Want to Get Into Wine? These Books Can Help

Clockwise from top left: Octopus Books; Ten Speed Press; Sterling Publishing; Granta; Penguin Random House
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When Nicole Hitchcock started out in wine, a sommelier recommended she read Kevin Zraly’s Windows on the World Complete Wine Course. The book made a lasting impression.

“It was both comprehensive and easy to understand,” says Hitchcock, now the head winemaker at J Vineyards & Winery in Healdsburg, California. “I appreciated how it covered multiple aspects of wine in a nonintimidating way.”

Whether you’re pursuing a career as a sommelier or winemaker, or simply want to make informed shopping decisions, books can demystify the seemingly Talmudic complexities of wine. A great read can also galvanize veteran wine pros and armchair experts to explore different regions, techniques or trends.

Approachability is key, especially for those new to wine.

“I love the book The New Wine Rules by Jon Bonné,” says Alicia Tenise Chew, a content creator at aliciatenise.com. It makes wine “less stuffy” and empowers readers “to taste and purchase wine confidently,” she says. “It’s short, sweet and tells you what you really need to know about the wine world.”

Alicia Tenise Chew
Content creator Alicia Tenise Chew / Photo by Tom McGovern

Tish Wiggins, a wine educator and event curator, recommends beginners pick up The Less is More Approach to Wine by Charles Springfield.

“This book is a great building block for understanding the primary grapes, prominent wine regions and insight into developing your palate,” she says. “It also gives an excellent overview of the history of wine.”

Reference books provide various points of entry and can be useful at all stages of wine expertise. Wine Educator Desiree Harrison-Brown says she regularly consults The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil.

“Hands down one of my favorite wine books,” says Harrison-Brown. “It’s one that I reference when drinking a glass of wine, or when I want to escape reality.”

Published in 2000, the book sold more than a million copies.

“Not only does it educate about wine and growing regions, but it treats the subject matter, wine, for what it is, a culture and lifestyle,” says Kwaw Amos, the founder of Gotham Winery.

Wiggins agrees. She sometimes uses The Wine Bible to prepare for classes she teaches.

“I consider this book the holy grail for expanding your wine knowledge,” she says.

Desiree Harrison Brown wine
Wine educator Desiree Harrison-Brown / Photo by Kelsey Edwards/Eddie Photography

Another encyclopedic resource popular among professionals is The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson. Now in its eighth edition, it spans wine history, maps, production methods and beyond.

“It’s the kind of book that you can flip open quickly to find a specific piece of information that you’re seeking or can curl up with on a rainy day while sipping on a glass of some obscure wine from far away that you’d like to learn more about,” says Hitchcock.

For aspiring winemakers, Hitchcock suggests Making Good Wine by Bryce Rankine.

“I picked up this book while working a harvest internship in Western Australia years ago and really appreciated how the author distilled technical information down into understandable and actionable concepts,” she says.

These days, she loans her copy the interns she employs. “One of them liked it enough to walk away with it, so now I need to purchase a new copy!”

Nicole Hitchcock wine
Winemaker Nicole Hitchcock / Photo courtesy J. Vineyards & Winery

Chef, sommelier and mixologist Aaron Thompson co-owns Osteria Stella and Brother Wolf in Knoxville, Tennessee. He likes Wine Folly by Madeline Puckette and Justin Hammack. It’s “an incredible tool to demystify wine tasting… a must for new wine enthusiasts,” says Thompson.

Wiggins believes the book can be useful for intermediate wine lovers, too.

“Puckette does a great job of giving you details about each grape from the tasting notes, food pairing suggestions, where it’s grown, and suggestions of other grapes that are similar in style and structure,” she says.

How to Get Into Wine: Practical Tips to Grow Your Palate, Experience and Enjoyment

The first wine book Thompson ever read was Adventures on the Wine Route: A Wine Buyers Tour of France by Kermit Lynch. It was revelatory, he says.

“Reading this book leveled up my passion for Old World wine, my understanding of terroir, and ignited a fire within me that continues to fuel my personal wine journey.”

Harrison-Brown calls Lynch’s travelogue “inspiring… I have learned about some of my now favorite producers like Domaine Tempier from this book.”

Aaron Thompson wine
Chef, mixologist and sommelier Aaron Thompson / Photo by Tommy Blankenship

Specialization can make the breadth of the wine world more approachable.

Lee Campbell, a wine consultant and the sommelier at Veranda in New York City, recommends 99 Bottles: A Black Sheep’s Guide to Life-Changing Wines by André Mack, and Natural Wine for the People: What It Is, Where to Find It, How to Love It by Alice Feiring.

“Both of these authors write from a very personal place, but it is a specificity which creates access,” he says. “To be sure, there is plenty of empirical information in both books, but their respective lenses help budding connoisseurs digest the behemoth of oenology into fantastically fun and approachable, bite-sized portions.”

Dan O'Brien Gail Wines
Winemaker and proprietor Dan O’Brien / Photo by Jimmy Hayes

If you prefer to approach wine through the lens of food, Jeany Cronk, cofounder and co-owner of Maison Mirabeau in Cotignac, France, likes The Wine Dine Dictionary by Victoria Moore.

It covers “flavor in detail, and the starting points are some of our favorite foods, which are ordered alphabetically, like a dictionary,” says Cronk. “It’s interspersed with recipes and suggests lots of interesting pairings that may comfort or challenge the reader.”

Stephen Jeany Domaine Mirabeau
Stephen and Jeany Cronk / Photo courtesy Domaine Mirabeau

Dan O’Brien, proprietor and winemaker at Gail Wines in California’s Sonoma Valley, believes there’s no substitute for firsthand tasting experience. Still, he says, books can educate and inspire everyone from beginners to the most seasoned wine professionals.

“I recently purchased The Wines of Gala [by Salvador Dalí], and it reminded me of why I do what I do,” says O’Brien. “The book is not only beautiful but filled with art and information aligned with different regions around the world, highlighting the combination of artistry and hard work that goes into making wine.”

Published on August 17, 2021
Topics: Handpicked