RPM’s Highly Idiosyncratic Annotated Wine Bibliography
There are thousands of books on wine, many of which are even good. I think everyone who is interested in wine as the subject of some study has his or her own favorites, and no two winos would be likely to come up with the same list of wine books he or she considers essential to a wine education. And, perhaps they would not even agree on what a wine education is. I’ve been reading about wine almost as long as I can remember reading – if only sneaking peeks at things like old Wines and Vines magazines and other things around my grandfather’s house in San Francisco. It was always interesting. I wish I had my grandfather’s and great grandfather’s wine libraries, but they’re long gone who knows where. I think Mario has a few things our great grandfather wrote on wine, I only have a few newspaper articles and pamphlets. None of my other cousins own up to having any of it.
So, what is a wine education? From books, I mean – after all, this is all ancillary to the experience of drinking wine! To me, it includes books and articles about tasting and appreciating wine, books and articles about the history of wine, books and articles about making wine, books and articles about viticulture, and books and articles about the business of selling wine.
Of course, for those of us who aren’t really in the business, books and articles about wine tasting and appreciation, and perhaps about wine history are our focus. What follows is a short, almost abbreviated (believe me, it is), and highly idiosyncratic, list of books and periodicals on various aspects of wine that I have enjoyed or found useful over the years. Some of the books fit into more than one category, and most of these books are not the current things you’ll find touted. It’s a bit of a library assembled over more than 40 years, and it encompasses almost every level of knowledge (except the most technical).
Tasting and Appreciation (mostly appreciation, mostly California)
Amerine, Maynard .A. and Singleton, Vernon.: Wine: An Introduction. 2nd ed. Berkeley, CA: University of California Pess (“UC”) 1977. Basic book, dated but still useful. I cut my teeth on the original 1965 edition, but it got lost in a move somewhere along the line.
Muscatine, Doris, Amerine, M.A., Thompson B, eds. The University of California- Sotheby Book of California Wine. Berkeley, CA UC 1984. A wonderful coffee-table-sized collection of articles written for this book by 44 leading authorities. Again, this is not current, but it is indispensible for the serious student in almost every area of a wine education, at least concerning California wine. In preparing my notes I had occasion to revisit this, and am amazed how good it is.
Thompson, Bob. The Pocket Encyclopedia of California Wine. New York. Simon & Schuster 1980, rev. ed. 1985. I like Thompson and think of him as perhaps the best writer on California Wine of the last quarter of the 20th century. I recommend several of his books, as you’ll see. This was intended as a companion to the Hugh Johnson pocket book, one of several for many regions of the world published in the ‘80s, few of which even saw a second edition. It’s a pity, because this was quite good in the same way Johnson’s book was and is.
Thompson, Bob and Johnson, Hugh. The California Wine Book. New York. William Morrow & Co. 1976. A now-old essential. There is nothing even close to as good as this on the better wines of California from the end of Prohibition through the time of its completion in late 1975. Some history, but, really it’s now most useful for a snapshot of the best writers’ understanding of the wines as the first real fruits of the Wine Renaissance in California began to mature.
Thompson, Bob. Notes on a California Cellarbook: Reflections on Memorable Wines. New York. Beech Tree Books/William Morrow. 1988. You want tasting notes on California Wines? None better available, though they’re limited by the date of publication. While you probably won’t get to drink many (any?) of these wines, as you develop your palate and come to know Thompson’s style, you can get some idea of how wines you’re currently drinking and/or evaluating compare to the wines Bob describes, and their life cycles. Perhaps because I overlap Thompson’s tasting period, and because my ideas about the life cycle of traditionally made California Cabernet Sauvignon are consistent with his, I have always found his notes extremely valuable (even when I don’t agree) in considering the aging potential of wines. Good notes, from someone you trust – like Thompson for me – are almost an addition to your own taste memory.
Tasting and Appreciation (mostly appreciation, mostly elsewhere)
Coates, Clive. The Wines of Bordeaux. Berkeley. UC. 2004. One of the best books on Bordeaux. Much better than Parker or Peppercorn (whose reputation was tarnished because he did not think highly of the 1982s, but who was really pretty good), this is a book every serious drinker of claret should have.
