Posts Filed Under book reviews
In wrapping up March, it’s time for me to round up some of the wine product samples that are sent to me (the kind that usually aren’t physically digestible) for the month. And today, I’d like to highlight two very recent wine book releases that won me over to the point of garnering fairly high recommendations from this normally somewhat-skeptical reader…
First up is Essential Winetasting: The Complete Practical Winetasting Course by Michael Schuster (Mitchell Beazley, about $26). 2017 has us seeing a new edition of this oft-overlooked minor classic, which seems to fly under the radar just enough that ended up being ignored and re-released (in the USA, anyway) regularly over the last fifteen or so years.
Which is a pity, really, because Schuster is a fairly big deal in the UK when it comes to wine know-how, and his time as a retailer and writer are evident throughout nearly every page of Essential Winetasting.
The wit is sandy-British-levels-of-dry, and the true mastery of the book can be found within the first fifty-or-so pages, in which Schuster puts on a masterclass in detailing how our senses interact with wine as a product. If you’re too precious about preserving the mystery of the world’s greatest beverage, then this is decidedly not the reference book for you. But those who like to peel back the covers to see how things tick, and have a serious side to their hobbies, will probably love this book (I cannot speak to improvements over earlier editions, but I’m guessing that most of you reading this, like me, have had little-to-no exposure to those; so I’m advising anyone who doesn’t yet own this give it a good long look).
Next we have the cheekily-named Wine Isn’t Rocket Science: A Quick and Easy Guide to Understanding, Buying, Tasting, and Pairing Every Type of Wine by Ophelie Neiman (Author), Yannis Varoutsikos (Illustrator), (Black Dog & Leventhal, about $25).
It’s not often that an illustrator deserves equal billing with an author in a wine book, but this is one of those rare cases, for the cartoon-ish images throughout Wine Isn’t Rocket Science lend an approachable air to this beginners’ guide.
Where the book’s format really shines is in its middle section, where overviews of popular (and some not-so-popular) wine grapes and styles are presented. The visual aids detailing the grapes’ common aromas and flavors will be instantly appreciated by visual learners; and once you get past the cutesy kitsch of the “Love Rating” given to describe each grape’s popularity, you just may (as I did) find yourself learning something new despite yourself.
Ok, last-minute shoppers, I present (see what I did there?) to you the December 2015 edition of the 1WD Wine Product Roundup, in which I dive into the non-vinous portion of the product sample pool.
Today, I’ve two items that will receive the deeper-dive inspection.
The first is something about which I’ve serious mixed feelings: the Aura rotating wine glass.
The idea behind this one is interesting: create a glass that almost eliminates the potential to spill its contents, in that it cannot really be knocked over; as a side benefit, make it easy to swirl the wine inside of it (by the way, do any of you other wine nerds find yourself swirling any liquid in a glass? water? orange juice? I do that all of the time…).
First, the good news: it is, in fact, insanely difficult to spill wine poured into the Aura. While seeing the thing rotating on a table is a bit disconcerting at first (it has a weighted ball in its center, and so never actually sits “upright” when set onto a table), the effect overall is very, very cool. And, the center weight and large bowl dimension does seem to make swirling a bit easier when it’s in your hand.
The bad news is twofold: first, it’s expensive (over $50 for both the large and small versions); second, the trade-off for the Aura’s sturdiness is the thickness of its glass, which makes the rim a bit too thick for my tastes. Overall, this one is probably best reserved as a gift for the wine lover who quite literally has everything else.
I’m a bit more enthusiastic over the second product, Suzanne Mustacich’s Thirsty Dragon: China’s Lust for Bordeaux and the Threat to the World’s Best Wines (Henry Holt & Company, 338 pages, about $20). While one could argue that Bordeaux’s are not the best wines on Earth, it’s hard to argue that they’re not at least in the running, so we’ll forgive the dramatic subtitle.
It helps that Mustacich not only has a lot of wine writing under her belt, but that she also lives in Bordeaux and is an “insider” to the insane model that they execute for selling their wines. You might not think that a book that focuses on a culture clash between how China (as buyers) and the Bordelais (as sellers) would be all that interesting (this is a wine book that’s recommended to be listed in the Business & Economics section, by the way). But in this case, you’d be wrong.
Thirsty Dragon delves into the odd business dance between China and France in manners that are at times suspenseful (digging into brand squatting and counterfeit-busting operations) and humanistic (getting inside the heads of wine producers impacted by all of the madness in how they conduct their livelihoods). The result is a well-executed read, and one that might just give you some underbelly details about the wine business that you can never “unsee.”
My friends the World Wine Guys (aka Mike DeSimone and Jeff Jenssen) have been busy lately, it seems.
First, they publish the Fire Island Cookbook just in time for Summer, and now that Summer is coming to a close they’re already back on the shelves with another well-executed tome, Wines Of The Southern Hemisphere (Sterling Publishing, about $24).
I’m not sure how they did all of this, but I am starting to strongly suspect that illegal human cloning is involved, because the work that seems to have gone into these releases is bordering on astonishing.
I like the book, and since I received two sample copies (not sure how or why that happened), I’ve decided that we’ll give away TWO copies to two (separate!) lucky 1WD readers…
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There’s still time, people.
Summer’s muggy, sunny weeks are not yet entirely on the wane. They’re just mostly on the wane. And so those bibliophile oenophiles who are looking for last-minute beach-side vacation or porch-side stay-cation reading to accompany a cold glass of Italian Vermentino in the hazy heat (you are drinking Vermentino, right?) still have time to indulge both of their passions before the leaves turn brown.
Which all felt like a reasonable excuse, I thought, to take a swipe at the growing stacks of wine book samples that have been piling up on my office floor (not quite as bad as my stacks of wine bottle samples, but it’s getting close!). I.e., let me trudge through the drudge so that you won’t have to!
That swipe yielded three books worth mentioning, all of which avoid being weighty tomes or polemics on wine philosophy, and are light-hearted enough in tone and design to fit right in with the collective American penchant for light Summer reading…
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