Oz Clarke brings a lot to the table in his new wine book

Interesting and attractive books about wine and related topics haven’t been in plentiful supply this year, so when a book appears such as Oz Clarke’s “Let Me Tell You About Wine,” it’s worth more than a note.

Clarke has an easy-reading, humanistic approach to wine writing, breaking down topics and ideas to levels anyone can understand without needing a viniculture degree.

At the same time, he’s sophisticated enough (his list of writing awards literally spans the wine world) to keep his writing sharp enough to enlighten and entertain even more-experienced readers and wine travelers.

Even the title of his latest work, “Let Me Tell You About Wine,” reflects Clarke’s desire to share his knowledge, not inflict it as is all too common with other writers and wine critics.

This well-illustrated book — the many stunning photos remind you more of a travelogue than a wine book — breaks down the basics of selecting and savoring wine into easy-to-follow categories, including allowing readers to select what flavors they prefers and then letting Clarke lead them to those type of wines.

Plus, using Clarke’s red wine and white wine wheels, which have wines arranged according to weight and flavors, a wine lover can sort through the immense number of available choices to find the right wine to suit his or her palate.

There’s a section on wine grape varietals, both major and lesser-known varietals, and their particular characteristics, highlighting how these grapes show different characteristics depending on where they are grown.

Throughout the book are numerous and fascinating sidebars on things such as wine terms (what qualifies as an old vine and what does it mean to the finished wine?); Clarke’s tips to buying wine; and why white wine comes from red grapes (hint: It has to do with how long the juice and the grape skins are in contact) that enliven the reading and are enough for a book in themselves.

There also is a section devoted to wine-producing countries and the regions therein, with valuable insights Clarke has gleaned from years of travel through these areas. I particularly enjoyed his entries on Italy, a country about which I’m always interested in learning more, and Clarke doesn’t disappoint.

In the part about southern Italy, Clarke writes that the wines are “stuffed with flavour (sic), unrestrained and slightly wild. They couldn’t taste more Italian if they tried.”

Clarke also recently published his “Pocket Wine Guide 2011” ($14.95) that offers updated information on recent and not-so-recent vintages, recommendations, wine facts and more than 60 illustrations of maps, labels and bottles.

Pocket wine guides such as Clarke’s are perfect for researching wines and continuing that ongoing wine education. And they make great stocking stuffers, too.

Other wine books I recommend this holiday season include “Matt Kramer on Wine: A Matchless Collection of Columns, Essays, and Observations by America’s Most Original and Lucid Wine Writer” (2010, Sterling Epicure, $20),  which I reviewed in this space earlier this fall, and “Reading Between the Wines” by Terry Theise (University of California Press, $25).

Wine importer Theise is known and respected for his outspoken opinions and wide-ranging viewpoints of all things wine as well as being one of the leading importers of wines from Germany, Austria and Champagne.

To say his readership approaches a cult following (a good cult) might not be too much of a exaggeration. His much-read essays in the catalogs published annually by Michael Skurnik Wines, the company that imports Terry Theise Selections, are savored not only for the their content but also for their insight.

Describing his first serious experiences with wine (or perhaps better to say his first experiences with serious wine), Theise writes, “Wine, I discovered, could indeed be a thing of beauty. It could make you feel. It was endlessly changeable, and it played ever-wonderful variations on its themes. ... What was going on here?”

In this book, as well as his other writings, Theise shares the continuing adventure of discovering “What’s going on here?”

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