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The Wine Lover's Essential Library

I've been asked more than once in the past few weeks about which wine books I like that might make good gifts for the holiday season. And so I've had to give a little thought to which books I feel every serious wine lover should have read.

So without further ado, here's my list. I didn't set out to have only ten, but that's just what I ended up with trying to stick to the most important books, the books that I think every self respecting wine lover should definitely have read, and possibly own. I had to leave off a lot of good ones, of course, but I was trying to hit the ones that I really feel like are required reading.

For others that are worth reading, check out the book reviews section of Vinography.

Click on the images or the links to find them on Amazon.

The Oxford Companion to Wine, by Jancis Robinson
It's hard to get more essential than this. The world's greatest compendium of wine knowledge is a crucial reference for most every term, location, grape variety technique, or trend you may come across in the English language about wine. I'm constantly picking it up to look up something or other.

Adventures on the Wine Route, by Kermit Lynch
Kermit Lynch's gorgeously written and passionate memoir about starting his business in wine importing is a classic. If you can get through this book without the mad desire to open up a bottle of French wine then there may not be hope for you.

Reading Between the Wines, by Terry Theise
Terry Theise's recently penned manifesto about "why wine matters" is a remarkable, if a bit rambling answer that cannot help but inspire wine drinkers in part or in whole. It's a brilliant book, with splashes of genius, and a lot of great wine in between.

To Cork or Not to Cork, by George Taber
I learned an incredible amount from this well written, heavily researched, and ultimately authoritative survey of the history of the common wine cork. Understanding what it is that preserves (or sometimes spoils) our bottles of wine should be something all wine lovers pursue.

The Botanist and the Vintner, by Christy Campbell
Perhaps no single thing has had a more profound effect on the world of wine than a tiny creature called Phylloxerra. It wiped out much of the world's vineyards, and the remedy that eventually led to the successful revival of viticulture has completely changed the nature of winegrowing. Understanding the devastation and rebirth is crucial to truly understanding the wine world.

The Emperor of Wine, by Elin McCoy
Speaking of profound effects on the world of wine, the wine critic Robert Parker must be acknowledged as a major force, though opinions are sharply divided as to whether for good or bad. He has been called the world's most powerful critic of any kind, and understanding him, his role in the world of wine, and how he got there should be part of anyone's grasp of the modern wine industry.

The Judgement of Paris, by George Taber
Now immortalized in film, the 1976 Paris Tasting was a watershed moment for the wine world and for California wines in particular. It marked the beginning of California's ascendency to its status as a world-class wine producing region, and opened the first crack in the established pecking order of the wine world, which has continued to crumble bit by bit in the ensuing decades.

The Science of Wine, by Jamie Goode
There are a lot of books about the intricacies of how wine is made, but this may be the most accessible and most up-to-date expression of our understanding of the process by which grapes are transformed into that most magical of substances. Jamie is an excellent writer, and makes even the most complex chemistry in the process easy to understand.

The World Atlas of Wine, by Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson
There's really nowhere else you can find, in a single volume, such a wealth of descriptions, images, and maps about most of the placed where wine is grown on the planet. Need to refresh your memory on the appellations of the Cote d'Or? Want to see what the emerging wine regions of China and India look like? Now in it's sixth printing, the book is a treasure trove of wine geography.

The Emperor of Scent, by Chandler Burr
The magic of wine is only available to those who can smell. But it took decades before anyone figured out exactly what it was we were doing when we smelled anything. A great debate rages still about whether anyone has or not. The most likely candidate for truly understanding it is a (slightly mad) scientist named Luca Turin, and his discovery of just how it worked is a fascinating story as told by journalist Chandler Burr. A winemaker friend of mine called this "the most important book about wine that isn't about wine" and I tend to agree.

So there you have it. Now you get to tell me what you think I left off.

Comments (24)

Brett wrote:
12.16.10 at 11:44 PM

Any thoughts on Secrets of the Sommeliers by Rajat Parr?

Frank Haddad wrote:
12.17.10 at 3:06 AM

OZ Clarkes Grapes and Wine
The definitive guide to the worlds great grapes and the wines they make

Bob Rossi wrote:
12.17.10 at 5:02 AM

Corkscrewed by Robert Camuto.

jamie goode wrote:
12.17.10 at 9:26 AM

I'm flattered you've included my book - and overall, it's an excellent lits - Kermit's book is a particular favourite of mine, and chandler burr's book is a nice left-field inclusion, too

Peter McCombie wrote:
12.17.10 at 9:42 AM

Andrew Jefford's The New France; Nick Belfrage's Barolo to Valpolicella and Brunello to Zibibbo

matthewjg wrote:
12.17.10 at 10:08 AM

The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil -- a good read and a cool Christmas present too.

Tom Barras wrote:
12.17.10 at 11:01 AM

I would ANYTHING from Hugh Johnson and Oz Clarke. Also, Jancis Robinson's "Vines, Grapes, Wines" is a good one. And maybe Remington Norman's "Rhone Renaissance."

Tom Barras wrote:
12.17.10 at 11:24 AM

Sorry, but have to add one more:
"Wine and War," by Don and Petie Kladstrup...WW II...the French and the Nazis. Great for History buffs.

