You don’t need to be enrolled in wine school to increase your knowledge of grapes. Sure, there are plenty of books on the market that come in handy for students. However, there are just as many great reference texts that are useful resources for novices and enthusiasts looking to understand the fundamentals of wine, and many of them are penned by some of the industry’s most notable educators and sommeliers.
Here are five standout reference books worth adding to your library.
Oz Clarke, 2015
How did people go from drinking vino out of goatskin sacks to crystal glasses? Who was the first producer to use a screw cap closure for wine bottles instead of a cork? While we’re at it, who deemed corks to be a reasonable wine bottle closure in the first place? The answer to these crucial questions, and so many others, can be found within the pages of Oz Clarke’s historical undertaking, “The History of Wine in 100 Bottles.” Clarke’s book gives an overview of the social, cultural, religious, and economic contributions wine has made over the years. And, as the title suggests, he does this by examining 100 bottles of wine produced by various people over the ages, from the medieval Cistercian monks of Burgundy, to the winemakers behind famous vintages like the 1727 Rüdesheimer Apostelwein, to the first Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc in 1979, and so on.
Alice Feiring, 2019
If you’re looking for tips and tricks to source the best bottles of natural wine, “Natural Wine for the People,” written by James Beard Award-winning wine writer and editor Alice Feiring, has you covered. Of course, Feiring’s definitive guide offers more than just a list of producers and bottles. Through historical and digestible technical detail, Feiring provides a clear understanding of what exactly a natural wine is, along with important information like where to find it and how to best enjoy it. The book also includes an extensive appendix highlighting some of the best restaurants and wine shops in the U.S. specializing in natural wine.
Aldo Sohm and Christine Muhlke, 2019
Renowned sommelier Aldo Sohm has worked as the wine director of three-Michelin-star Le Bernardin in New York City for over a decade, so he knows quite a lot about wine. In this complex yet user-friendly guide full of illustrations and infographics, Sohm offers his extensive knowledge and opinions to help readers better understand wine to enhance their palates and personal drinking experiences. The book even includes a little cheat sheet full of famous vintages, along with a guide to navigating vino mishaps like corked bottles and mousy wine.
Hugh Johnson, 2020 edition
Hugh Johnson’s “The Story of Wine” has earned the British writer and historian dozens of awards in the U.S. and the U.K., including the title of the world’s best-selling wine author. The book is an in-depth but highly readable account of wine through history. Within the book’s 496 pages, Johnson traces the origin of wine from its first mention during the biblical era of Noah, through to Pompeii, and then to Prohibition, continuing down to the present moment. Along with Johnson’s witty approach to wine history, the 2020 updated version of the book includes the author’s perspective on the many changes within the world of wine since the book was first published in 1989.
Jancis Robinson MW and Julia Harding MW, 2015
Compiled and edited by one of the wine industry’s most celebrated authors and educators, Jancis Robinson MW of jancisrobinson.com, “The Oxford Companion to Wine” is perhaps one of the most comprehensive wine reference books ever launched. The book received worldwide acclaim when it was first published in 1994 and has remained a favorite of not just students and wine professionals, but wine lovers too. The fourth edition, edited with the help of Julia Harding MW, features 4,000 entries covering a range of topics from grape regions and history, to geology and the relationship between vineyard soils, rock, and the taste of wine. More than 60% of the third edition, published in 2006, has been revised, updated, or completely rewritten. There are several new topics in the updated version, including passages on social media and how it’s impacted the wine industry, along with Hong Kong’s evolution to become the fine wine epicenter of the world. There is also plenty of information about new wine techniques and new styles like orange wine. Along with sections written by Robinson and Harding, 187 other wine professionals from around the globe contributed to the book.