There are hundreds of wine books published every year, and those are just the ones rehashing Parker numbers. "Parker's Buying Guide", "Parker's Guide to the Best Wines in the World", "Parker's Almanac of Wine", "Parker's Encyclopedia of Wine", "Parker's Guide to Composting Parker Guides." The guy is dead and still manages to publish more books than L. Ron Hubbard. With Christmas just around the corner, your HoseMaster has sifted through hundreds of titles and come up with the best wine books of 2009, the perfect stocking stuffers for the wine lover in your life.
Wine Enthusiast's Big Book of Numbers
Editors of Wine Enthusiast
Here is a book filled with surprises. For example, even the cover alone has a major surprise--did you even know Wine Enthusiast had editors? Wow. That's really surprising. This book belongs on every wine lover's shelf. It clearly and lucidly explains every number in the 100 Point Scale, what it means, how it's arrived at and how much money it generates. Here's an excerpt from the number 90:
"90 is a number slightly less than 91 (see next chapter) but far, far larger than 89 (see previous chapter "Bend Over and Take an 89"). It is, however, the least important number in the 90's, and, as such, is often used as a token, a pat on the back for a particularly generous winery (see Appendix entry "How the Top 100 Wines are Chosen"), or as simple hyperbole for a cheap wine that, were it $40 instead of $10, would rate an 87 (see the chapter "Another number that don't mean crap).
I returned to this thoughtful book over and over as I encountered scores I was unfamiliar with. Did you know that 92 actually exists as a score? I don't think I'd ever seen it before. And the chapter on 100 is particularly poignant as it relates the tragic story of 99 (not the agent on "Get Smart") and how its feelings of failure at never achieving three-digithood ended in suicide. There's even a riveting chapter on the prevalence of dyslexia among professional wine critics which explains why so many 89 point wines end up as 98. Highly recommended.
Yarrow Minded Narrow
In a nod to his loyal readers of Vinography, whom he recognizes may be several Brix shy of ripe, Alder Yarrow has written a book in the style of Dr. Seuss that uses no more than fifty different words to explore the wineries of Northern California. This is a lively and simpleminded romp through the vanity wineries of Napa Valley and points beyond. It's Alder, so you know the premise of every winery profile--a brief, sycophantic, press release biography of the winery's owner followed by a brief description of his dream of becoming yet another producer of 200 cases of overpriced wine, and then Alder's glowing review of aforementioned wines, told from his perspective of several years of wine knowledge. But here he's cleverly encapsulated those stories in words even his regular followers can understand. Here's a bit of his profile of Kosta Browne:
Two guys from John Ash
Got their mitts on some cash.
Is the world's oldest job
And it wasn't that long
Before high numbers from Bob.
It's a place built on Pinots that eliminate frowns
And encourages bloggers to make noses Brownes.
So when Kosta and Browne
Then achieved great reknown
Just two guys that slung hash
Sold their names for big cash.
You can spread ash for cash and they call it pornography
California's Real Wine Countries--From Temecula to Suisun Valley
Wine country guides to Napa Valley and Sonoma County and Paso Robles, ad nauseum, have been done to death. Sure, sure, these are where many of California's best wines come from, but what about all the other places wine is produced in the state? Great wine is highly overpublicized, but the ocean of mediocrity out there gets scant attention. Until now. This lovely coffee table book takes us on a tour of the "real" wine countries of California, the places where it isn't so damned easy to make good wine, where it takes imagination and effort to pretend the wines are palatable--Temecula, Suisun Valley, Lodi, Malibu Mountains... Plonk, longtime blogger and the country's first tastebud transplant donor, provides an overview of these often neglected, but rarely unintentionally, appellations. Here's his take on Lodi:
"What makes the wine so good is the oppressive heat. Where other regions have to work hard to reach 29 degrees Brix, in Lodi that's called "two weeks to harvest." It's a region with many very old vineyards--well, at least they look that way. Sort of like beach bums who don't use sunblock. What George Hamilton is to skin cancer, Lodi is to grape vines."
And I admire the way Plonk is able to spend an entire day tasting in Temecula and not question the existence of God. I wish he'd spent a little more time rating the wines, however, and that he didn't keep repeating the same tasting note over and over again:
"What is this shit?"
These are my top 3 wine books of 2009. Here are a few more titles that you may want to look into, these are the books that just narrowly missed recommendation.
Big, Bloated and Reeking of Cigar: The Marvin Shanken Story
Dead Guys Don't Spit--Ratings from Hell
Robert Mondavi and Robert Parker
Unexplored Back Roads of California Winemakers