On my wine book shelf there are a few essential tomes: Jancis Robinson and Hugh Johnson's The World Atlas of Wine; Jasper Morris' Inside Burgundy; Rajat Parr's Secrets of the Sommeliers; and Evan Goldstein's Perfect Pairings and Daring Pairings, to name a few.
Another must-have book is Karen MacNeil's Wine Bible. First published in 2001, it is recommended reading at every wine education programme in the United States and at the Court of Master Sommeliers. Fourteen years after publication, it is still relevant to anyone interested in wine. Every time I read it, I find a new snippet of wisdom.
I was fortunate enough to meet MacNeil at a master class she conducted on California wines; we tasted three wines of each grape - chardonnay, pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon and zinfandel. Although I had tasted some of the varieties previously, her introductions - with detailed, interesting notes about their history and place of origin - gave us a real sense of the struggles Californian winemakers had gone through in the first half of the 20th century.
Between January 1920 and December 1933, Prohibition practically obliterated wine production in the US. Home winemaking, however, was allowed - citizens were permitted to make up to 200 gallons per year of "non-intoxicating cider and fruit juices", for which there was no legal definition.
Furthermore, wineries were allowed to ship grapes and grape concentrate that was compressed into brick form and came with the warning: "Do not place this brick in a one gallon crock, add sugar and water, cover, and let stand for seven days, or else an illegal alcoholic beverage will result."
Ernest and Julio Gallo, of E & J Gallo, started their winery right after Prohibition ended, during the Great Depression. But they had one problem - neither of them knew how to make wine. They also had no equipment and little money.
They made their first wines through sheer determination, spending lots of time at the public library reading winemaking pamphlets that had been published pre-Prohibition by the University of California, borrowing farm equipment and taking out loans from friends and family.
Today, they are the largest family-owned winery in the US, making more than 75 million cases each year. Much of this is enjoyed in Hong Kong, under labels such as Barefoot Cellars, Boone's Farm, Gallo, Frei Brothers, Louis Martini, Redwood Creek, Turning Leaf and Wild Vines, to name a few.
At the master class, I asked MacNeil why old world winemakers do not list the names of their grapes on their labels, as is done in the new world. To my logic, doing so would make old world wines more approachable and provide an educational service.
Her response was most eloquent: "Old world wines have a much more storied history and an established sense of place, whereas new world wines are just getting started on building their sense of place."
MacNeil has spent much time revising and updating her Wine Bible - the new edition was released last month, and it is in the same user-friendly, informative and entertaining style that she is known for.
Nellie Ming Lee is a food stylist and part-time sommelier studying with the Court of Master Sommeliers.