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Cracking Wine's Code

For the amateur or the aficionado, there's a book on wine for you.

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"Jancis Robinson's Wine Course," (Abbeville Press, N.Y., $29.99). Robinson is a British writer who seems to write at least two good books every morning while you are still slogging through breakfast. This is a good gift for the person who is into wine but would love to have a little knowledge jump-start. The sections about trends in winemaking are very up-to-date, plus there are high-quality pictures, too.

"Wine: A Practical Guide to Enjoying Your Selections" by Jens Priewe, (Abbeville Press, N.Y., $27.50) is a very strange book. It includes nothing at all on grapes, regions or any of the usual things — it's just about corks, capsules, serving wine and glasses. It does, though, have the finest chart ever done on the best temperature to serve wine. Also Priewe's corkscrew review in living color is not shabby, either.

"Touring East Coast Wine Country" by Marguerite Thomas (Berkshire Pub., Lee Mass., $18.95) is an extremely well-written and researched book. Its only downside is that it's just 192 pages long, so there's bound to be a lot left out. Thomas' strong suit is that the most important and influential wineries are covered in-depth. This is the stocking stuffer that's likely to go directly into the glove box, and deservedly so.

Our local wine entry is "Breaking Away to Virginia and Maryland Wineries" by Elizabeth Frater (Capital Books, Sterling, Va., $20). The advantage here is this is a 356-page book on the wineries of just two states. What you lose in Rhode Island and New York you gain in Virginia. This is the up-to-the-second word on these wineries. Frater's stories are good, and her interview with chef Patrick O'Connell of the famed Inn at Little Washington is worth the price of the book.

Coffee-table wine books are plentiful, possibly more so than coffee tables themselves. But there is only one bedside-table wine book: "The Wine Bible" by Karen MacNeil (Workman Press, N.Y., $20). At 910 pages they are practically giving the book away. Say you wake up in the middle of the night, and your cousin is returning in the morning from several years in Spain. You know his first question to you will be to name the seven types of sherries. Luckily, you will be prepared for moments just like this, if you've got this indispensable behemoth on your bedside table.

"Jancis Robinson's How to Taste: A guide to Enjoying Wine" (Simon & Schuster, N.Y., $25). How she manages to write so many good wine books we'll never know, but Robinson does. If you know someone who is into wine, this is the next big leap forward for them. It puts the words with the tastes, which is one of the most difficult things to do. It's a book they will not put down.

Our last book is a real shocker. Something that has not been seen in ages — a comprehensive book on German wine. "The German Wine Guide" by Armin Diel and Joel Payne, (Abbeville Press, N.Y., $25). Seldom has there been seen as much German wine information under a single cover. Its only fault is that the vintages are not completely up-to-date. Actually, you don't even have to bother with vintages when you have profiled more than 400 growers and have notes on 3,000 wines. For the German wine aficionado, a breed that is shrinking daily with the popularity of Australian and Californian wines, this is your welcome oasis. Just get it fast before it goes out of print.

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