's Top 12 wine books for 2012

Great gifts for the wine lover in your life

By Robyn Lewis
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The History of Australian Wine by Max Allen

The History of Australian Wine by Max Allen

A Vineyard in My Glass by Gerald Asher
Saint-Émilion: The Châteaux, Winemakers and Landscapes of Bordeaux’s Famed Region
Authentic Wine by Jamie Goode and Sam Harrop MW
James Halliday: A Life in Wine


Our annual Top 12 Wine Books of 2012 provide great inspiration for the festive season. As with last year, it’s a mixed dozen: there’s a lot of international wine flavour, as well as the reliably good Australian wine guides plus some local colour and spice.

A UK wine critic said recently that she felt there is little new being written in the world of wine. I disagree.  Wine philosophy is certainly alive and well – and the debate about what makes a good wine, organics, biodynamics and ‘natural’ wines continues, with new insights added regularly. (Just follow Randall Grahm on Twitter for weekly insights if you aren't convinced.)

To be fair, especially for overseas releases which don’t reach Australian shores for some months, we’ve included a number of titles from the crop of 2011 that didn’t arrive before the assessment of last year’s top dozen.

So without further ado, the 2012’s top wine book is:

1.    Gerald Asher: A Vineyard in My Glass

Gerald Asher is an exquisite writer about the world of wine, and this book will delight and enthral any wine lover. It’s a number one standout for Asher’s elegant prose and hugely knowledgeable insights into the world of wine.

A Vineyard in My Glass is a collection of his articles about selected wine regions in France and other European winegrowing areas including Spain, Germany and Italy, and California. It’s a must for anyone wanting to know where wine growing and making is headed.

Find out why we loved it in our full review and find online purchase information here »

[University of California Press (Los Angeles and Berkeley, 2011; hc, 279 pp); retails in Australia for RRP A$39.95.]

Another standout from the University of California Press, who are to be congratulated for supporting such wine writing, is:

2.    Jamie Goode and Sam Harrop: Authentic Wine: Toward Natural and Sustainable Winemaking

What actually is ‘natural’ and ‘authentic’ wine? Find out!

This hot topic is tackled eloquently in Authentic Wine by Jamie Goode and Master of Wine Sam Harrop, who delves deep into the natural wine movement sorting fact from fiction and authentic from marketing ploys.

All you need to know before entering that dodgy ‘organic’ wine bar serving oxidised wine. Read our full review and find online purchase information here »

 [University of California Press (Berkeley and LA, California, 2011; hc 260 pp; retails in Australia for RRP A$33.99]

3.    Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz: Wine Grapes

It’s big, it’s heavy (3 kg), it’s expensive  and we’re told that review copies are like hen’s teeth, so we haven’t seen one, but hey, it took two of the world’s leading Masters of Wine and a Swiss botanist/grape geneticist four years to write Wine Grapes, so it has to be good. 

To quote the media release, “It provides comprehensive details on all 1,368 vine varieties currently making wine in commercial circulation – including their origins, how they grow, where they are planted, how their wines taste and previously unpublished information on how they are related.”

Find out more about Wine Grapes including online purchase information (and if you get in quickly, there’s a special introductory offer) at »

[Published by Allen Lane (Penguin) in the UK and Ecco in the US (2012; hc, 1200 pp). RRP in UK £120]

4.    John Saker: Pinot Noir – The New Zealand Story with photos by Aaron Maclean

Anyone who was hooked by the film Sideways or has been seduced by the ‘heartbreak grape’ will love this book. New Zealand is an important world producer of high-quality pinot noir, and “the pace of the grape’s growth…. has been little short of staggering …  adding a new layer of sophistication to New Zealand wine”.

OK, it was published over a year ago, but perhaps they didn’t want to spread the word too widely in case foreigners start drinking all their pinot noir?  We finally obtained a copy, and the secret is out – our full review will follow soon.

