The best wine books for Christmas

The latest and greatest wine books for gifting to the drink fan in your life this Christmas – from drinking Australian to a history of wine fraud

Words by Nina Caplan, Lisse Garnett, Natasha Hughes MW and Henry Jeffreys

The best wine books for Christmas

Wine books make the perfect gift, especially at Christmas – a great time of year to curl up in peace with a really good read. And luckily for the wine lover in your life, the second half of 2023 offered some fascinating new books about wine, released just in time for Christmas gifting. As a result, we asked some of our writers to leaf their way through the latest and greatest titles to find the best wine books for Christmas – from a history of wine fraud to a collection of pieces on one of the wine world’s most prestigious regions.

There’s a book dedicated to the wine scene in Australia, as well as a new edition of a respected guide to the wine world and a revised version of the late Steven Spurrier’s Wine Course. Read on for six of the best wine books fit to give any oenophile this Christmas.

Six of the best wine books for Christmas

Vintage Crime

Vintage Crime: A Short History of Wine Fraud by Rebecca Gibb

£20, University of California Press

What a brilliant idea this is for a book: a look at wine fraud from Roman times right up to the trial of faker extraordinaire Rudy Kurniawan and his subsequent imprisonment. Vintage Crime is full of unforgettable details, like the growers from the Aubois who protested about their exclusion from the demarcation of the Champagne region with a banner that read ‘Champagne or Death’. What a choice! And I never knew that French president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing may have had a decisive role in the Cruse adulteration scandal of the 1970s, aka ‘Winegate’, that did so much to destroy the power of the merchant houses that had dominated the trade since the 18th century. The Cruse family was accused of passing off oceans of cheap southern wine as AC Bordeaux (at the trial, dozens of the firm’s clients said they couldn’t tell the difference between the two – not the most ringing endorsement of the highly trained palates of the wine trade).

It’s a thread that runs through the book from Roman feasts to the Hollywood types duped by Kurniawan: most people wouldn’t know the difference between the genuine article and something cooked up by fraudsters. Furthermore, few care as long as it tastes nice and doesn’t kill anyone. No wine lover should be without a copy of Vintage Crime, though in future it might make you sniff a little more suspiciously when handed a glass of fine wine.
Henry Jeffreys

On Burgundy

On Burgundy: From Maddening to Marvellous in 59 Wine Tales

£30, Académie du Vin Library

Burgundy has always evoked bittersweet emotion in me, like certain poets. My introduction came courtesy of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. Spellbound, I memorised each ethereal bottle as schoolgirl love for Sebastian took hold in my tender pliant heart. Later, I learned of Lalou Bize-Leroy and her rival Aubert de Villaine in The Wine Programme, Jancis Robinson’s seminal TV series. We were treated to a chevron-striped anorak-sporting Dominique Lafon sucking deeply on a cigarette, still so debonair as the clouds blackened and poured forth. Education came courtesy of Michael Schuster’s masterclasseses. As we supped sweet summers past from the Schusters’ cellar, anagnorisis hit me with a rush of pleasure; I had found my people. This book, an anthology of selected essays about Burgundy from wine writers over the years, elicited the same sensation.

What a gorgeous smorgasbord this tome is; truly, there is something to sate everyone from the expert to the ingénue. All conceivable facets of a much-dissected region are deliciously thrown into the mix —from the scientific to the cynical, from poetic fiction to hard fact. Culture, food, geology, literature and wit are drawn out and discussed as if at table amongst friends. Sophie Thorpe on the Côtes was my favourite; you will find yours. This book lifts you above the mundane; in the words of Charles Ryder (supping with the Philistine Rex Mottram), rejoice in the Burgundy, let it serve as a reminder that the world is an older and far better place than we sometimes think.
Lisse Garnett

The Oxford Companion to Wine

The Oxford Companion to Wine Fifth Edition, edited by Julia Harding and Jancis Robinson with Tara Q Thomas

£34.41, Oxford University Press

I have before me the first and fifth editions of Jancis Robinson’s magisterial companion to wine. The older book, published in 1994, has a cracked spine and no dustjacket – and that’s not all it doesn’t have. Under the Chardonnay entry, which has changed out of all recognition in nearly 30 years, I was pleased to see that the description of ‘Australia’s peculiarly user-friendly style of Chardonnay’ has become a ‘particularly user-friendly and frequently adapted style of Chardonnay’. A calm, mostly historical entry on climate change has become a long, fiercely urgent essay illustrated with a distressing (if beautiful) photograph of wildfires in Sonoma in 2004.

