There's nothing quite like sitting down with a fine drop and a good book, except maybe sitting down with a good book about fine drops.
It may have been a wet and dodgy year for wine but it's been a good year for wine books. The most compelling new book is undoubtedly Authentic Wine … Toward Natural and Sustainable Winemaking by Jamie Goode and Sam Harrop.
The authors ask what exactly ''natural'' wine is, then explore the many component parts of sustainable and ethical viticulture and winemaking. They look at areas such as organics and biodynamics, the chemical and physical manipulation of wine, wine faults, yeasts, alcohol levels and ripeness, carbon footprints, the so-called ''natural'' wine movement and, of course, terroir.
Buzz terms such as minerality and brettanomyces are dealt with in detail and the authors tackle big questions, such as whether terroir can only be expressed by ''natural'' winemaking combined with biodynamic or organic grape growing. And whether the addition of acid results in homogenous-tasting wines.
How valid is it to promote wine as having little or no added sulfur? How wild are wild yeasts? As scientist-cum-wine writer and winemaker, respectively, Goode and Harrop demystify the mumbo-jumbo and make complex technical information digestible. They don't readily swallow the ''touchy-feely'' arguments. They write sense and refrain from being too judgmental. This is an outstanding read.
The Sotheby's Wine Encyclopedia (fifth edition) by Tom Stevenson has sold 600,000 copies since the first edition in 1988 and is one of the two or three most essential wine reference books. It certainly ranks alongside the Oxford Companion to Wine and The World Atlas of Wine.
Weighing in at 2.75 kilograms, it's arguably better suited to an online format but its continuing publication is recognition of the fact that some people still want big wads of paper between two hard covers. Besides, the superb graphics and design would be lost on a screen.
Englishman Stevenson is a three-time winner of the Wine Writer of the Year award and his opinionated, highly personal style comes through clearly, despite the constraints of such a densely fact-packed tome. Some Australian entries are out of date, for example Adam Wynn still running Mountadam; Europe is more up to date. This is a great book but also a trap: every time I open it, I get lost, snap out of the trance an hour later and wonder where time went.
Wine, Terroir and Climate Change by John Gladstones is the keenly awaited follow-up to the author's previous masterwork, Viticulture and Environment (1992).
Known as the father of Margaret River, a Maurice O'Shea Award recipient and a leading voice in matters viticultural, Gladstones is a thorough scientist and a revered figure in the wine industry.
This is a dense, scientific tome loaded with wisdom about viticulture, soils, climate and related matters, including pointed opinions on biodynamics and climate change (he thinks the anthropogenic contribution to global warming is overstated).
This book is, frankly, best suited to those either with scientific training or a keen knowledge and interest in science. Others may find it soporific. If in doubt, first read Brian Croser's excellent synopsis on his website, tapanappawines.com.au.
Mastering Wine for the Asian Palate by Jeannie Cho Lee is a different take on the big, coffee-table-type wine book. It's a good introduction for wine tyros but also as a refresher for the well seasoned. Its big departure point is its cultural view. Lee is a South Korean-born Hong Kong resident and Asia's first Master of Wine.
Wine books and wine talk have always been Eurocentric and her intent is to put an Asian angle on wine, especially the language used to describe it.
Hence, dragon fruit, ginkgo nut, wolfberries, nori and dried bonito flakes appear in her tasting notes for the classic wines of the world, where hitherto blackberries and truffles did the job. It's an excellent and beautifully presented book.
A Vineyard in My Glass by Gerald Asher is a collection of 27 essays about wine regions - focusing mainly on Europe but also big on North America - written by one of the best senior wordsmiths practising in wine. Asher was American Gourmet magazine's wine editor for 30 years.
Many of the essays were first published years ago in magazines but they're still relevant and absorbing reads, underlining the timelessness of many great vineyards and regions.
For a good insight into the thoughts of one of our leading doctors cum winemakers, Bill Pannell (founder of both Moss Wood and Picardy) has written Once More unto the Vine.
And then there are wine guides: smaller books, rewritten and republished annually, full of tasting notes. They include: Jeremy Oliver's Australian Wine Annual 2012 ($29.95); Nick Stock's The Age/Sydney Morning Herald Good Wine Guide 2012 ($26.95); James Halliday's Australian Wine Companion 2012 ($36.95); James Halliday's 1001 Wines under $20 ($24.95); and Robert Geddes's Australian Wine Vintages 2012 ($34.95).
TOP BOOKS OF 2011
Authentic Wine … Toward Natural and Sustainable Winemaking
By Jamie Goode and Sam Harrop, University of California Press, $39.95.
The Sotheby's Wine Encyclopedia, 5th Edition
By Tom Stevenson, Dorling Kindersley, $69.95.
Wine, Terroir and Climate Change
By John Gladstones, Wakefield Press, $59.95.
Mastering Wine for the Asian Palate
By Jeannie Cho Lee, Asset Publishing & Research Ltd. It is hard to obtain but available from Crow Books, Perth, for $89.99 (postage to eastern states $7.50) or Amazon where it's $US77.
A Vineyard in My Glass
By Gerald Asher, University of California Press, $39.95.
Once More unto the Vine
By William Pannell, Rocket Frog Books. $30 from picardy.com.au.