Coates. Clive. The Wines of Burgundy. Berkeley. UC 2008. The most up to date serious book on Burgundy. If you like Pinot Noir, you should get this and drink deep of his knowledge.
Hanson, Anthony. Burgundy. London. Faber and Faber. 1982. A controversial book at the time, I think Hanson was pretty good.
Johnson, Hugh. Wine. New York. Simon & Schuster. 1966. This is the first American edition. Hugh is one of the best, and one who has appreciated California wine more and longer than many English wine writers. I wouldn’t look for this oldie, but I’d get the latest edition of his Wine Companion (2003).
Johnson, Hugh. Pocket Wine Book 2008. London. Mitchell Beazley. 2008. This has been published in annual editions since 1977. It’s small and handy, and remarkably useful, though hardly an in-depth book for study. Used to be called the Pocket Encyclopedia of Wine, which was pretty accurate. There’s nothing like it that his endured. I get the current one every year (someone always stuffs my Christmas stocking with one…) and have kept most of the old ones, which make an interesting set of references to changing reputations and tastes.
Livingstone-Learmonth, J. and Master, M.C.H., The Wines of the Rhone. London. Faber and Faber. 1983 (rev. ed). This was another in the generally good Faber series on wine published in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.
[There is a newer Livingstone-Learmonth book on Rhone wines that should definitely supplement and probably replace the above, this time with well known importer Kermit Lynch: The Wines of the Northern Rhone. Berkeley. UC. 2005. I don't have this yet, but will probably look into it in the Fall]
Peppercorn, David. Bordeaux. London. Faber and Faber. 1982. Despite Peppercorn’s having been dumped by the public for Parker, this is a good book.
Robertson, George. Port. London. Faber and Faber. 1982 (rev. ed). Really very good book on port, perhaps the best of the Faber books on wine.
Sainstsbury, George. Notes on a Cellar-Book. London. Macmillan 1963 (with Andrew Graham preface – originally 1920). This is the grandfather of all great wine writing, and a book that every enophile should own and read this both for the historical background it contains, and the broad and wise education in wine generally you can glean from it. Prof. Saintsbury has generally been acknowledged as one of the greatest writers on wine ever. I dip into it from time to time and always come away glad I did. Saintsbury and Shand (see below) help form the knowledge bridge between the 19th century wines and those of our own day, and are essential to understanding the evolution of wine style – though some of that has to be teased out, I’ll admit.
Tasting and Appreciation (mostly formal tasting)
Amerine, Maynard A. and Roessler, Edward B. Wines: Their Sensory Evaluation. New York. W.H. Freeman & Co. revised & enlarged ed. 1983. Better than the original 1976 edition. I’ve touted this on the forums before. Anyone who tastes seriously should read this book carefully more than once. The first five chapters and the Glossary are not especially technical (though much of the book is). This is truly pioneering work and has advanced the state of the art in being able to describe and talk about wines in a way that is consistent and communicates usable information, not purely subjective descriptions. This book explains the various Davis scorecards and their tasting methods. The ultimate antidote to Parker’s descriptions.
Broadbent, Michael. The Complete Guide to Wine Tasting and Wine Cellars. New York. Simon & Schuster 1984. (Revised from his 1968 Wine Tasting and his 1982 Michael Broadbent’s Pocket Guide to Wine Tasting.) An English view. This was given to me as a gift, but I found it reasonably useful. I like the illustrations (pictures?) of various selected wines showing color variation in the glass as young and older wines. I’ve never seen anything like it, and have used it as a teaching tool.
Peynaud, Emile. The Taste of Wine: The Art and Science of Wine Appreciation. New York. J. Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2nd ed.1996 (English translation by Michael Schuster of French original). This is the French counterpart to the Amerine & Roessler, newer, and very good. This volume, too, should be on every serious taster’s shelf, and be read more than once.
History of Wine
This encompasses some books that were intended as histories and, more, books that were topical, appreciation books and buying guides at the time they were issued, but are now of only historical interest. I wouldn’t run out and buy many of them, but if you seem them in a used bookstore, or in a library, they may well be worth your time to look at. You could also consider some of the books in the appreciation section as historical.
