If you consider only one wine book for the wine lover on your gift list this holiday season, I strongly suggest "The World Atlas of Wine" by Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson ($55, Mitchell Beazley).
Though there are many other options, this book is most important, in my humble opinion, because it is the seventh and latest edition of what I consider the most useful wine reference work in my library of wine. It is useful because it is comprehensive and authoritative, and it is useful because the authors are trusted sources on all things to do with wine.
Johnson has been writing eloquently and accurately on wine for nearly half a century. His "Pocket Wine Book" has been published annually since 1977. Jancis Robinson is a Master of Wine, author of "The Oxford Companion to Wine" and wine columnist for Financial Times.
What these two bring to "The World Atlas of Wine" is a treasure trove of knowledge distilled into a format that is easy to navigate, informative and highly entertaining given the tremendous writing prowess of these two gifted storytellers.
This new edition of "The World Atlas of Wine" is the first since 2007 and covers a good deal of territory that either didn't exist or was barely underway when the previous edition was published.
No matter how much the wine enthusiast in your life knows about wine, there is no doubt "The World Atlas of Wine" will explore aspects of the wine world that so far have been uncharted waters.
Wines are rated on a 100-point scale. Wines are chosen for review because they represent outstanding quality or value, and the scores are simply a measure of this reviewer's enthusiasm for the recommended wine.
Tasca d'Almerita 2012 Regaleali Bianco, Sicilia IGT, Italy ($15) — This refreshing white blend comes from one of Sicily's top estates, located in the mountains of central Sicily. The winemaking team is exceptional, and their winemaking consultant, the impressive Carlo Ferrini, is a legend in Italian wine. The blend is primarily grecanico, catarratto and inzolia, with a splash of chardonnay for weight on the palate. The wine is entirely stainless-steel tank fermented and never gets anywhere near an oak barrel prior to bottling. It is simple, refreshing and clean, with precise aromas of citrus and stone fruits. And it's easy to sip at a mere 12 percent alcohol by volume. Rating: 89.
Nickel & Nickel 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, C.C. Ranch, Rutherford ($100) — Winemaker Darice Spinelli's deft hand with cabernet sauvignon is in evidence, as is the quality of the fruit off of this Rutherford district vineyard. The nose exhibits a hint of violet, and on the palate this wine delivers aromas of blueberry, blackberry and currants, with ultra-smooth tannins that create a scintillating tactile sensation. It is quite simply an awesome example of Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon at its finest. Rating: 97.
Merry Edwards 2012 Sauvignon Blanc, Russian River Valley ($32) — There is no doubt Merry Edwards is the reigning queen of California pinot noir. But the lady doesn't simply rest on her laurels; she also makes one of the finest sauvignon blancs, if not the finest sauvignon blanc, in the entire United States. This vintage of sauvignon takes Merry back to her early roots as a winemaker, when she produced notable wines from the Bordeaux grape varieties while at Mount Eden Vineyards in the Santa Cruz Mountains. This vintage is a stunner, exhibiting complex aromas of peach and citrus, with floral overtones. It is well-balanced, precise and utterly delicious. Rating: 96.
Merry Edwards 2011 Pinot Noir, Georganne Vineyard, Russian River Valley ($57) — With remarkable purity of fruit, this is another brilliant effort from Merry Edwards, the queen of California pinot noir. On the nose there is a whiff of violet and subtle earthiness. On the palate the wine unfolds elegantly, showing layers of raspberry and blueberry fruit, the scent of mocha and a hint of spice. On the finish there is real honest-to-goodness grip, which bodes well for the future evolution of this superb example of Russian River Valley pinot that has obviously benefited from the deft skills of a master artisanal winemaker. Rating: 96.
Kenwood Vineyards 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon 'Artist Series,' Sonoma County ($60) — This is a firmly structured vintage for the Artist Series cab from Kenwood, with noticeable wood tannin, which may or may not smooth out as the wine ages. That's nitpicky, however, given the abundance of ripe fruit, the layers of flavor and the overall quality and balance of the wine. This wine calls for savory red meats and roasts, and should improve over the next five to seven years. Rating: 92.
Bodega Catena Zapata 2011 Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina ($24) — Nicolas Catena was at the forefront of wine quality throughout the emergence of Argentine Malbec as a force in the world of fine wine. He once employed the esteemed winemaker Paul Hobbs, and the state-of-the-art winery is a shining testament to Catena's ongoing commitment to improving the species. Hobbs now has his own winery in Mendoza, but the Catena winery has prospered and grown on its own. This vintage of the "High Mountain Vines" Malbec is rich and dense, with excellent persistence on the palate, wonderful balance and lovely blueberry and blackberry fruit framed with just the right touch of oak. Complex aromas of mocha and leather are subtle but inviting, and there is an intriguing savory note. At the price, it's an exceptional value. Rating: 91.
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