Reading Recommendations for 2013

With the new year comes a fresh opportunity to discover wine, beers, spirits, foods, and destinations we haven’t had the chance to explore before. And while it may be impossible to just call out sick from work and hop on a last-minute plane bound for Japan or Santorini or Patagonia, planning get-aways like them is always a good idea: It refreshes the spirit and casts your quotidian life in an entirely different light than you’ve likely seen it before. Getting around the world is easier now that it’s ever been before, and there are plenty of airline deals to be found if you look hard enough.

Right now, however, most people are going to be desk-bound for the next couple of months: All the time off for the holidays means that there’s work to get done, so while now is the perfect time for planning a trip, it’s not necessarily the best time to take one.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t experience the world from the comfort of your home. And while it may sound like a cliche, cracking open a well-written wine or food or travel book is an excellent stand-in for jetting off yourself. Plus, with all the deep discounts being offered by bookstores both online and in the brick-and-mortar world, the purchases won’t break the proverbial bank.

Here, then, are my recommendations.

Pairing with The Masters: A Definitive Guide to Food & Wine
Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan, Master of Wine , and Ken Arnone, Certified Master Chef
Perhaps more than any other aspect of sitting down to enjoy a meal, the pairing of the food and the wine have the potential to cause serious stress. And for many people, there are few moments more terrifying than being handed the wine list at a restaurant while your friends, family, or--even worse--colleagues wait for you to find that one perfect bottle that will work with everything. (Spoiler: It probably doesn’t exist.) This book, then, is the perfect addition to shelves of wine and food lovers everywhere. Simonetti-Bryan and Arnone take readers not just through a tour of pairing, but delve deeper into the reasons behind them. They also avoid the pitfall of making what I call “blanket-statement pairings”--that is, proclaiming that x wine pairs well with y protein all the time. In its place, they focus on pairings for specific recipes, specific flavor profiles. “As you will see with the three scallop recipes, we explain how a Sauvignon Blanc paired beautifully with the Grilled Sea Scallops with Extra Virgin Olive Oil, yet was too acidic and stripped the flavor of the Sauteed Sea Scallops with Truffle Goat Cheese Sauce,” which, they write, “was complimented much better with an oaked Chardonnay.” This is exactly the kind of honest, extensively researched and tested, thorough book that is needed right now. Simonetti-Bryan and Arnone are titans of their respective fields, and their writing is clear, sharp, and engaging. And, as expected, the pairings, recipes, and underpinning philosophies are impeccable.

Wines of the Southern Hemisphere
Mike DeSimone and Jeff Jenssen
The always entertaining and well-informed “World Wine Guys” have published, in their words, “the first comprehensive book ever written on” the wines of the Southern Hemisphere. Their focus is on Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Chile, New Zealand, South Africa, and Uruguay, but the cumulative story they tell is of the overwhelming and inexorable movement of wine around the globe. This is a book that gives these wine-producing countries the respect that an in-depth analysis and guide implicitly provide, and DeSimone and Janssen’s user-friendly format and always-engaging tone make the education that the book provides one that you’ll want to pursue even after reading this excellent volume. From overviews of countries themselves to more in-depth analyses of the key growing regions and producers within them, Wines of the Southern Hemisphere is a must-read for serious wine-lovers everywhere, and an important addition to our collective wine literature.

The Finest Wines of Germany: A Regional Guide to the Best Producers and Their Wines
Stephan Reinhardt
Another entry in the excellent “Fine Wine Editions” collection of books, this one, by Stephan Reinhardt, is one more reason to devote a shelf on your bookcase to this series. And while its focus on the top producers in each region provides an exceptionally handy guide for readers who are already initiated into the cult of great German wine (I count myself among them; a significant portion of my admittedly modest collection is devoted to German wine), this book is also a phenomenal introduction for newcomers. Historical context, the basics of viticulture and winemaking, clarification of the often confusing terms that appear on the label: The Finest Wines of Germany is that rare wine book that offers something for everyone along the wine-knowledge spectrum. This series, and this volume, are yet more feathers in the proverbial cap of the editors of The World of Fine Wine who put out these books.

A Vineyard in Napa
Doug Shafer with Andy Demsky
There are certain names in the wine world that need no elaboration, no further clarification: Lafite, J.J. Prum, Vega Sicilia, Fonseca, Domaine de la Romanee-Conti. Mere mention of the names is enough to convey the importance of their history and their wines alike. And while California doesn’t have the same historical depth as many of its European counterparts--when the Cistercian monks were working out the minute differences between vineyards in Burgundy, the great wines of California’s golden age were still nearly a millennium in the future. But that hasn’t stopped a number of visionary Californians from staking their claim to well-earned spots in the world wine pantheon. And in this country, Shafer--along with Harlan, Screaming Eagle, Bryant Family, Colgin, and others--is among the great producers not just in America but the world. A Vineyard in Napa, rather than approaching the story from a technical standpoint, gives readers a clear-eyed view of not just the history of the Napa Valley and its wines through the lens of one man’s story, but also a glimpse of the audacity it took to carve out this place in the wine world. Whether or not you’ve been fortunate enough to taste the remarkable wines of Shafer Vineyards, this story is a must-read: It’s not just about one man, one family, or one wine region; it’s also about the vision that led to the creation of one of the world’s most important wine regions.

The Smart Guide to Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Elizabeth Riley Bell
The basics of single-malt Scotch whisky are fairly easy to master...on the surface. Highlands bottlings are more honeyed, Islay kissed with peat, and so on. But beyond that, things get confusing. How is Campbeltown different from Speyside? Are the Eastern and Western Highlands really all that dissimilar? What makes one producer’s whisky taste so unlike its neighbors? This, then, is the definitive reference for the novice to the expert, delving as it does into both the big-picture factors that shape single-malt production all over Scotland to the idiosyncrasies of all the distillers you could ever want to know. It’s written with clarity, real expertise, and a subtle sense of humor, which makes every dram of information go down as easily as a perfectly balanced Edradour. And it even clarifies the age-old questions of pronunciation: How, after all, do you really pronounce Auchentoshan? (Answer, according to Bell: “awk-en-TOSH-an.”) If only I’d had this book years ago.

Let’s Eat Out with Celiac / Coeliac & Food Allergies: A Timeless Reference for Special Diets
Kim Koeller and Robert La France
Open a magazine or newspaper these days and you’re bound to find reams of information about the latest food-allergy study. Unfortunately, despite the growing preponderance of them in this country, there’s precious little guidance for how those who suffer from them can make the most of their meals. This, then, is a priceless reference, covering as it does not just strategies for being able to dine confidently no matter what the situation or environment, but also the minutiae of cuisines all over the world, what to look out for, and how to request the kind of accommodations that will allow celiac and allergy sufferers to still enjoy the flavors and textures without risking their health. If you or someone you know suffers from celiac or other serious food allergies, Let’s Eat Out is a must-buy.