love wine,” he writes), it simultaneously weighs on our generation.

He rightly posits that although the United States “has become the largest single consumer of wine on the planet, ... what’s missing in many people’s experience of wine is a simple sense of ease.”He follows: “Instead of a joy, for many people wine has become a burden.”

In this memoir-as-manifesto, which has received numerous accolades from other wine writers, Asimov offers thoughtful reasoning as to how to overcome these fears and put yourself at ease in a world of wine.

As an example, in one entertaining chapter Asimov rails against what he calls the “tyranny of tasting notes,” which he once called “comically over-specific efforts to capture aromas and flavors in a phrase.”

“The primary purpose of wine,” he writes, is “to provide pleasure and refreshment.”

This splendid book offers plenty of both.

Other suggested titles (all prices are e-version):

– “Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book 2013” ($10) – One of the best of the pocket-sized guides;

“Vino Italiano: The Regional Wines of Italy” by Joseph Bastianich and David Lynch ($13) – A bit dated (pub. 2005) but still an excellent reference;

“Wine Wars: The Curse of the Blue Nun, The Miracle of Two Buck Chuck and the Revenge of the Terroirists” by Mike Veseth ($10).

COMMENTS

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Every little thing about wine is essential for one who really likes this art… Very insignificant things to most people make all the difference between a delicious wine and a fair one… Finding the right books is, actually, a very hard task, but when you find one you better keep in under key! I even got a security system with proximity card unlock system to protects the very valuable wines and accessories I have gathered over the years!

Not many people know to appreciate a good wife or even tell a good one from a bad one… I have a good friend working for a Annapolis real estate agency who know everything there is to know about wines.. he’s such a bin fan of this drink he even bought a house with a huge vineyard…

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