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Top 10 new drinks books

The last year has seen an exciting cascade of books published on a variety of drinks related subjects. From the informative to the entertaining, the encyclopaedic to the alluringly niche, read on to discover our top recommendations for your 2014 reading list.

10. Bordeaux Legends by Jane Anson

The allure, mystique and grandeur that has put Bordeaux wines on such an unassailable pedestal is thanks in no small part to the five first growths of the region’s Left Bank.

In the first half of her book on these power houses, Bordeaux resident Jane Anson embarks on an in-depth exploration of their rich history, from the 16th century origins of Haut Brion through the turbulence of the French Revolution at the end of the 18th century, the politics surrounding the famous 1855 classification and the alarming economic rollercoaster of the 20th century.

Against this backdrop, she dedicates the second half of the book to the modern day management of these estates and their custodians’ work to protect their position at the pinnacle of the international fine wine market.

Whether examining the latest advances in viticulture, taking a behind the scenes look at the blending process involved in preparing en primeur samples or considering the eye-watering price hikes of recent years, Anson brings us right up to date with what it takes to run a first growth in the 21st century.

RRP £35.

9. The Finest Wines of Germany by Stephan Reinhardt

As the German wine industry continues to demonstrate its recovery from a post-war quality slide that nearly destroyed the country’s illustrious reputation, this book shines a spotlight on the producers who are leading this revival.

In addition to offering a contemporary portrait of historic bastions of quality such as Egon Müller-Scharzhof, Dönnhoff, Schloss Johannisberg and Dr Bürklin-Wolf, Reinhardt picks out a host of young winemakers, such as Philipp Wittman in the Rheinhessen, who are leading a renaissance in their regions.

As Germany’s red wines, especially Pinot Noir, begin to spark excitement outside their domestic market, this is your chance to mug up on the top producers of Baden and the Ahr, as well as those pockets of distinction in Franken and the Pfalz.

Mainstream public opinion may be some years away from recognising the thrilling quality of German wine, but for the converted in search of an update or those keen to find out what all the fuss is about, The Finest Wines of Germany provides an excellent starting point.

RRP £20.

8. Boutique Beer by Ben MacFarland

Amid the deluge of worthy new wine books comes this lively guide through the mind-boggling maze that is the craft beer revival.

Beer expert Ben MacFarland cuts through the experimental chaff to present adventurous drinkers with a colourful selection of over 500 boutique beers.

Interspersed with notes on the cream of the world’s current craft beer crop are a host of other features, from brewery profiles to recipe ideas, cocktail suggestions, brewers’ own top tipples and a guide to the various techniques and ingredients that make up today’s vibrant beer spectrum.

There’s also plenty of the weird and wonderful on offer. Take, for example, the Oregonian brewer who uses wild yeast taken from his own beard, or the best beer to protect your garden from snails.

Then there’s the record breakers, whether ABV or IPU strengths that push the bounds of technology – or should that be human endurance – ever higher.

Combine these efforts with the brewers using Tabasco barrels or coffee beans passed through a weasel and thrill seekers can find plenty of distraction from the lacklustre offering in their local town centre pub.

RRP £25.

7. Reds, Whites & Varsity Blues, edited by Jennifer Segal

While the appeal of this book may initially seem rather niche, its wealth of social history and familiar faces has the scope to delight those wine lovers who developed their passion a world away from the dreaming spires or blind tasting contests.

Compiled to mark the 60th anniversary of the annual Oxford versus Cambridge blind tasting competition, Reds, Whites & Varsity Blues features a host of personal recollections and youthful photographs from former participants, many of whom went on to build careers in the wine trade.

Contributors include wine presenters Oz Clarke and Charles Metcalfe, David Peppercorn MW, who took part in the inaugural competition, and Jeremy Seysses of Domaine Dujac.

Edited by Jennifer Segal, the book was created with support from Pol Roger, which has sponsored the Varsity Blind Tasting match since 1992.

Any profits from sales of the book will be held in trust for the Oxford and Cambridge blind tasting societies to help them further their exploration of the ever-broadening world of wine.

RRP £35.

6. Cognac by Nicholas Faith

Eight years after the publication of its second edition, this fully updated version offers a detailed reference point on this pinnacle of the brandy category from one of the world’s top Cognac authorities.

Alongside a thorough history of the region and development of its eponymous product, Faith extends his expertise to the minutiae of vineyard quality, distillation, barrel ageing and the art of blending.

From these timeless considerations of production, the book shifts its attention to the more variable commercial issue of supply and demand that presents such a challenge for a drink that must be created so many decades before it reaches the market.

More light-hearted modern touches to this edition include a look at the spirit’s growing popularity among cocktail aficionados. At one point the otherwise scholarly tone is punctuated with some colourful Cognac-related lyrics from US rappers, who have embraced the category.

Finally, for those who want to avoid “the prevalence of wholly unremarkable Cognacs,” Faith provides a directory of the most distinctive examples on the market, including a number of his personal favourites.

RRP £30.

5. 500 Wines for 100 Occasions by David Williams

For all the scholarly works in this selection, there’s enormous value and appeal in a book that sets wine firmly within the context where it is enjoyed by the vast majority of consumers.