There has been a great deal of fine-tuning and updating since 2015’s Fourth Edition, with 272 new entries according to Julia Harding, and given that she has been lead editor since 2016, she ought to know. In addition to a slew of new countries, from Denmark to Gabon, and all sorts of new contributors, there are other tactful changes besides the adjustment to Aussie Chardonnay (which does, to be fair, predate the Fourth Edition). There’s a new emphasis on ‘emerging’ as opposed to ‘New World’ regions (new, after all, according to whom?) and many other tweaks, such as a reference in the Jackson Family Wines entry to the International Wineries for Climate Action organisation founded by Barbara Banke of JFW with the Torres family in 2019. There are many other examples.

This is a work of peerless scholarship, indispensable for wine professionals and wine lovers alike. And several happy hours spent flicking between this and the original just served to show how vital, in a swiftly changing wine world, these labour-intensive updates are.
Nina Caplan

How to Drink Australian

How to Drink Australian by Jane Lopes and Jonathan Ross

£30.45, Murdoch Books

There is far more than one way to drink Australian. In fact, there’s a strong argument that, in wine terms, there is no such place as Australia, given the vast distances and varied conditions between the wine regions on the country’s east and west coasts. Neither fact lessens the need for this book.

Jane Lopes, formerly wine director of fabulous Melbourne restaurant Attica, and Jonathan Ross, who was beverage director at the prestigious restaurant group Rockpool, are immensely knowledgeable and justifiably proud of their country’s wines. With climate, an international misconception that Aussie wine is all cheery plonk and the economic damage that Chinese tariffs have caused, the country’s many makers of fine wines don’t have an easy time of it. The book is beautifully produced, with each state colour-coded and every region progressing through history and terroir to politics and people, via lucid maps and graphs. There are quotes from winemakers and explanations of, for instance, the country pub – a different beast from its British equivalent, often with much better wine.

The Aussie wine scenes are so vibrant, so open to change, that elements of this book are probably already going out of date, but never mind: there is so much to learn here. There is the occasional cliché but the text pulses with the authors’ and interviewees’ enthusiasm – and I particularly liked the box-outs of their personal wine recommendations. I’m just back from tasting in South Australia’s Barossa Valley and I didn’t try Sami-Odi’s Syrah. Thanks to Ross, I will remedy that, and soon.
Nina Caplan

Steven Spurrier AdV Wine Course

Steven Spurrier’s Académie du Vin Wine Course

£75, Académie du Vin Library

Steven Spurrier’s books sit within a canon of seminal works by renowned wine educators, critics and commentators. Michael Broadbent, Hugh Johnson, Jancis Robinson, Michael Schuster and their peers democratised fine wine through education.

An aesthete, as interested in art as he was in wine, Spurrier’s passion for learning shines through the pages of this latest edition, introduced by Tim Mondavi and comprehensively updated. Science and art marry perfectly on the page. The book is accessible but detailed and there is much to unpack, as well as the odd anecdote.

Professional wine tasting, viticulture, winemaking, serving, storage, and the main grape varieties each get a chapter. There are 35 chapters given to individual wine-producing regions too. But considering Spurrier’s now legendary role in creating California’s reputation via the Judgement of Paris, this can be too concise: two pages on Argentina isn’t enough. Excellent inclusions, however, are apparent from Emile Peynaud’s Le Goût du Vin, the work that proceeds all others and on whose shoulders Spurrier and his contemporaries stood.

Spurrier died on the 9th of March 2021. During his lifetime, he built a bridge between the Old World and the New. A truly magnificent and hugely generous man, this handsome volume is a must for every self-respecting, intellectually inspired drinker.
Lisse Garnett

The New Viticulture

The New Viticulture: The Science of Growing Grapes for Wine by Jamie Goode

£34, Flavour Press

Jamie Goode is a veteran of viticultural science writing, with at least half-a-dozen books to his name, along with countless articles on all aspects of grape growing and winemaking. His latest work, the self-published New Viticulture is frustrating and compelling in equal measure.

Like Goode’s other books, this is an invaluable reference tool for anyone seriously interested in getting to grips with key issues in contemporary viticulture, from the basics of grafting and pruning to hot topics like regenerative viticulture and vine longevity. The way it’s written appears to presuppose some kind of elementary knowledge. As such, I suspect that Diploma and MW students, as well as those working at the coalface of hands-on viticulture, will be among those who get the most out of it.

There are a few frustrations. The pagination starts to go askew at page 133 – only by a page or two – but from that point on, some chapters start where the contents page suggests they will, while others don’t. Given that this data-heavy work doesn’t have an index either, it makes navigation tricky. Many sections quote verbatim from interviews too, complete with non-sequiturs and repetitive ramblings.

Those grumbles aside, for the serious, academically-minded reader The New Viticulture fills a huge, hungry gap in the market.
Natasha Hughes MW