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Wine Books for Santa's List
Copyright 2004 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved. Originally printed November 29, 2004. For more information go to

It's that time of year again, and the man in red is making his list and checking it twice.

As I usually do around this time of year, I'm thinking of wine books as one obvious gift category for the wine geeks on my shopping list. In a stack of recently received review copies of frankly variable quality, a few stand out. Before we get down to those last few frenzied Christmas-shopping days at the end of December, let's single out a handful for early and favorable notice. Later in the month, I'll pass along a few more reviews for last-minute shoppers.

I've always liked The Wall Street Journal's weekly wine column, "Tastings," not least because it usually irritates me much less than the editorial page. Columnists Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher, an amiable couple who clearly love good things to eat and drink, stay closer to down-home Main Street than blue-chip Wall Street as they bring a sensible consumer perspective to the world of wine.

Full of warm personal stories and appetizing wine-tasting notes, their new book, Wine for Every Day and Every Occasion, subtitled "Red, White, and Bubbly to Celebrate the Joy of Living," takes us through a year of wine for holidays and special occasions that range from Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July to weddings, the birth of a baby, and even the Oscar (or Emmy) awards. The final chapter, "101 Things Worth Knowing All in 20 Words or Less," offers a quick glossary of wine terms from Acid to Zinfandel, a whole wine-tasting course in just over six digestible pages...and a reference to our Lexicon as a great place to learn wine words. Thanks for the plug, guys!

Read more about Wine for Every Day and Every Occasion on If you should use this link to buy the book (the $14.97 current price offers a 40 percent discount off the $24.95 list price), we'll earn a small commission to help pay the rent at

If you like FoodTV's wacky Alton Brown but sometimes wish that he would get really serious about food science, you're going to love Harold McGee.

With none of Brown's goofiness but with substantially more intense scholarship, McGee's On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen has become a cult classic for "foodies" who can't get enough information about what really goes on in the oven - and in our stomachs - when we cook and eat. A massive volume - its 894 pages in hardcover tips my kitchen scale at 3 pounds, 1 1/4 ounces - its 15 densely packed chapters cover foods from milk and dairy products and eggs to sauces, sugars, chocolate and confectionery, not to mention "The Four Basic Food Molecules." (All right, they're water, fats, carbohydrates and proteins.)

While much of this may be of more interest to "foodies" than "winoes," the 67-page Chapter 13 ("Wines, Beers and Spirits") is worth the price of admission alone for those who are more interested in grapes, grain and malt than salads, meats, cakes and cookies. This chapter covers an amazing variety of drinks-related science, from the physiology of hangovers to the ancient Sumerian hymn to Ninkasi, the goddess who presided over early beer brewing. One table, more comprehensive than anything of its like I've seen, lists the specific chemical molecules associated with more than 30 different aromas in wine. If it intrigues you to know that the "kerosene" scent in some Rieslings actually comes from trimethyldihydronaphthalene, then this book is definitely for you. And if not...maybe it's not.

Here's the info and buy-it link at for On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. (List price $35, sale price $21, a 40 percent discount.)

You may have to wait until after the holidays if you want the new paperback edition of The Botanist and the Vintner: How Wine Was Saved for the World, by the British journalist Christopher "Christy" Campbell, from Algonquin Books. As it turns out, though, the hardcover edition, with the slightly more obscure title Phylloxera: How Wine Was Saved For The World, published by HarperCollins Publishers, has been around all year.

In either form, it's an excellent book, a thorough retelling of the story of phylloxera, the plant louse that spread from a single shipment of American grapevines to France in 1862 and that all but wiped out Europe's vineyards within less than a generation. Campbell does an excellent job of spinning a historical truth-is- stranger-than-fiction tale that's intelligent and literate, yet neither stuffy nor dry. I recommend reading it with a glass of post-phylloxera Bordeaux at hand.

Here's the link for Phylloxera: How Wine Was Saved For The World. price $21.72, a 34 percent discount. Order early, as estimates it may require two to five weeks for shipping.


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