The best books for those who like wine

Kathleen Burk Author Of Is This Bottle Corked? The Secret Life of Wine
By Kathleen Burk

Who am I?

I’m the daughter of a Californian grape farmer, and have driven tractor, picked grapes, and tied vines. Whilst at Berkeley, I travelled around Napa Valley tasting wines whilst riding pillion on a 750 cc motorcycle; at Oxford I discovered European wines. Thereafter, I was a professor of modern and contemporary history in London, writing nearly a dozen books, and continuing to explore wines with my husband. I have wine in my bones. I now travel around the world tasting it, writing about it, judging it, and leading tasting tours, all the while continuing to drink it. I am currently writing a book on the global history of wine.

I co-wrote...

Is This Bottle Corked? The Secret Life of Wine

By Kathleen Burk, Michael Bywater,

Book cover of Is This Bottle Corked? The Secret Life of Wine

What is my book about?

This is a book of fifty short essays about wine, all answering a question, and ideal for reading in the evening with a glass of port in hand. There are bits of history – ‘What was George Washington’s favourite wine?’ or ‘Did Slovenia turn the British into a nation of wine drinkers?’ Others look at literary figures – ‘Why did Omar Khayyam write so much about wine?’ or ‘What did Jane Austen recommend for heartache?’ There are big questions – ‘What is terroir, and should we care? or ‘Must you have a guru?’ or ‘Do you understand winespeak?’ But there are also small ones - ‘What is a “comet wine”?’ or ‘When should wine smell of petrol?’ And for the truly curious, there is a look at wine made from brussels sprouts. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Essential Winetasting: The Complete Practical Winetasting Course

Why did I love this book?

I began my education in wine in small classes run by Michael Schuster; this book is the next best thing. The title makes it sound a bit tedious, but it’s not. Inside is the key – ‘Taste with your head, and drink with your heart.' It is a bit depressing to hear someone say that ‘I don’t know about wine, but I know what I like’ – it sounds as though the speaker is embracing ignorance. Rather, it should be ‘this is a wine that I like and this is why.’ Besides, what could be more fun than learning about wine: it’s both intellectually interesting and tastes so good! Using this book, you can do it alone or – even more fun - with friends. 

By Michael Schuster,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Essential Winetasting as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An authoritative and inspirational winetasting course, from one of the world's leading wine educators.

'Explains the mechanics of taste and tasting better than any book I've seen.' - Richard Ehrlich, Independent on Sunday

Learn how to taste wine, with one of the world's leading wine educators.

This book offers a particularly clear and precise means of teaching yourself how to taste and how to get more out of your wine, whatever your level. All the major grape varieties are explored, and their key characteristics in different regions. Ten practical tastings then cover core tasting techniques. Do you want to explore…

Book cover of Vineyard Tales: Reflections on Wine

Why did I love this book?

Gerald Asher is a wine writer who is celebrated for his range, his knowledge, his ability to see below the surface of things, and his compelling writing style. This book of essays about wine is one of my favourites, ranging as it does from wines with food, in which he goes in unexpected directions, to whether or not and how to decant wines, to drinking wine in Greece surrounded by the gods, to wines from Portugal and California and Oregon and Italy and France. He takes me to places I’ve never been and to wines I’ve never drunk, all with no effort on my part. Along the way, I learn and I enjoy. What a pleasurable book!

By Gerald Asher,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Vineyard Tales as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A Napa Valley Cabernet, a French Burgundy, an Orvieto Classico shared among friends in the Umbrian hills—every wine has a story, and Gerald Asher tells it best. Asher, longtime wine editor of Gourmet magazine, has an unsurpassed knowledge of vineyards, wineries, and wines. He also has the refreshing ability to write about wine informatively and entertainingly, without technical jargon. Now in paperback, Asher's delightful Vineyard Tales evaluates wines from around the world—from secret sun-drenched vineyards on Crete to the celebrated Champagne houses of France—setting each wine in the context of a region's history and culture. In addition, Asher offers an…

In the Vine Country

By Edith Somerville, Martin Ross,

Book cover of In the Vine Country

Why did I love this book?

This is fiction masquerading as non-fiction. Published in 1893 but now re-published – do try to get a copy with the original illustrations – the story is about two upper-class female cousins from Ireland who receive a letter commanding them to go to Bordeaux to tour the vineyards. They know nothing about wine, except that a glass and a half of Château Lafite caused one of the cousins to snore quietly over her dessert. Nor do they know about Bordeaux or how to use the Kodak camera they were given to take photographs. Nevertheless, off they go, two intrepid young women braving the French hotel-keepers, the carts, the country people, and the owners. It is witty, historic now, and fun to read.

By Edith Somerville, Martin Ross,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked In the Vine Country as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Hands down the wine book of the year." -David McIntyre, Washington Post

"...paints a glorious picture of Bordeaux as seen through the skittish and mischievously observant eyes of Somerville and Ross - cousins and writing partners." -Victoria Moore, The Telegraph

Journeying through the Medoc in the autumn of 1891, Anglo-Irish cousins and travelling companions, Edith Somerville and Martin Ross (aka Violet Florence Martin) bring their distinctive melange of wry wit, acute observation and unabashed horror at the barefoot treading of Cabernet Sauvignon to this delightful account of vendangeurs lofty and low-born as they bring in the harvest in time-honoured fashion.…

Book cover of Hugh Johnson's The Story of Wine

Why did I love this book?

Hugh Johnson is one of the most famous, and certainly the best-selling, of all the world’s wine writers. This book was first published in 1989 and has held the field ever since. It’s a glorious sweep of the history of wine from the beginning to about thirty years ago, with masses of illustrations, which is one of the glories of the book. A new edition was published in 2020, which brings it up to the present, but it lacks maps and illustrations. On the other hand, he hints at what he thinks about scoring wines by numbers: he’s not keen, preferring sniffing and tasting and then using stars to indicate the quality. What, after all, is the perceived difference between a 91 wine and a 92? And why start at 50?

By Hugh Johnson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Hugh Johnson's The Story of Wine as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This fascinating history of wine is written with all the characteristic enthusiasm and wit of its famous author, Hugh Johnson. Unlike many comprehensive histories, this book is easily "digestible" and explores the cultural history of wine in enthralling chapters. The colorful prose makes the book a joy to read from cover to cover and a delight to dip into at leisure.

The Oxford Companion to Wine

By Jancis Robinson (editor), Julia Harding (editor),

Book cover of The Oxford Companion to Wine

Why did I love this book?

If I had to choose only one wine book to own and use, this would be it. It contains thousands of entries of varying lengths and complexity, all clearly written: do you want to know where the wines of Cadillac come from and what they taste like in fewer than a hundred words? Here it is. If you want to know how climate change is affecting vines and wines around the world, its three big pages will tell you. What is the wine called PX? Would you like to know all about California and its wines? France? China? What is biodynamic agriculture? Who are the most famous wine writers and what did they write about? Almost anything you might want to know about a wine-related subject is in this book. There is nothing else like it.

By Jancis Robinson (editor), Julia Harding (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Oxford Companion to Wine as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Published in 1994 to worldwide acclaim, the first edition of Jancis Robinson's seminal volume immediately attained legendary status, winning every major wine book award including the Glenfiddich and Julia Child/IACP awards, as well as writer and woman of the year accolades for its editor on both sides of the Atlantic. Combining meticulously-researched fact with refreshing opinion and wit, The Oxford Companion to Wine
presents almost 4,000 entries on every wine-related topic imaginable, from regions and grape varieties to the owners, connoisseurs, growers, and tasters in wine through the ages; from viticulture and oenology to the history of wine, from its…

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