's Top 12 Wine and Beer Books of 2011

Looking for a good book for a wine or beer lover?

By Robyn Lewis
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heart and soul – Australia's First Families of Wine

heart and soul – Australia's First Families of Wine

An Ideal Wine by David Darlington
Top 100 South African Wines 2011
Reading between the wines by Terry Theise
Australian Wine Companion 2012 Edition


Our annual Top 12 Wine and Beer Books of 2011 provide some great inspiration for the festive season. This year, there’s a bit more quirk and international wine flavour in our top dozen, as well as the reliably good wine guides.


1. Our Number One is a US title, An Ideal Wine by David Darlington

What makes the ideal wine? No doubt this question has been debated for centuries, and will be for millennia to come. An Ideal Wine is story of several Californian baby-boomers – including the larger-than-life, out-there, witty winemaker Randall Grahm – and their quest to find vinous nirvana.

Written by David Darlington, author of four books including Angels’ Visits, and winner of the 2008 James Beard Foundation Award for Writing on Spirits, Wine or Beer, this book is outstanding for a number of reasons.

An Ideal Wine is a highly amusing tale of vision and disillusion, innovation and creativity, of hopes fulfilled, dreams dashed and boundaries crossed (and then some).

Well researched and written, it also documents many technical aspects of their winemaking journeys, without every being boring.

An Ideal Wine belongs on the shelf of every winemaker who aspires to be remembered by more than a cleverly-designed wine label or name, and of every wine lover who desires to drink and to know great wines. Some amazing laughs, too!

An Ideal Wine by David Darlington is published by HarperCollins (2011, New York; hc, 356 pp) and retails in Australia for RRP A$ 37.95  Read our full review here »


2. The West Australian Wine Guide 2012 by Ray Jordan

Slick, attractive, packed with information, portable. To us, this is the best regional wine guide – and the best value – in Australia, and one of the best we’ve seen anywhere. Well laid out and clearly meticulously researched, it sets the standard for others to follow around the globe.

This year the guide features 800 wines from the West’s nine wine regions, and is an indispensable guide to any wine lover visiting Western Australia or buying their wines, whether in Brisbane or Beijing.

As well as tasting notes and winning wines, there are tips on wine cellaring, matching food and wine, recipes from some of WA’s top chefs, an excellent folding map (as a removable insert) and more.

Ray Jordan’s 2012 The West Australian Wine Guide is published by West Australian Publishers (2011, Perth WA; sc, 264 pp ). RRP A$24.95. A full review will follow, but as an indication of what to expect see our review of the 2011 WA wine guide (as then titled) here »



3. In third place is James Halliday’s Australian Wine Companion 2012

Massive, and the distillation of a lifetime of knowledge and many months each year of wine tasting by James Halliday and his up-and-coming assistant, wine expert Ben Edwards, all organised by the indefatigable Paula Grey.

The Australian Wine Companion 2012 is the definitive guide to Australian wine. It contains tasting notes by James Halliday and team to over 60,000 wines, with ratings and reviews of 2,500 wineries, around half of those currently existing in Australia.

Published in late July every year, ‘the Companion’, as it is colloquially known, is a much anticipated tome. This year’s winery of the year, Kooyong and Port Phillip Estates (separate vineyards with the same owners, winemaker and winery) is located at Red Hill in the heart of Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula.

The introduction to the Companion is wide ranging, covering the recent increased variability in weather, surplus international production and competition, the corporate grocery duopoly, the cancer risk of moderate alcohol consumption and wine taxation. All vexed questions which will continue to face the Australian wine industry into 2012.

In all, considered The Bible of Australian wine.

Australian Wine Companion 2012 by James Halliday is published by Hardie Grant Books (Melbourne, 2011; sc, 775 pp) and retails for RRP A$36.95   Read our full review here »

[There are a number of other Australian wine guides on the market, by authors including Nick Stock, Jeremy Oliver, Campbell Mattinson, Rob Geddes, Matt Skinner and others.

Which you prefer largely depends on your individual wine preferences and how they align with the varying tastes of the authors, plus their style of presentation and degree of thoroughness. Ranking them would be an exercise in futility and politics; we leave you to choose your own favourites.]


4. Heart & Soul: Australia’s First Families of Wine by Graeme Lofts

Written with knowledge and passion, this is the (hi)story of twelve of Australia’s ‘First Families’ of wine, a group of family-owned and operated wine companies who have been producing wines in Australia for up to six generations, dating back to 1849.

These are: Brown Brothers, Campbells, d’Arenberg, De Bortoli, Henschke, Howard Park Wines (the Burch family), Jim Barry Wines, McWilliams, Tahbilk (the Purbrick family), Taylors, Tyrrell’s Wines, and Yalumba (the Hill Smith family).

The book is foremost about the people, the families, and what made them succeed. Enough is written about wine already, and Heart and Soul is not a collection of tasting notes, facts and figures, an expose of the wine industry, or a technical manual – it’s approachable, and human instead.

Littered with anecdotes and amusing tales, it’s a book we recommend to any aspiring winemaker or grower, as well as to those wishing to connect with the wines they are drinking.