12.17.10 at 11:45 AM

Hi Aldie,

great list. "The Botanist and the vintner"'s link is wrong, linking to Tauber's book. The right link should be this one:


Tai-Ran Niew wrote:
12.17.10 at 12:19 PM

One I really enjoyed, and re-read countless times: Lawrence Osborne's The Accidental Connoisseur.

Mel Knox wrote:
12.17.10 at 7:01 PM

The Osborne book is absolutely hilarious.

I'd also recommend anything by Nicholas Faith, esp his book on Bordeaux and its history.

Matt Kramer always has an interesting take on his subject.

12.18.10 at 2:01 PM

This is a quite remarkable list. There are six books on this list that are crucial, critical, demanded of any library, and to those six (Oxford Companion, Judgment of Paris, Science of Wine, Johnson/Robinson Atlas, Emporer of Wine, Emperor of Scent), I would second the nomination of Oz Clarke's Grapes and Wine. We dare not forget about the grapes, in my opinion.

With those books in hand, the world of wine opens up. Kermit's and Terry's books are good reads and the Tabor Cork book is important but not a top six or seven.

What you did not include was any book that is an area reference. Obviously, with so many important areas and good books, many of which are mentioned here and with more coming, this list could not have stopped at ten.

But, I wonder if you would not consider also penning a list that covered the major regions of the world. It might be a list longer than ten and that would be OK because folks may not want books for every region. Obviously, I have a vested interested in such a list, but frankly, by time you get through with a list that covers Germany, Bordeaux, Burgundy, the Rhone, Italy, Spain, California, Washington, Oregon, the Eastern United States, Oz and New Zealand, it could be quite an extensive list.,

Good luck. :-}


12.19.10 at 6:08 PM

Loved both of the George Taber books and looking forward to reading the Emperor of Scent.

Andrea Immer's Great Wine Made Simple would definitely make my top ten list - but I haven't read the rest of yours, so I can't say it would displace any of them!

David Price wrote:
12.20.10 at 8:08 AM

I have the Concise World Atlas - would the Oxford Companion duplicate much of what is in the Atlas?

Alder Yarrow wrote:
12.20.10 at 9:21 AM


Not at all. Think of the difference between a world atlas and an encyclopedia. They're totally different reference works.

Andy Perdue wrote:
12.21.10 at 9:31 AM

Thanks for the list. I've read about 2/3rds and will pick up the others. I would add my vote for Jancis Robinson's "Vines, Grapes & Wines." It is the most important wine book in my library.

12.21.10 at 11:41 AM

"Noble Rot" by William Echikson is a wonderfully engaging book.

"Oenophiles will come away from this lively account with a sense of how globalization and economics have challenged the rot and created ferment and growth in ancient Bordeaux." ...And non-oenophiles will enjoy it as well!


Ami wrote:
12.21.10 at 2:49 PM

Love by the Glass is one of my all time favorites. It highlights the romantic side of wine and life. :)

Also, it influenced my friend to the point where she went from drinking only CA red to trying all different types of wine. :)

Colman Stephenson wrote:
12.28.10 at 2:07 PM

Great list.

But I would delete 'The Judgement of Paris'. 35 years on, this single event though stunning at the time, is surely not so relevant as to be included in a 'Top Ten'. The New World/Old World debate has moved on to a much more sophisticated place.

In its place I would put a comprehensive history, which seems to missing from the list. Hugh Johnson's 'Story of Wine' comes to mind. Though I'm not familiar with Robinson's 'Companion' - perhaps there would be overlap.

To some commentators points:
- Jefford's 'the new france' was groundbreaking and influential when published. Ten years ago most of us didn't realise what a diverse bunch french winemakers were. but now probably needs a refreshed edition.
- Secrets of the Sommeliers is best coverage of the Sommelier angle that I have seen, but doesn't belong in a 'Top Ten'

Chris Lopez wrote:
01.16.11 at 1:37 PM

I read "The Judgment of Paris" and "The Science of Wine" on your recommendation and loved them both! To those on the fence about "The Judgment of Paris" I completely disagree with Colman Stephenson as it is more than just an account about a critical point in the world wine trade but it gives an history of wine in the new world and explores the effect that the tasting has had on current day wine trade.

filmini izle wrote:
01.16.11 at 5:03 PM

nice post, thank you..

James wrote:
02.03.11 at 2:06 PM

Thanks! i'll have to pick those up.


Richard Poupard wrote:
05.02.12 at 2:21 PM

I recently worked at an estate winery called Pelee Island Winery, located on Canada's most southern inhabited island just below the 42nd parallel, Pelee Island. It was my first season ever working for a winery and I felt I need to brush up with something I could reference all season. Whats new and exciting in today's world of wine. I bought "Opus Vino by Jim Gordon". The book was a great help, very informative, very relevant, but very classic all in the same bout. If there was ever such thing as a generalized basic information on the world top wineries along with the up-and-comers, this book would be the one to get to that knowledge base. From this post I would associate Alder Yarrow to be a humble man, considering he is a supporting author on the book him-self.

Great job,

11.21.14 at 8:55 AM

I know this if off topic but I'm looking into
starting my own weblog and was curious what all is needed to get set
up? I'm assuming having a blog like yours would cost a pretty penny?
I'm not very internet smart so I'm not 100% positive. Any tips or advice would
be greatly appreciated. Kudos

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Required Reading for Wine Lovers

The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud Adventures on the Wine Route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson The World's Greatest Wine Estates by Robert M. Parker, Jr.