Wine Across America:

A Photographic Road Trip

By Charles O’Rear

The book's mission is to illustrate, through photography, wineries in all 50 States. It is interesting to see wineries in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Colorado. The photos are indeed lovely, but feature people rather than photos of wineries. It would have been cool to see photos of wineries in Alaska and Hawaii.

The text is minimal, as would be expected in a coffee table-style book. However, it does offer interesting tidbits. What I don’t like is the lack of depth. It is cool to see bottles of wine from all 50 states, but, again, it would also have been nice to see some winery photos (at least one from each of the 50 States). The only real reference use this book will get is from the two pages of wine facts which notes the first wineries in each State (file under Who Cares) and the predominant varietals (quite worthwhile). Otherwise, it’s likely to only get coffee table flipwear.

4000 Champagnes

by Richard Juhlin

(Third Edition – previous titles were 2000 Champagnes and 3000 Champagnes)

Perhaps the world’s great Champagne wine fanatic, Richard Juhlin, shares his 4000+ tasting notes in this heavy book. If you want to seriously explore the wines of the Champagne region, this is the book for you. From food pairings to how Champagne is made, much is explained.

This is a very, very good book and yet it’s not great. Is it because Juhlin dismisses the rest of the world’s sparkling wines? Or that his scores seem wacky at times (and not just at odds with my own)? He recommends buying Champagne direct from the producer – next-to-impossible if you live in the US. Further, there’s no chapter on, let’s say, Insider’s Knowledge – such as how the big houses make different Champagnes for the US (sweetest), UK (driest), and France (in-between). Still for Champagne lover's it's a weighty addition to their wine reference library.

The California Directory of Fine Wineries, Third Edition

By Marty Olmstead, Photography by Robert Holmes

In essence, a coffee-table book which is likely to be found in finer Napa Valley hotel rooms for their guests to peruse. Robert Holmes’ photographs are the best part and make it a very beautiful book.

Each winery gets a full page photo along with a facing page of text, small photos and essentials for visits to their tasting room. There are some nice details here.

Most of the wineries covered are “tourist wineries” with the emphasis on fancy tasting rooms rather than wineries favored by enthusiasts. And the text, well, some of it reads like it’s straight out of a winery Press Release: “Today the Duncan family sustains the commitment to excellence that has long been a hallmark of Silver Oak Cellars." You get the idea.

Oldman’s Guide to Outsmarting Wine

By Mark Oldman

Published in 2004, I stumbled upon this book at a Sonoma winery a year or so ago. Somehow it had escaped my radar.

What it is, is a 350+ page wine book that will actually increase the wine knowledge of a wine novice – getting such a person to the next level. (Unlike, say, a subscription the Wine Spectator – that teaches that only wine scores are important.) There are a lot of wine books for novices, but this one actually delivers useful advice and knowledge in a pleasing, inviting manner.

My favorite parts of the book are all of the little quotes and recommendations from people in the food and wine business.

Overall, this book is a definite buy. The one category I was not happy with was quite a few of Mr. Oldman’s personal wine recommendations. This is because he mentions well-known, big producers too often – which is great if the only place you buy wine from is a grocery store, and/or only drink wine at chain restaurants. But he does point you to ten excellent importers (I agree with most of his list), and that’s key knowledge for wine novices.

Wine Style:

Using your Senses to Explore and Enjoy Wine 

by Mary Ewing-Mulligan & Ed McCarthy

I wanted to like this book, but reading it right after the Oldman's Guide (above), it was just, er, lacking in usefulness and has too much focus on industrial wines.

Inspiring Thirst: Vintage Selections from The Kermit Lynch Wine Brochure

by Kermit Lynch, Gail Skoff (Photographer)

This book is almost entirely composed of the text and pictures from Kermit Lynch's consumer monthly wine catalog, from 1974 to 2003. So, in some sense, it's really a small catalog-history of country-artisan French wine over a 30-year period.

Although there are a few updates and comments, I wished there were quite a few more of these. Still, there are all sorts of featurettes and photos on wineries whose name you may recognize - now you will remember them.

You can read this at your leisure; just start at the beginning. It definitely belongs in my small wine book library.

Noble Rot: A Bordeaux Wine Revolution

by William Echikson

Unlike The Accidental Connisseur, this book is well worth reading for a behind-the-scenes look at Bordeaux. It talks about the problems with the French wine industry, and interviews several high-profile wine-industry people in Bordeaux.

