A spirited selection of holiday gift books

Maybe you can’t get them a bottle of Robert Mondavi’s fabulous Opus One, but you can buy them a book about it. Next best thing, right?

Here are mini-reviews of wine books for holiday giving:

•  Divine Vintage: Following the Wine Trail from Genesis to the Modern Age by Randall Heskett and Joel Butler (Palgrave MacMillan, $27).

Butler, a wine expert, and Heskett, a biblical scholar, study the importance of wine in the Bible. Noah, “a man of the soil,” planted the first vineyard just after the great flood, and later got drunk on its bounty. Jesus’ first miracle was turning water into wine, at a wedding in Cana, and his hosts were miffed because it was better than what they’d been serving. The authors look at the wines of Jesus’ day, then survey the modern world of wine seeking to answer the question: If he was here today, what wine would Jesus drink? I won’t give away the answer.

•  Margrit Mondavi’s Sketchbook: Reflections on Wine, Food, Art, Family, Romance and Life, with Janet Fletcher (Robert Mondavi Winery, $35): American wine icon Robert Mondavi, who died in 2008 at 94, always saw wine not as just a beverage, but as part of a cultured life. Margrit Biever, now 86, married him in 1980 and played a big role in that life as the winery’s VP of cultural affairs, entertaining the likes of Queen Elizabeth II and Sophia Loren. Here the winery publishes a beautifully illustrated book of her reminiscences. It’s the rare coffee table book that’s actually worth reading.

•  The Finest Wines of Germany: A Regional Guide to the Best Producers and their Wines by Stephan Rienhardt (Fine Wine Editions, $40): Many a wine lover considers riesling the world’s finest grape, but most Americans know little of German wines. This 271-page book brings them home, from the driest kabinett-style wines to the sweetest, most unctuous (and most expensive) eisweins, left on the vine until frozen solid. Compelling photos of the winemakers by Jon Wyand make them look like rock stars.

•  Doug Shafer: A Vineyard in Napa (University of California Press, $30): John Shafer’s story is typical of California winery owners. His fortune made as a Chicago publishing exec, he cashed in at 47 and went for the lifestyle by buying a vineyard in the Napa Valley. Even though he knew little of winemaking. In this book, his son, Doug, describes the battle that created one of California’s finest wineries and some of its finest wines. It demonstrates that wine is not a mystery, but something that can be mastered.

•  Wineocology: Uncork the Power of Your Palate with Sensory Secrets from Hollywood’s Sommelier by Caitlin Stansbury, with Heidi Shink (Globe Pequot Press, $19): Celeb sommelier and wine consultant Stansbury puts it plainly: “The truth is there is no difference between wine professionals and complete novices, other than some formal training and experience.” She puts forth her “Secret Sommelier System,’ seeking a Zen-like focus that will attune your senses to the wonders of wine.

Fred Tasker has retired from The Miami Herald but is still writing about wine for the McClatchy News Service. He can be reached at

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