He may be employed by the magazine, but James Laube is no mere wine spectator. He's an active participant, as evidenced by Wine Spectator's California Wine, the completely revised second edition of his 1996 James Beard Award winner. Drawing on more than 50,000 personal tasting notes and two decades as a wine writer--most of it as the Spectator's Napa-based correspondent--Laube presents a refreshing reference work ("not a buyers' guide" he insists) to those serious about California wine. California viticulture has seen a lot of changes between editions--vineyards replanted, wineries sold, CEOs turned vintners demanding (and getting) $100-plus for their first bottlings--and the author has tasted pretty much all of it. Introductory chapters provide the reader a nuanced overview of California wine history, grape plantings, wine appellations, vintage evaluations, and even an offbeat fact or two (according to the agricultural commissioner, Mendocino County grapes are its No. 2 cash crop; marijuana is No. 1). But it's chapter 7, with its alphabetical profiles of (almost) every producing winery in the state, that'll be required reading for anyone who's ever worn out their brake linings on the Oakville Grade. Each winery's entry consists of overall quality rating (one to five stars), founding date, current owner, winemaker, acreage, case production, varietals estate-grown and purchased, as well as notes on selected wines. Of course, a few biases show through. Laube doesn't seem to be much of a merlot fan; he tends to be Napacentric; and his vintage ratings by grape type are based on subjective areas (when Laube calls 1995 a five-star year for zinfandel, he means Napa or Sonoma zins; Amador County need not apply). But it's rousing to read his repeated assertion that very, very few California wines are meant to be cellared long-term and that he'd "rather drink a wine a year or two too early than one week too late." --Tony Mason
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.