Heart & Soul has been nominated for the 2011 Blake Dawson Business Literature Prize which will be announced in early 2012. Given the interest of the new generation of Chinese wine consumers in the history and heritage of wine producers, it would be timely if this book could be translated into Mandarin.

Heart & Soul – Australia’s First Families of Wine is published by John Wiley and Sons Australia Ltd (Milton, Queensland; international edition 2011; sc, 344 pp). RRP A$39.95  Read our full review here »



5. The Champagne Guide by Tyson Stelzer

Brisbane-based wine writer Tyson Stelzer has written a dozen books on wine, wine closures and even DIY cellar building. In 2008 he self-published Down to earth burgundy vintage 2006 which was met with critical acclaim. Previously, there was no simple guide to burgundies on the Australian market; moreover, Stelzer got to visit the producers and taste their magical wines first hand. It was new and obviously fertile ground.

The Champagne Guide follows in very similar vein, perhaps even richer than the last. For buying this most ethereal wine, that speaks of its region as none other, is a very hit-or-miss affair, as Stelzer makes clear.

The main difference is that The Champagne Guide is published as an e-book, although there was also a limited edition softcover edition of 300.

Why a Champagne guide for Australia? Because every year we pop three million bottles, making Australians the greatest Champagne drinkers outside Europe, ahead of Germany and Italy. (Australia now ranks ninth in the world for Champagne consumption.)

And because, almost unbelievably, there wasn’t a current one. It’s ten years since the esteemed UK wine writer Andrew Jefford wrote the last book about Champagne, and the range of smaller producers that have come onto the market since, aided in Australia by our high dollar, is staggering.

There’s a lot to like about The Champagne Guide 2011, and a few things I don’t. It would have helped me considerably if it contained a list of either the Top 100, or all of them, in points order, as has become the norm in guides such as James Halliday’s Australian Wine Companion.

You need to read through each maker’s chapter to sort the wheat from the chaff (as much as any Champagne deserves this term!). It’s more easily searchable in ebook format, however. Some of the tasting notes are (to me) slightly off, too.

But if you are a Champagne lover and especially if you are seeking value or wish to avoid costly errors, this is a great guide. For his efforts, Stelzer was awarded International Champagne Writer of the Year in the Louis Roederer Awards in September 2011.


The Champagne Guide 2011 by Tyson Stelzer (WinePress, Brisbane, 2010) is available in ebook format for download to computer or iPad, at a cost of A$24.95. A limited print edition of 300 was also produced (WinePress, Brisbane 2010, sc, 176 pp), RRP A$29.95 + $10 postage within Australia  Read our full review here »



6. The Essential Guide to South African Wines by Elmari Swart and Izak Smit

If only all wine countries and regions had guides a meticulously researched and prepared as this… well perhaps better that they don’t, or might be out of a job!

This is the second, updated edition of a guide that first appeared in 2006. The first was good (and won a coveted international Gourmand award), this surpasses it.

Much more than a tourist guidebook, The Essential Guide to South African Wines discusses the geology, soils, climate and other special factors affecting viticulture in this oldest of ‘new world’ wine regions.

The book covers the leading grape varieties: cabernet sauvignon is the most abundant red, and amongst whites chenin blanc is almost ubiquitous.

However all major varieties are grown and made, some as pure varietals and others as blends, and as the industry has evolved so their suitable terroirs are now being claimed.

You will discover the terroir, viticulture, winemaking techniques and the flagship wines of some of the top producers, fully updated.

Any wine (or food) lover contemplating a visit to the Cape and surrounding wine regions needs this book before you visit; and it’s a pretty handy companion if you are buying South African wines in your local wine store, too.

The Essential Guide to South African Wines by Elmari Swart and Izak Smit is published by Cheviot Publishing (Green Point, South Africa, 2010; released in Australia in 2011; pb, 248 pp). Price in Australia from A$25 upwards.  Read our full review here »



7. The Critic’s Choice: Australia's Best Beers by Beerlover’s Guide

Looked in the beer fridge in your bottleshop lately? So many new beers, so many quirky labels. This handy little guide brings you Australia’s best 100 beers and is a starting point for an amber-filled journey.

There is no doubt the craft brewing industry in Australia is vibrant, growing and offering consumers an even more diverse and interesting range of beers to choose from than ever before.

Bottleshops and bars are increasingly realising the appeal of the craft beer and stocking more – and there are new beers arriving on the scene almost weekly.

With all these choices it can seem daunting – this book is a great start to your practical research! 

The Critics’ Choice: Australia's Best Beers by (Peter Mitcham Editor-at-Large) is published by Scribal Publishing (Melbourne, 2011; sc) and retails for RRP A$14.95  Read our full review here »



8. Wine, Terroir and Climate Change by Dr. John Gladstones

This is a subject that needs to be understood by wine growers. Wine, Terroir and Climate Change is a must read for anyone interested in a scientific analysis of the climatic, topographical and soil-related factors influencing viticulture and wine quality, which includes many serious wine lovers.

This well researched book is written by Dr John Gladstones, a leading Australian agricultural scientist who has won many scientific and community awards.