Forget categorising wine by region or grape variety, with this book the Observer’s David Williams has focused on recommending his top picks for every conceivable occasion when you might want to reach for a corkscrew.

A bad day at the office? Off to the beach? A boys’ night in? Surviving a break up? Williams is on hand with a creative range of wine options for every mood, taste and budget.

There’s also handy advice on how to store and serve wine, navigate a restaurant list and make the right choice from the wall of wine in supermarkets, as well as a handy series of “top 10” compilations by wine style or price.

For all its accessibility and engaging style, there’s plenty in here for more confident wine fans looking for inspiration to escape from a familiar rut. Dip in, broaden your mind and whet your appetite.

RRP £18.99.

4. Sherry, Manzanilla and Montilla by Peter Liem and Jésus Barquín

As the long-awaited Sherry renaissance is heralded by the explosion of Sherry bars and a steady flow of new – or revived – product launches, the literary world is keeping pace.

Although also available in Europe, this book from wine writer Peter Liem and Equipo Navazos founder Jésus Barquín was published in the US and claims to be the country’s first entirely new book on Sherry for more than two decades.

Inside, the updated historical and production background is complemented by a handy Jerez guide for the Sherry tourist, along with a contemporary consideration of the current health of the Sherry industry and future shape of the market.

While expressing optimism at the younger following and wider, higher quality offering for Sherry in the US, the authors highlight a number of concerns about the category’s commercial viability.

With “absurdly low” prices leaving little margin for investment, the industry continues to contract. Another major concern for the authors is what they describe as “the near complete abandonment of focus on the vineyards themselves.”

For all the positive movements within the Sherry industry in recent years, this book shows that there is still a long way to go, all the while making clear the pleasure and history that are threatened if this rehabilitation fails.

RRP $29.95.

3. Pomerol by Neal Martin

Not many wine producing countries could expect the luxury of nearly 600 pages to themselves, but in this book Neal Martin dedicates this space to dissecting Bordeaux’s smallest appellation.

In contrast to the majestic châteaux of the Left Bank or the picturesque landscape of St Emilion, Martin describes Pomerol as “an afterthought” and “a nebulous, abstruse entity that stumbled and muddled its way towards the present.”

During the course of this comprehensive tour, which is based on three years of research, Martin slowly gives shape to this ugly ducking of an appellation.

First comes a history of the commune, then a series of 43 in-depth winery profiles – Petrus alone receives 14,000 words. Not content with this level of scrutiny, the third section details each of the 400 or so Pomerol crus ever made, before the book closes with a vintage guide reaching back to 1945.

Despite such exhaustive detail, the finished product is rescued from relegation to the dusty shelves of worthy but impenetrable academia by its quirky, anecdotal style that is interspersed with hand drawn sketch maps by the proprietors and atmospheric black and white photos.

While all these elements are enough to put this book at the top of any serious wine lover’s birthday wishlist, Martin also highlights the timeliness of his mammoth undertaking.

“Pomerol is shifting on its axis,” he reports, noting the “strong currents of change” coursing through the appellation as its wines and vineyards at last attract the attention that for so long passed it by in favour of more eye-catching neighbours.

RRP £50.

2. American Wine by Jancis Robinson MW & Linda Murphy

While Wine Grapes, a multi-award winning, ground-breaking guide to the world’s wine grape varieties, was published just outside the timeframe for this list, Jancis Robinson MW has also been busy with a second collaborative effort.

Almost as ambitious in scope, American Wine claims to offer “the first truly comprehensive and authoritative reference to the wines, wineries and winemakers of the 50 states.”

Together with Sonoma-based wine writer Linda Murphy, Robinson tracks America’s growing love affair with wine and winemaking, exploring well beyond the bounds of the country’s most familiar vineyard regions.

While the primary focus remains on highlighting the best quality on offer from the 6,000-plus wineries currently licensed in the US, now the world’s fourth largest producer, there’s a real sense of adventure too. Discover rock musicians working with Rhône varieties in Arizona and the wineries cultivating grapes high up on the side of Hawaiian volcanoes.

However, the vast majority of the book is dedicated to more mainstream regions, offering a useful, thorough update on key AVAs and their producers. As California, Oregon and Washington State prepare to team up for their first joint London trade tasting in March, this book could provide some handy homework.

RRP £40.

1.The World Atlas of Wine, 7th edition, by Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson MW

Forty-two years after it was first published and six years since its previous edition, The World Atlas of Wine is back, revised once more to keep pace with relentless changes in the viticultural landscape.

Among the regions featured for the first time are coastal Croatia, Khaketi in Georgia, Canterbury in New Zealand, Swartland in South Africa, northern Virginia in the US and Ningxia in China, home to Moët Hennessy’s new sparking wine project.

Alongside 215 specially commissioned maps, the book tracks the latest trends in the world of wine, including the rise of China – both as a consumer and a producer.

There is also an examination of the steady shift away from international grape varieties towards less familiar, local varieties and the creation of lighter, fresher wine styles.

For the first time in its history, The World Atlas of Wine has also been published as an iPad eBook, complete with interactive maps and note-taking features.

While every other book in this collection offers desirable embellishment to any wine lovers’ bookshelf, The World Atlas of Wine is surely a crucial cornerstone.

RRP £40 (£19.99 for the eBook).

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