The Best Beginner Wine Books

Start a new hobby in 2021

I have put together a short review of my top 3 beginner wine books to help with igniting your new found interest in wine and develop it into a lifelong passion. If you’ve always been slightly intrigued by the wine world and are quite open minded then maybe it’s time for you to purchase your first wine book. This is the best way to begin, because a book always begins with page one.

Imagine trying to figure out just where to begin with learning about this colossal subject without a book organising it all for you…Should I learn about grapes first? Or maybe the countries that produce wine? Wait…I don’t even know how to taste a wine, should I know that first?

When I first started learning about wines, I went on the hunt for any text that would speak to me about wine as if I was having a conversation with a friend, not some snobby, over-technical text. This would have bound to put me off continuing to grow my knowledge. This is why the examples below, are all books which speak in a language that isn’t patronising and include colourful illustrations and maps to add context and keep you engaged.

#1 Beginner Wine Book – Wine Folly, A Visual Guide to Wine

A Visual Guide to Wine, Madeline Puckette and Justin Hammack

This book is a great place to start. It addresses all of the important information at the very beginning of the book, including how to taste wine and how to pour it. Then as you continue it takes you through the most famous grapes from around the world, starting with those lightest in body before moving on to medium and full. At the back of the book, there are various maps of the most famous wine regions which are brilliantly colourful and simple to understand.

I like the grape led theme of this book because it’s great for beginners to see bitesize, digestible pieces of information all about a single grape variety (or blend). In many wine courses and books you are taught about the region first and then expected to remember the main grapes for each region (amongst many other things!). This can seem very overwhelming, however, when starting with grape facts, you already become familiar with their various names and roughly how a wine might taste depending on which one (or more) it’s made with.

A Visual Guide to Wine, Madeline Puckette and Justin Hammack

There is just enough for a beginner to get on board with, including a brief mention about how climate can effect the aroma and flavour characteristics, average cost prices, serving temperatures and ageing potential.

A Visual Guide to Wine, Madeline Puckette and Justin Hammack

#2 Beginner Wine Book – The Wine Bible

The Wine Bible, Karen MacNeil

Despite the Wine Bible being less colourful on the inside than Wine Folly’s guide, it is wonderfully vibrant and enticing. Karen MacNeil writes with simplicity and humour, a winning combination every time for me! MacNeil breaks down complicated subjects such as the 1855 Classification of Bordeaux and works miracles on them by implementing short insightful pieces of information rather than telling the whole tiresome tale.

Not only, does the author cut out most of the boring stuff, it has thoughtfully been replaced by amusing facts that you can hold onto for your next wine themed zoom quiz.

The Wine Bible, Karen MacNeil

Maps are also included each time you begin looking at a new wine region. Not so in depth but just enough to understand when the author is speaking about that river at the bottom of the slope which helps to ripen the grapes.

The Wine Bible, Karen MacNeil

#3 Beginner Wine Book – The World Atlas of Wine, 8th Edition

The World Atlas of Wine, Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson

This book is quite in depth. But still not over-complicated and includes all of the basic information you’ll be wanting to know as a wine novice. This book goes through countries and starts with those in the ‘old world’ which are the European wine countries, moving onto the ‘new world’ countries that are situated elsewhere in the globe.

I love how this book not only includes the lesser known winemaking countries, but actually presents them on a double-paged spread. Many countries from the old world such as Croatia, Romania and Czech Republic are recognised, along with Japan and China from the new world.

The World Atlas of Wine, Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson

Without a doubt, my favourite feature in this book is the maps. They are incredibly detailed and colourful! They come with a key so that you can navigate your way through the various symbols and once you have cracked it, you can take a quick glance to see which vineyard belongs to which village.

The World Atlas of Wine, Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson

I must admit that out of all three of my recommendations, this book might be the most intermediate, however, you really have all the information you could ever want to begin with your new hobby. The text is clear, un-pretentious and follows a consistent format that you can get used to as you flick from country to country.

So that’s it, my list of the best beginner wine books. If you wanted to get them all at some point then I would recommend reading them in the order that I have listed them, this is because the information gets gradually more in depth and vast. Perhaps you just want to look at pretty pictures of wine regions and pick up a few facts along the way, in which case I would urge you into picking The World Atlas of Wine. Whichever you chose, I hope you enjoy it as much as I have done and can use it to take a deeper dive into the world of wine.

2 thoughts

  1. When I first began learning about wine 50 years ago along with 5 fellow students, we had no books except The Penguin Wine Guide. We took an active experiential approach via the single book and the catalogues from Peter Dominic merchants. We tasted our way around the world and across the commonly available grape varieties. I’ve written about such an approach in my own book together with some chapters on recently exploring vineyards in France and England. (https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B08MSRF5QR). Beginners or newcomers to wine certainly need reference books, the Wine Atlas is a favourite of mine and has been through several editions. I also have the “Oxford Companion To Wine” which supplements the Atlas brilliantly. But I think that beginners need confidence more than anything, the confidence to visit vineyards, talk to winemakers, visit merchants rather than supermarkets, and, most of all be relatively systematic in exploring a single grape across countries or regions, or a single region/country and their grape varieties. As science postgraduates this came quite naturally to us, but many novices today often need encouragement to think of how to explore the world of wine. However, I enjoyed reading your post and choice of books.

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    1. Thank you for reading and enjoying my post! I certainly agree that, visiting vineyards, winemakers etc…inspires confidence and excitement for beginners, however, the current restrictions on life here in the UK means that for now these activities are less of an option. Books, the internet and webinars are a good bet at the moment for someone looking to learn more about the wine world.

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