The most controversial part of this book is the treatment of climate change. To say he is a sceptic is too strong a word, however he considers that the current risk of climate change to viticulture has been overstated.

He cautions against the flight of vineyards to cooler regions in the foreseeable future. This section, together with all sections of this book has been well researched and is a useful contribution to the debate on this subject.

In summary this is a very well researched book that looks at viticulture, terroir and climate change from a scientific viewpoint. If you are interested in a technical analysis of these subjects then this book is for you.

Wine, Terroir and Climate Change by Dr John Gladstones is published by Wakefield Press (Kent Town, South Australia; hc, 260 pp) retails for RRP A$59.95  In December 2011 is was inducted into the Gourmand Wine Books Hall of Fame 2011, the first Australian book to receive this honour.  Read our full review and more on this prestigious award here »



9. Reading between the wines by Terry Theise

Terry Theise, an importer and aficionado of artisan wines, is based in the USA. He has written an engaging book on the subject that he loves – European wines – more precisely those from Germany, Austria and Champagne, often made by small dedicated producers.

He asks what constitutes beauty in wine, and how do we appreciate it? What role does wine play in a soulful, sensual life? And can wines of place survive in a world of globalized styles and 100-point scoring systems?

Reading between the wines is a beautifully written book on wine and the families that make it, and deserves a place in every serious wine library.

Reading between the wines by Terry Theise is published by the University of California Press (Oct 2011; sc with new preface, 190 pp) and retails for RRP A$25.95. A hardcover edition was published in 2010 (RRP A$39.95) Read our full review here »



10. Brian and Janet Johnson’s Wines of the Canberra District

This is an interesting, practical guide to one of Australia’s under-appreciated wine regions, written and produced by a husband-and-wife team who operate one of the boutique vineyards of the area, McKeller Ridge Wines.

It is the second, updated edition, aptly subtitled ‘Coming of Age’, as the Canberra region matures and becoming increasingly known for its cool climate wines, especially riesling and shiraz.

Wines of the Canberra District is published by 3R Operations (McKellar, ACT, 2011; sc, 138 pp) and retails for A$30 from



11. Top 100 South African Wines by Robin von Holdt

2011 saw the launch of a new competition in the wine world: to find the Top 100 South African wines. This book is the outcome.

Meticulously organised by Robin von Holdt and an executive committee of eight, producers were invited to submit their wines. A total of 390 made the final cut: 222 reds, 143 whites and 25 others (‘méthode cap classique’, dessert and ‘port’).

The team worked collectively to ‘lead as well as anchor the process... to reposition SA’s finest wines’. Many South African wines are high quality (particularly their whites in my opinion), and deserve a place in the global spotlight.

The Top 100 South African Wines 2011 competition was judged by a panel of largely international wine experts, thus allowing benchmarking against other countries’ wines.

Of the 390, a hundred standouts were chosen, and the results systematically presented in this new wine guide. If you are new to South African wines, or wish to look at them in a new light, Top 100 South African Wines 2011 is a great introduction.

Top 100 South African Wines by Robin von Holdt is published by Cheviot Publishing (2011, Green Point, South Africa; hc, 270 pp) and retails in Australia for A$29.95   Read our full review here »



12. A dance with amber brings up our Top 12:  Paul Mercurio’s Cooking with Beer

Beer is good for drinking – we all know that, but with the ever-increasing range of new beers and their diverse range of flavours, it’s also good for cooking.

Known for his love of good food through his TV program Mercurio’s Menu, Paul also has a special place in his heart for beer – he knows more than a little about the beverage as well, having judged as well as hosted a number of beer awards in Australia and New Zealand.

He’s combined these two loves in Cooking with Beer. Yes, we know, it’s partly a cookbook, but it’s a great beer book too. Well worth the price and, despite the media release referring to it as a ‘perfect bloke’s cookbook’, it would make a great present for a woman as well, especially one who enjoys her ales and lagers.

If you are challenged by the vast numbers of amber fluids on the market these days, and what to do with them in the kitchen, then this is the book for you.

Cooking with Beer by Paul Mercurio is published by Murdoch Books (Sydney, 2011; sc, 224 pp) and retails for RRP A$34.99  Read our full review here »


We wanted to make this a brewer’s dozen too, so we include Singaporean wine expert Edwin Soon’s Pairing Wine with Asian Food. It wasn’t published in 2011, but we only just found a copy this year, and it’s so good it deserves a mention.

If you’ve ever wondered what wine to pair with laksa, a Thai curry or Peking duck, this is the book for you. It explains matching wine with Asian food from first principles, and Soon obviously knows what he's talking about.

Small, but packed with easy-to-use information. An iPhone app version (and one in Mandarin) would be just the thing for 2012.

Pairing Wine with Asian Food by Edwin Soon
is published by Monsoon Books (Singapore, 2009; hc, 64 pp) and retails in Australia for RRP A$26.99  Read our full review here »


Whether you’re aiming to fill a wine lover’s Christmas stocking, to guide his or her forays into wine country or wine store, or simply after some vinous holiday reading, we hope you find something to suit your palate from the wine book crop of 2011.


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November 13th, 2011
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