New wine books top the holiday gift list

I've been trying to climb out from under a deluge of wine-centric books released in time for the holiday gift-giving frenzy.

It's an annual effort, and takes a little time away from shilling my own non-wine book now on sale. (Glad you asked. It's "Barrels & Drams: The History of Whisk(e)y in Jiggers and Shots.")

Nevertheless, I've made the sacrifice to cull a trio of good books to top the list. Herewith, my capsulized views of each.

UNQUENCHABLE: A Tipsy Quest for the World's Best Bargain Wines. By Natalie MacLean. Perigee. Hardcover. $24.

First, the title. I have a strong antipathy to labeling any work about wines or spirits "tipsy" or any other euphemism for inebriation. In my view, it cheapens the effort. That said, Natalie MacLean is an excellent guide for the newbie or the experienced wine buyer.

In "Unquenchable," she mixes humor with advice, taking us on a global quest for the best. Her wordsmithing is impeccable, as seen in these examples selected from among many: "The next day, approaching Featherstone Winery, I can see a pepper storm of starlings flying over the vineyard." And, "Even though Sicilian winemaking has improved considerably over the past decade, marsala's former image still sticks to it. Poorly made wines are like a crime-ridden neighborhood, tarnising the reputation of an entire city."

Whether it be during stops in France, Italy, the Finger Lakes or anywhere else, MacLean sweeps the reader along with her on her sometimes-bumpy, always-entertaining jaunt, helping explain the why's and why not's of winemaking, marketing and drinking. She's an excellent travel companion.

THE FOOD LOVER'S GUIDE TO WINE. By Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg. Little, Brown & Co. Hardcover. $35.

Sommelier interviews, encyclopedic listings of grapes and their many twisted vines of heritage, a history of key periods in wine, trivia and tried-and-true wines ... all this and a lot more goes into this latest effort by the writing team of Page and Dornenburg.

This is not the sort of book you'll curl up with in front of the fireplace, a nice Cab in hand. It is, however, a very useful book, something not always a property of a Christmas gift .

If you want to look at tried-and-true food and wine pairings, or check out a bit of wine trivia, then pop the book back on the shelf until the next time you absolutely have to find something in a hurry, this is THE book to have.

THE BIG RED WINE BOOK 2010/11. BY Campbell Mattinson and Gary Walsh. Hardie Grant Books. $25.

Wine has become so ubiquitous on American dinner tables and in restaurants seeking to find the next-best-thing before their competition does that the average consumer can be excused for retreating into a cloud of confusion.

So, this guide to 1,000 red wines should help clear the air while someone else probably is working on a white wine companion tome. It is the third edition of "The Big Red ... " by a pair of Australian writers who like to refer to themselves as regular blokes who like wine.

Their work concentrates on red wines because, the authors reason, they are the most popular and probably the most confusing. Also, Australia puts out a bazilllion of them, and the U.S. markets laps up many.

The book supplies tasting notes on 1,000 or so wines in all price ranges, and talks about value for money, variety of styles and notes on past vintages.

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