Bancroft Library Oral History Series. I would also highly recommend that those who are interested in the ins and outs of California wine and hearing it from the horses’ mouths, as it were, check out the University of California’s Bancroft Library Oral History series. We’ve linked some of them on the RPM Notes page of the website. There are many more. Google “wine oral history”, or go to http://bancroft.berkeley.edu/ROHO/projects/food_wine/ and you will find them. They were recorded beginning in 1969 and continue to the present.
Adams, Leon D. The Wines of America. New York. McGraw-Hill 2nd ed. 1978. Adams was involved in wine from the late 1920s on as a publicist and writer. He knew everyone and everything, almost, at all levels of the business. Involved with the Wine Institute for many years, Adams was in the best position to have the most comprehensive knowledge of the industry and the wines. This book is good on history and the state of play in the 1970s. You should be able to find this used for next to nothing. As good as this is, though, for the historically-minded, Adams’ UC Oral history (see the page on RPM Notes on the website) is even better.
Balzar, Robert Lawrence. Wines of California. New York. Harry N. Abrams. 1978. A nice late-70s coffee table book with lots of pictures. Balzar was an important, well-connected and knowledgeable Los Angeles based wine writer in the third quarter of the 20th century. I like it for the picture of great uncle Tony, but it really is a pretty good book.
Chroman, Nathan. The Treasury of American Wines. New York. Crown. 1973. Another large format book by another well known wine writer of the same period as Balzar, with similarly wide contacts. Nice capsules on wineries.
Pinney, Thomas. A History of Wine in America. Berkeley. UC 2007 (2nd edition) 2 volumes. If you’re only buying one real wine history book, get this while it’s still in print. This is the most comprehensive and complete reference work available.
Shand, P. Morton. A Book of French Wines. New York: Knopf 1928. a bit of a tease for Americans during Prohibition, Shand was a fine and well-regarded wine writer of the first half of the 20th century. This is about French wine, but it’s a fun read as a counterpoint to Sainstbury (who was writing at the same time, but much older).
Younger, William. Gods, Men and Wine. Cleveland OH. World 1966 (in association with The Wine and Food Society Ltd.) This is another large format book, not so heavily color illustrated that I’d call it a coffee table book, but very interesting on the mostly European history of wine from ancient times on.
There are a lot of books about home winemaking, and less than technical books on winemaking, but I’ve never looked at them much. Here’s the real stuff:
Amerine, Maynard A. and Joslyn, Maynard A. Table Wines: The Technology of their Production. Berkeley. UC 2nd ed. 1970. (First edition was 1951). The Bible for California winemakers for a very long time, written by the guys at UC (Davis and Berkeley) who were the heart and soul of enology for more than 50 years. It’s now, lamentably, a bit out of date.
Boulton, Roger, et. al. Principles and Practices of Winemaking. New York. Springer 1996. A modern Bible of winemaking. I haven’t studied this one the way I have spent time with the Amerine and Joslyn. This would probably be the book to get now if you’re serious about learning winemaking.
Cruess, W. V., Joslyn, M.A. and Saywell, L.G. Laboratory Examination of Wines and other Fermented Fruit Products. New York. AVI Publishing. 1934 Hopelessly out of date – a ringer from the books my Father used as a winemaker. Cruess was one of the original UC heavyweights.
Ribereau-Gayon, et. al. ed. Handbook of Enology. New York. Wiley. 2006 (2nd ed) 2 volumes. Another modern professional reference.
Novitski, Jospeh and Pavloff, Nick. A Vineyard Year. San Francisco. Chronicle Books. nd. This is for the wine lover, full of interesting text and photos. I think it dates to 1982 or 1983. It’s makes a nice read/look. Farming is work, people….
Winkler, A.J., et. al. General Viticulture. Berkeley. UC 2nd ed 1974. Long the standard reference, this is somewhat long in the tooth by now. I don’t keep up in this area. We’ll have to ask some of the growers we’re meeting with for updated references.
In this category, too, I put the various wine atlases, of which by far the best is:
Johnson, Hugh, and Robinson, Janis. The World Atlas of Wine: Completely Revised and Updated. London. Mitchell Beazley. 6th ed 2007. This really is wonderful. I need to get the updated version.