Books for Wine Lovers

You can't take liquids on planes anymore, and it's risky to put wine in the mail, so sometimes you can't easily give a bottle to someone who'd like one. If you're looking for a gift this season for someone who likes wine, skip the pretentious, expensive tomes. Here are some titles that your wino will like and that will leave money in your pocket for a nice bottle.

The Billionaire's Vinegar: The Mystery of the World's Most Expensive Bottle of Wine, by Benjamin Wallace. (Crown, $24.95) The only thing more delicious than $10,000, $20,000 and $150,000 bottles of wine is reading about a con man who fakes them and the saps who buy them. This book is partly a detective story, partly a tutorial about counterfeit wine and mostly a study of human greed and pride. Opens strong; has notes of Thomas Jefferson, Cesium-137 and Baskin-Robbins; delivers a clean finish.

The Widow Clicquot: The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled It, by Tilar J. Mazzeo. (Collins, $25.95). A good feminist romp through the history of champagne. The real-life Veuve Clicquot was born in 1777 as Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin. Married at 20 and widowed at 27, she took over the fledgling wine business of her late husband, Francois Clicquot, with no experience in business. In little more than a decade, she became one of the richest women in France, taking enormous risks to make enormous profits by running blockades to supply champagne to Russia's thirsty nobility during the Napoleonic Wars. The author, a cultural historian who divides her time between the California wine country and teaching at Colby College in Maine, explains how champagne became synonymous with celebration.

Bordeaux/Burgundy: A Vintage Rivalry, by Jean-Robert Pitte. Translated by M.B. DeBevoise. (Univ. of Calif. Press, $24.95). Oh so French, this book by the president of the University of Paris IV, better known as the Sorbonne. A book about French wine written for a French audience, it assumes some prior knowledge and, certainly, more than an average drinker's interest in the differences between Burgundy and Bordeaux. But to the inebriated -- er, initiated -- it's fascinating. Did you know that (some of) the French consider Burgundy to be "Catholic" wine and Bordeaux to be "Protestant"? (The choice to grow cabernet sauvignon in Bordeaux was made to appeal to an English and Northern European, i.e., Protestant, clientele). Did you know that the wine set in Bordeaux are far more sporty than in Burgundy? (Bordeaux has polo, tennis and the annual Marathon du Medoc, while Burgundy has only the "marche de Ladoix," a nice walk on the first Sunday of July that ends with a traditional nap.)

Anyway, those are my picks from the recent vintage. Is there a wine book that you think is reading well right now?

--Alan Cooperman

By Alan Cooperman |  December 12, 2008; 7:00 AM ET Alan Cooperman
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