The 2005 vintage of wine writing has been a wide-ranging one, with books touching on the 1976 Paris tasting that blasted California's Napa Valley into the headlines, the great phylloxera blight and the rise of Robert Parker. We've selected three books to send this notable year for wine lovers out with a bang.
If you're familiar with celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, aka The Naked Chef, you won't be surprised that one of the first sentences in Matt Skinner's Thirsty Work: Love Wine Drink Better is, Grapes rock! Skinner, who is the sommelier at Oliver's London restaurant Fifteen and as young and intentionally rumpled as his boss takes an exaggerated surfer-dude approach to the subject of wine. And since the typefaces are big and emphatic and the book is full of video collage-style photographs (cropped with the film's sprockets showing) of surfers and young winemakers and waiters learning to taste, it would be easy to dismiss Thirsty Work as wine lit lite. Nevertheless, beneath the sauciness is some real meat. While he often tosses off descriptions of varietals with a calculated brashness ( At its worst, [pinotage] is light, jammy, and bland good for cleaning heavily-charred barbecues! ), Skinner generally gets them exactly right. And his style is certainly accessible. Which is why Oliver hired him in the first place: to teach, as he puts it in the foreword, a bunch of unemployed kids who had never drunk wine before all about wine. Thirsty Work would be a good gift for a college student or first-jobber learning to get around Wine World.
Eve Zibart is a restaurant critic for The Washington Post.