The Accidental Connoisseur: An Irreverent Journey Through the Wine World

by Lawrence Osborne 

Pros: You may pick up one or two pieces of trivia to throw out at a boring cocktail party.

Cons: This book has had critics raving over it – can’t figure out why. The title is misleading. This guy is not a Connoisseur – he’s a guy who made a few calls and has a few connections (like having lunch with Mondavi)… why he can’t even manage to get the editors to spell Rochioli right. 

The book is tedious and tiresome to read. You keep looking for the point. Note, there is none. It’s a selection of commentaries or diary-style entries from a guy who has done some food and wine traveling. He’s not an exceptionally interesting personality and so his writing is not that interesting to read. You’ll get to the end of the Accidental Connoisseur and realize that it was all a big accident (buying it and reading it).

Wine Book Reviews

Updated June, 2008 - Jack

The Billionaire’s Vinegar: The Mystery of the World's Most Expensive Bottle of Wine

by Benjamin Wallace 

Okay, so I had no idea that the Jefferson bottle fraud thing had been going on for so long, and it was quite interesting to read so many of the details. The Billionaire’s Vinegar is a quick read, but, it wasn’t that fun to read. For example, the book ends without an epilogue and overall the writing style is just a bit dry for me. I also think the title is a poor choice.

Still, I can recommend this book; if the subject matter interests you (i.e., the selling of Bordeaux purchased by “Th.J.” (Thomas Jefferson)). After reading it, if you weren’t certain if there was a decent amount of fraud in high end wine auctions, you’ll not be uncertain anymore.

The House of Mondavi: The Rise and Fall of an American Wine Dynasty 

by Julia Flynn Siler

Here’s a book that I really wasn’t interested in, and ended up finding quite compelling. It’s the happy and sad story of the very dysfunctional Mondavi family. The book is long, but the story is engaging and well-written. At almost 400 pages, it’s a serious investment in time; but it would be great for reading on an airplane. The House of Mondavi is worth your time. I will watch for books by Ms. Siler in the future. Recommended.


Passion on the Vine: A Memoir of Food, Wine, and Family in the Heart of Italy 

by Sergio Esposito 

A quick read, Passion on the Vine recounts some of the travels and life story of Sergio Esposito, proprietor of (perhaps) the best Italian wine store in the U.S.

This book is fun at times and three chapters were very enjoyable (incl. Movia and Fiorano), but the book seems short. There’s too much “What We Ate That Day” that is really not at all interesting to read about. Overall, this book is worth reading but a bit of a let-down. Next time, Sergio, let your hair down and let loose.

A Moveable Thirst: Tales and Tastes from a Season in Napa Wine Country 

by Rick Kushman and Hank Beal


The Great: A really great Napa wine country visitor's guide featuring in-depth profiles to 141 Napa Valley tasting rooms. Wineries are profiled in an innovative and useful way: atmosphere, service, tasting tools, intangibles, wine availability, picnic prospects, cost, directions, and recommendations. As this is a new release, its information and hours are up-to-date. It's also a pretty lightweight paperback. 


Not So Great: It doesn’t cover Sonoma, just Napa. The first part of this book is a diary-style journal of the author’s trips to wine country - which, makes for some light reading, with the occasional smile, but it never gets seriously fun or interesting. Still, this book is better than I expected and I can recommend it to the casual wine country visitor/explorer.

Italian Wines 2007

by Gambero Rosso

Every year I purchase Italian Wines and it’s the one wine book that I refer to the most. I even look at previous editions when looking up a wine being auctioned, so even though it’s an annual edition, I find it an essential addition to my wine reference library.

Pros: Very comprehensive – most every winery I look up is in there, and usually the wine I’m looking for is as well. The 2007 edition covers 2200 wineries. Italian Wine uses a 0 to 3 glass rating scale (the zeros never get mentioned). What is great is that regions like Alto Adige are given their due rather than the book being a lovefest for Tuscany or Piedmonte.

Cons: There are still some important wineries not in the book (such as, in 2007, Vodopivec and Paolo Bea). The review of each wine is often too short, and doesn’t clue you in on whether it should be drunk soon or needs aging. There’s also this strange bit of snarkiness against organic and biodynamic wines (see the first paragraph of the Kuenhof page). Plus, some wineries make many different wines (such as San Michelle Appiano) and need more than a half page, but never get such; meaning good wines are missing because the winery makes more wines than other wineries. Yet some minor wineries get an entire half page.

