November 03, 2004

Wine books sparkle like champagne

Finding a good book about wine can be tough. Wine is alive, ever-changing, morphing with age, temperature and undefinables that might be best described as moods.

It's simply hard to write about wine. The subjectivity of flavor only complicates the task: Not only do tastes differ, but perceptions change according to variables as obvious as the food next to the wine and as obscure as the color of the walls. (I made up that last one, but it often seems entirely possible.)As soon as you think you know a wine, it might surprise you in the next sip. Wine resists the permanency of words and begs not to be boxed in. Jam it into a box anyway, and all too often the result is dry, uninspiring text. To me, a great book about wine is like a great wine itself - sturdy and lasting, thought-provoking in its beauty. All the books listed here make learning about wine as enjoyable as drinking a glass:

"Uncorked : The Science of Champagne" by GĂ©rard Liger-Belair (2004, $19.95)

How many bubbles are there in a glass of champagne? Why do those bubbles rise in orderly, fine lines like strands of miniature pearls? What would happen if you drank champagne on the moon? Liger-Belair, a physicist inspired to study bubbles by a brainstorm over a beer, delves into a champagne flute with a curiosity as strong as his microscope. The result is a book as informative as it is engaging, boosted by the gorgeous, up-close photos of bubbles in motion.

"Wine Report 2005,"
by Tom Stevenson ($15)

This is for all you hard-core wine geeks who want to know what's hot now in the wine world from California to Thailand and aren't put off by the fact that you won't be able to find all the wines in the U.S. now (or maybe ever). Stevenson, a U.K.-based writer, gathered an array of experts and asked them to provide an insider's view of their country of expertise. Their pithy, opinionated replies skip over the basics and drive straight into the heart of the country's wine industry, pointing out strengths, as well as weaknesses, and highlighting the names to look for in wines.

"Planet Wine: A Grape-by-Grape Visual Guide to the Contemporary Wine World," by Stuart Pigott (2004, $29.95)

"Planet Wine" is a primer that covers the basics. Unlike most primers, it doesn't assume beginners should stick with the basics like chardonnay and merlot. Pigott freely roams the world for intriguing wines - like Hungary's crisp furmint and Argentina's black malbec - from small, independent producers that make wine with an eye toward capturing terroir, the particular flavor of a place. His energetic, edgy prose and the super-saturated photos make it a quick, inviting read that lets readers, as Pigott proposes, "take a slurp to a far-away place."

"Vino Italiano Buying Guide: The Ultimate Quick Reference to the Great Wines of Italy," by Joseph Bastianich and David Lynch (2004, $13.95)

This might just be the only book on Italian wine you need. Authors Bastianich and Lynch pack the slim volume with the knowledge they've acquired from working at the popular Babbo in New York, as well as years of studying Italian wines. The meat of the book is an alphabetical index of producers that gives the essentials: who they are, what they make and how to find them. The garnishes are exhaustive appendices of appellations and grapes. Best of all, the entire package is flavored by lively, personal writing that makes it a pleasure to flip through again and again.

"Inspiring Thirst: Vintage Selections from the Kermit Lynch Wine Brochure" (2004, $40)

Kermit Lynch was one of the first Americans to bring the wines of Southern France to the U.S. back in the early 1970s. People, especially the French, thought he was a little nuts then, but the quality of his wines have given his Berkeley, Calif., store, Kermit Lynch Wine Merchants, a cult-like following. Lynch writes newsletters about wines, the people who make them and the places they grow, with ease, wit and an obvious relish and respect. The best parts are the glimpses he shares with us of the vintners he works with. With stories, photos and some recipes, it can feel as intimate as being invited in for a drink. And in that way, the book does what the title proposes: inspires thirst, a healthy thirst for not just wine, but the knowledge of the people and places behind it.

"North American Pinot Noir,"
by John Winthrop Haeger (2004, $34.95)

Those who've been bewitched by pinot noir will be thrilled to find a thick new volume devoted exclusively to the heartbreak grape in America. After years of intense research driven by love for the wines it makes, Haeger has catalogued pinot noir vineyards, producers, winemaking techniques, and more. Not only is the book a terrific reference, but Haeger writes about pinot noir like he wants a glass right now. That sort of passion might even turn the heads of American pinot skeptics.

This article originally appeared in the Denver Post.

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