Gift-giving for wine lovers is usually difficult. The wine lover, like the anything lover, almost always knows more about the object of adoration than the giver, so the risk of an underappreciated gift is high.

You can’t rely on the generically expensive. If your friend loves age-worthy old-vine Zinfandel, that nice bottle of Gevrey-Chambertin might garner a quizzical or dismissive response.

There are strategies. Perhaps you know the shop she frequents and the shop knows her, and you could ask the clerk there to recommend something both special and on target. Or scroll through her Internet search history and find out the wine pages she keeps returning to. I won’t tell.

But if your situation is a little more open-ended, choose a book instead. Books last longer than bottles, they stoke the imagination, and the good ones offer multiple points of entry. Even if you know little about wine, you know your friend, and by leafing through a book, you can get a pretty good idea of whether she’ll like it. That’s harder to do looking at a wine label or even tasting a wine.

In part because it’s that leafing-through process that’s so important, please don’t buy a book from Amazon. Go to a store and speak with the people who thought it valuable enough to offer for sale. Find someone you trust, and trust him.

Luckily, we in this neck of the woods have one of the most trustworthy people around, Don Lindgren of the great Rabelais books in Portland. (The store will be moving to the North Dam Mill in Biddeford in January.) Don and his equally trustworthy wife, Samantha Hoyt Lindgren, own Rabelais, a food/farming/drink-specializing bookstore that is heaven to anyone with even the slightest interest in eating or drinking.


After some time there, you want to smell and taste more carefully, you want to spend less time on meaningless distractions and more time with friends or family, cooking, gardening, reading. Rabelais links you to the primal, most satisfying spheres of life, which will transfer to the quality of the gift you give. Online shopping does not .

My conversation with Don reinforced for me that wine does not exist in a vacuum, but is integral to history, the arts, politics and ethics. The books I mention below emphasize these interrelationships, but each will connect most immediately with a frame of mind aligned at least somewhat with the spirit that gave it life. For this reason, I preface each title with a hypothetical personality of the gift recipient who would most appreciate it.

For The Gourmand, who loves to cook and eat and wants to understand more about the true variety of wines available to exalt his dining experiences: “The Food Lover’s Guide to Wine” by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg ($35) is a true education. A rather silly timeline of “American wine history” is quickly made up for with sections on tasting and serving basics, quotations from thoughtful wine-world people, a comprehensive list of varietals with intelligent categories such as “volume” and “weight” as well as “acidity” and “flavors,” and reliable producers. A lot of good advice on food and wine pairing follows.

Also, I can’t recommend highly enough Evan Goldstein’s two books, “Perfect Pairings” and, even better, “Daring Pairings” ($35), where a smart Master Sommelier goes deep into a good selection of common and uncommon varietals and pairs each with a recipe that works.

For The Ethicist, who is interested in wine’s links with ecology, history and geography: “Naked Wine” ($24) by the indomitable Alice Feiring is terrific. Feiring is unabashedly polemical on the topic of “letting grapes do what comes naturally”: Making wine out of nothing but crushed fruit and maybe the barest bit of sulphur. She fights tooth-and-nail against pimped-out Californian or Cali-style crowd-pleasers, resting the very fate of the world on an approach that favors terroir and historical precedent.

In this book, she puts her feet where her mouth is, traipsing West to crush her own wine in the style she’s become so well known for defending. Her personal tales of trying to merge theory and practice are what make the book so gripping.


For The Philosopher, who sees wine as metaphor and metaphors as wine: Roger Scruton’s “I Drink Therefore I Am” ($18) is my kind of book. It’s subtitled “A Philosopher’s Guide to Wine.” Scruton, a real-life historian and big-thought essayist, delves deep, usually successfully but entertainingly even when he fails. Scruton uses wine “as an accompaniment to philosophy, and philosophy as a by-product of wine.” There are chapters on “consciousness and being” and “the meaning of wine,” references to everyone you’ve ever heard of, and a delightfully annoying (or is it the other way around?) appendix pairing various philosophers with appropriate wines. (Cab Sauv with Maimonides?!)

For The Literary Mystic, who yearns to find poetry in every moment of his life: First published in Japan in 2005 but only recently translated into English, Tadashi Agi and Shu Okimoto’s Manga epic “The Drops of God” ($15) is a revelation. A worldwide sensation graphic-novel adventure, it starts with a soaring set-piece on decanting Romanee-Conti, then explores earthly topics such as vintage variation and terroir with a soaring spirit, that unique Manga mix of the wry and the profound. A salute to the poetic mystery of wine, and, like Scruton’s book, it challenges us to bring to wine everything we want from it.


Joe Appel works at Rosemont Market. His blog,, continues the conversation, and he can be reached at [email protected]


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