Find online purchase information from here »

[Random House (Auckland, NZ; sc, 296 pp). RRP A$49.99]

5.    Ray Jordan’s: The West Australian Wine Guide 2013

The 2013 edition is due to hit the shelves in November, but if it’s on par with last year’s edition – and indeed those of the past several years – it will be a standout amongst Australian wine guides for its depth, breadth and utility. And you won’t need a small truck to cart it round with you.

Read our review of Ray Jordan’s: The West Australian Wine Guide 2012 and find online purchase information here »

[West Australian Publishers (Perth, 2012; sc) RRP A$24.95]

Other Australian wine guides due out in November are listed below.

6.    James Halliday: A Life in Wine

Serious wine lovers and fans of James Halliday will love this book. His life, a combination of privilege, sheer hard work, luck and perseverance, has made the Australian wine scene far richer than it would otherwise have been.

Full of wine history, drinking tales, fun and more, and highly recommended for some armchair reading and amusement.

Read our review of James Halliday’s A Life in Wine and find online purchase information here »

[Hardie Grant Books (Melbourne, Australia, 2012; hc 264 pp) RRP A$45]

7.    James Halliday: The Australian Wine Companion 2013

No list of top wine books in Australia would be complete without James Halliday’s Australian Wine Companion. “The most authoritative and trusted guide to Australian wine in the world.

Keenly anticipated each year by winemakers, collectors, and wine lovers, the annual Wine Companion is recognised as the industry benchmark for Australian wines.”

Halliday’s ratings are much quoted by wine makers and marketers, eager to boost sales if their wines are anointed with high point scores (93 and above). They can make or break a winery or vineyard.

However, the book is more than tasting notes, with many top 20 lists and a wealth of information about the wineries and vineyards from one of Australia’s most knowledgeable wine authors.

Read our review of the 2012 Australian Wine Companion and find online purchase information here »

[Hardie Grant (Melbourne, 2012; sc,  776 pp) RRP AA$36.95]

8.    Max Allen: The History of Australian Wine – stories from the vineyard to the cellar door

Max Allen will be known to many, especially readers of The Weekend Australian, and Australian Gourmet Traveller, where he is wine columnist and wine editor respectively.

This book is based on interviews conducted from 2000-03 by historian Rob Linn, and covers Australian wine history from around the 1950s onwards, with a focus on the Southern states.

What has happened in the last six decades in the Australian wine industry is nothing short of revolutionary, and certainly deserves to be documented. Another great armchair read for the holidays.

Read our review of The History of Australian Wine, and find online purchase information here »

[Victory Books (an imprint of Melbourne University Publishing Ltd, Victoria 2012; hc 212 pp) RRP A$49.99]

9.    Len Evans: Not My Memoirs

Len Evans left the Australian wine scene a far less colourful place with his passing in 2006. His memoirs were written but not complied until 2012, when his daughter Sally released them as a tribute to her father.

Evan’s philosophy was simple: “Wine is not meant to be enjoyed for its own sake; it is the key to love and laughter with friends … Its rewards are far beyond its cost”.

His view was that you MUST drink good wine all the time, that life is simply too short to waste valuable drinking opportunities on rubbish.

His memoirs are a great insight into the fun and exciting times and characters of the Australian wine industry, and make for an easy read. Evan writes concisely and well, and his memoirs are a great insight into the recent history of Australian wine, especially in the Hunter Valley.

Our full review will follow. For more information and to purchase online see »

[57 Union St Publishing (Lane Cove NSW, 2012; sc 184 pp) RRP $29.95.

10.    Jayne Powell, Danielle Viera and Fritz Gubler: Great, Grand and Famous Champagnes … behind the bubbles

At first glance it would be easy to dismiss this as a (rather luxurious) coffee table book, but it is far more than that. Anyone who loves Champagne and the associated glamour and sophistication of the world’s most famous beverage will savour this book time and time again.

