The nearly 600-page "Wines of California" is an accessible, leisurely,...

The nearly 600-page "Wines of California" is an accessible, leisurely, well-written guide. Credit:

The school year has started. Time to hit the books.

One of the big ones, in size and ambition, must be "Wines of California" (Sterling Epicure, $24.95) by Mike DeSimone and Jeff Jenssen. It's subtitled "the comprehensive guide," coming in at 592 pages. The result is a very accessible, leisurely, well-written guide, geared to a broad audience. There are short portraits of wineries, easygoing interviews with winemakers, and some good recipes from winemakers and wine-country chefs. The authors also wrote "Wines of the Southern Hemisphere."

"American Spirit" (Sterling Epicure, $24.95) by James Rodewald distills plenty of information and offers a few chasers, too, in his report on the comparatively young industry. Craft distilling has turned into a boomlet. The small-scale producers have grown in volume and quality, in a business marked by volatility. There must be more than 400 of them around today. Rodewald formerly was drinks editor at the departed Gourmet magazine. Several cocktail recipes are included.

Recipes for drinks and the food that goes with them highlight "The Cocktail Club" (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $22.50) by Maureen Christian-Petrosky. You'll get details about beginning your own cocktail group and learning techniques. Pick your spirit of the month and have fun with this lighthearted introduction to mixology and tasting parties.

And, to be specific, as well as toast "Mad Men," dip into "The Old-Fashioned" (Ten Speed Press, $18.99), by Robert Simonson. Compact history, instant expertise and enough recipe variations to keep you imbibing throughout the year.

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