Posts Filed Under wine books
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.
I’ve been inundated with wine book samples this month (which I’ll note is November 2016, for posterity’s sake, and for those of you still sobering up from Thanksgiving), both the electronic and the good, old-fashioned dead-tree varieties. And so, I’m going to use this edition of the wine product roundup to give you a little taste of the current wine book scene (all prices noted are for hardcover editions).
Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine 2017: 40th Anniversary by Hugh Johnson ($16.99, Mitchell Beazley)
Bottom line: highly recommended.
Every year for the last several years, I’ve received a sample of the latest edition in this series. Every year for the last several years, I think that this insanely useful little gem cannot possibly get any more insanely useful. Every year for the last several years, I have been wrong, and 2016 continues the trend. The high bar that’s been set for this go-to reference book for the last forty years has predictably been matched, but I’d argue it’s also been exceeded, in that the “If you like this, try that” and “wine stories” article themes that have been reserved for this edition’s color pages sections are superb (and make the book even more useful). If you’ve skipped the last couple of editions, it’s time for an upgrade.
The 24-Hour Wine Expert by Jancis Robinson ($12.95, Abrams Image)
Bottom line: recommended, with reservations.
It’s not that The 24-Hour Wine Expert isn’t a very good wine book; it is, and Jancis Robinson brings her sharp prose and equally sharp mind to pop many a wine myth balloon within its short 112 pages. The idea, espoused by Robinson in the opening Welcome section, is to use the book to answer common wine questions (how is wine made?, how should one buy wine?, what hardware should be used?, etc.) as they come up. The trouble is, the book is positioned in a way that leverages the very kinds of sweeping generalizations and shortcuts that Robinson has spent nearly her entire career in the public spotlight battling against, and ignores a more comprehensive wine knowledge resource of which Robinson has become a particularly skilled champion: the Internet. There’s useful information here, no doubt, but the usefulness of a hardcover copy is debatable…
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Squeaking this one in juuuust under the wire, here’s the August 2016 edition of the wine product roundup, in which I highlight non-drinkable wine products from the ever-growing sample pool.
Annoyingly, I’m not going to actually be reviewing this month’s products, only mentioning and recommending them. This is due to the fact that said products – both of them upcoming book releases – were authored by people that I consider to be wine writing friends and colleagues; so the potential conflicts of interest are of war-torn Bosnian proportions.
The first is American Rhone: How Maverick Winemakers Changed the Way Americans Drink ($35, University of California Press), by Patrick Comiskey. The only thing that I don’t like about Patrick’s upcoming book is the lack of the word “that” in the title. I’ve known Patrick for several years now, though our paths cross far too seldom. In this new book, he takes on the struggles of the people behind the movement to produce and promote wines made from Rhone varieties grown in the U.S.
Comiskey has a skeptical reporter’s mind, a poet’s way with turns of phrase, an editor’s sense of conservation of words, and a keen (and deep) understanding of – and respect for – wine as a subject matter, all of which come to bear in American Rhone. I’ll just leave it at that…
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Given that, at the time this publishes, I will be on the road (yeah… again…), this seemed like an apt time to dive into the non-liquid portion of the sample pool, and offer up the July 2016 incarnation of the Wine Product Roundup. This month, there are no drinking vessels in the lineup, but the printed word does again make an appearance (because, well, writing).
First up under the review microscope is Bee Smart Gear’s Bottle Protector (about $20 for a pack of 3). Generally, I like to refer to these types of products as “bottle condoms,” since they serve a similar purpose: physical protection, and prevention of leakage (sorry; yeah, I went there).
I am a fan of these products (talking about the wine bottle protectors now), because I have used just about all of them in real-life, checked-baggage scenarios and I can personally attest to their efficacy. In Bee Smart’s case, you slip the bottle neck-first into the bottom of the protector, being sure that the internal bubble-wrap covers the entire bottle (you can fit a 750ml or smaller into these). You then close the double zip-locks at the bottom, roll up the end, and connect the velcro straps.
The bubble wrap provides ample protection, provided that you pack the bottle intelligently (aim for the center of your suitcase, with plenty of dirty undies on all sides). If there is a break, the bags almost always provide great leak protection; in fact, if you enclose a full bottle into one of these, and smash it with a hammer, in my experience it won’t leak unless the bag is punctured (I do not recommend trying that at home, by the way)… Read the rest of this stuff »