Full of history, in-depth exposés of a selection of grand Champagne houses, and an excellent section on how to taste Champagne, this is a book for dipping into a chapter at a time, and would make a lovely gift for a Champagne lover, along with a bottle of the regions finest, of course!

Read our review of Great, Grand and Famous Champagnes and find online purchase information here »

[Arbon Publishing (Crow’s Nest NSW, 2011; hc 240 pp) RRP A$79.99]

11.     Béatrice Massenet, Emmanuelle Ponsan-Dantin and François Querre: Saint-Émilion: The Châteaux, Winemakers and Landscapes of Bordeaux’s Famed Region

Another stupendously attractive book that will have Francophiles drooling.

If you have ever wondered what lies behind the gates and walls of French winemakers’ châteaux, then this is the book for you.
Often depicted on the labels, but rarely seen except by the privileged few, they largely remain a mystery. This sumptuous book takes us inside the homes of the winemakers who create some of the most acclaimed wines in the world: Bordeaux.

The book features more than seventy legendary wineries, including Cheval Blanc, Grand Corbin, Angélus, Canon, de Figeac and Magdeleine, ranging from lavish properties to small manor houses.

Although it is far from a total expose of the region’s winemaking, I don’t know of any other book currently in print that can give you such a comprehensive overview of the Saint-Émilion region, its winemakers and their varied and often complex winemaking philosophies as this does.

Read our full review of Saint-Émilion and find online purchase information here »

[Abrams (New York, 2011; hc, 260 pp). RRP A$67.99]

12.     Alice Feiring: Naked Wine – letting grapes do what comes naturally

Natural wine has been a topic of great interest in recent years. In her book Naked Wine, award-winning American food and wine journalist Alice Feiring covers the history of this ‘movement’ from its beginnings through to its acceleration of the past decade.

Often controversial, sometimes meandering, this book will have you thinking about what is – and isn’t – natural wine, and why you should care.

Read our full review of Naked Wine and find online purchase information here »

[Da Capo Press (Cambridge, MA, USA; 2011, hc 232 pp) RRP A$39.99]

Making this a baker’s dozen is

13.     Rob Geddes: Australian Wine Vintages 2013

This is the 30th edition of ‘The Gold Book’ as it is affectionately known, which was commenced by Robin Bradley and is now compiled by Sydney-based Master of Wine Robert Geddes.

There’s no additional gloss in this year’s edition: no introduction, no top 10’s, no section on wine touring – just star ratings of makers from A to Z around the country, with vintage rankings and brief notes.

This allows Geddes to fit many more wines into the 500+ pages, surely an advantage in what is the best pocket-sized wine guide in the country.

Our full review will follow.

Find online purchase information at Rob Geddes’ website here »

[Geddes a Drink Publications (Sydney, NSW, 2012; hc, 512 pp). RRP A$34.95 including postage within Australia (A$55 international postage). Also available in an iPhone app for A$9.99]

Other guides released in November 2012 are:

•    Nick Stock: Good Wine Guide 2013, which this year also includes sake reviews.

[(The Age & Sydney Morning Herald, Nov 2012; sc). RRP A$26.99]

•    Jeremy Oliver: The Australian Wine Annual 2013 (16th edition). A “fully independent expert catalogue of the very best Australian wines at each price point, featuring more than 300 wineries and nearly 14,000 wines, each of which he has tasted himself!”

Read our review of The Australian Wine Annual 2012 edition here >>

[OnWine Australia; sc, RRP A$29.95]

Stocking fillers include two little but interesting books from The Edible Series published by Reaktion Books in London:

•    Champagne: A Global History by Becky Sue Epstein RRP A$19.95

•    Vodka: A Global History by Patricia Herlihy RRP A$19.95.

Beer lovers might also enjoy the updated edition of The Australian Beer Companion by Willie Simpson. RRP A$29.95

We hope you find something of interest for yourself and/or the wine lover in your family, and wish you happy reading over the festive season – glass of wine in hand, of course!

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