Improvements Needed: You have to use the Index at the back because the book is organized by region and then by town(!). This is just so unhelpful! I would prefer that it was sorted by winery name. Meanwhile, the Index is the one thing that never improves; you never know for sure where the winery will be listed in the Index – under first name, last name, or ? Also in the Index, the page# is not right next to the winery name, (there are no leading dots or divisions every five, or anything to make it easier for you) making it very hard to navigate.

Summation: Needs to evolve into an online database.

The 2008 Edition is out now


The Wines of France:

The Essential Guide for Savvy Shoppers

By Jacqueline Friedrich

Jacqueline Friedrich is the author who wrote the wonderful, now classic, A Wine and Food Guide to the Loire. You may also have enjoyed her articles in the New York Times Travel section. Her new work is a portable $20 trade paperback guide book to French wineries. It is designed for shopping for French wines or dining in French restaurants (esp. in France).

The book is organized (including handy tabs!) into wine regions of France. That’s good. Within each section, wineries, appellations, and grape varietals are jumbled together, alphabetically. I believe the thinking here was that a wine novice won’t necessarily know what’s what, and so it would help them most if the book was organized this way. And, sometimes this is helpful. But, too often you’ll need to check the index to find what you’re looking for because, for example, Pascal Cotat is listed on page 232 and François Cotat (cousin who’s winery is adjacent, shares same vineyards, etc., etc.) is on page 257 (listed under Sancerre rather than alphabetically like Pascal). To someone like me, this is maddening! Yet, I think they ended up doing this so that they could include a lot more wineries – which, is really what’s most important. All of the wineries listed are ones the author is willing to drink a glass of. Starred wineries are ones she really likes.

I like that Bordeaux doesn’t dominate the book and that many very good but obscure producers are mentioned – and naming her favorites from these wineries. Still, I think it’s very strange that Vincent Girardin is not in the book, one of the most popular Burgundy negociants; nor Magnien, and esp., how can Perrot-Minot not be here - one of the very best?

Overall, I recommend this book, but be advised that it takes an extra bit of effort to get the most out of it.

Parker’s Wine Buyer’s Guide, 6th Edition

by Robert M. Parker, Jr. with Pierre-Antoine Rovani

The best part, and the part to read when you first acquire this book is the 40-page introduction at the front of the book, followed by the introductions to each section of the book (beginning with Alsace). They’re not just well-written, but contain the right information and the right amount of information on most of the wine regions covered in the book.

The rest of the book is devoted to tasting notes on more than 8000 wines from 3000 plus producers that originally appeared in Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate publication. Some of these notes and thoughts have been updated, too. Parker's passions are Bordeaux and the Rhone, and is regarded as the world’s fore-most authority on these wine regions; he has stated that more than 90% of his cellar is France wines.

Some lesser regions/appellations get little space but this is really because the book is already more than 1600 pages. (Where's a supplement?) 

A new edition is published about every 3 years and always seem to be worth purchasing.

The New Wine Lover's Companion

by Ron Herbst, Sharon Tyler Herbst

Need to know what varietal is dominant in Priorat red wine? This is the book for you. We once used this book regularly when we kept our own wine cellar database. It’s paperback and portable and very, very informative.

The second part of this book, appendices, is a bit disappointing to me because there are quite a few grape varietals and appellations missing. I guess they can't include everything.

Joanne's comments: "We've referred to this book and its previous edition more than any other wine book. The reason, it’s sort of a real-world dictionary for wine. You have a bottle of some obscure wine that says Corse on it. So what grape(s) are likely to be in this wine? This book has it."

Italian Wines 2005
by Gambero Rosso
Published every year (in Italian and months later, in English), they cover more than 2000 producers and 14,000 wines in the 2005 edition.

The key part of this book is the two indexes in the back of the book. Without them, you’d never find anything you’re looking for. At this point, I seem to be able to find every previous year released Italian wine I’m looking up.

Italian Wines 2005 is a good book, but not a great book. For one, they don’t go into enough detail on the best 10% or so of the wines or wineries. Any very good (or better) Italian winery that makes quite a few different wines gets a bit cheated here; they still only get one half page.

Every wine is also rated one a 0-3 glass scale, based upon other wines made from the same grape(s) in Italy. So, you can’t compare a 3-glass Nebbiolo-based wine to a 3-glass Syrah, for example. The number of wines getting 3-glasses goes up every year; in 1998 (the first English edition), 117 wines got the Three Glass Award – in 2005 264 wines. The wines are rated by 30 panels of 5 judges each. So, like all ratings, look at them as an indication of quality rather than being sure you’ll like them.