Articles Tagged wine books
In this too-steamy month’s round up of non-drinkable wine product samples, I’ve got two items to highlight that I can recommend without nary a reservation; and for me, when it comes to putting wine products to the test, that’s the wine scribe’s equivalent of a tall, cold glass of Soave on a hot Summer’s day.
First up is one of the Wall Mounted Wine Racks by Ultra Wine Racks (about $75); they sent me the 3ft x 1 (wine bottle) deep version, but there are several configurations from which you can choose (though the options that are multiple bottles “deep” are probably best employed in retail, restaurant, or wine cellar/storage spaces).
The bottom line is that these mostly-metal wall-mounted puppies are well-made, sturdy, and look great once installed (note that the larger you go on these racks, the more important it will be to find a stud on which to mount them… holy crap, that whole sentence fragment sounds mildly, obnoxiously sexual, doesn’t it?). Installation is relatively straightforward, but will definitely require a level, and will go much faster if you have a second person (ask me how I know) to help stabilize the racks when positioning them for the mounts, etc.
What I liked most about the Ultra Wine Rack kit was that, with the exceptions of a drill and a screwdriver, it comes with everything that you need to install and maintain it, including anchors, spare parts, and even a screwdriver drill bit, just in case. If you’re in the market for combining wine storage with some crowing/showing-off of special bottles as a side benefit, then you should take a serious look at these…
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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.
This month’s edition of the Wine Product Roundup (in which I put to the test samples of wine wares that can’t actually be imbibed safely) just so happens to be themed, for your pleasure.
And pleasurable it is, because that theme is Champagne (and, well, bubbles in general).
First up, there’s the other Champagne guide to be recently released, namely Liz Palmer’s “The Ultimate Guide to Champagne” (palmergroup, 314 pages, $39.50). I’ve known Liz to be both energetic and knowledgeable, both of which come through quite clearly in this guide, which is both aesthetically well-executed and very well organized.
The Ultimate Guide to Champagne employs a lifestyle-oriented approach, eschewing producer-focused essays for broader topics such as Champagne history, tasting etiquette, production techniques, and serving Champers at corporate functions. The emphasis is on the elegance and fun of the beverage and its birthplace, but the material doesn’t devolve into sappy lightheartedness. Recommended, though the price is a bit steep for a paperback that’s on the smaller side.
Now, when you’re reading about Champagne, it helps if you’re actually drinking the stuff (I’m actually hard-pressed to come up with anything that isn’t helped by drinking Champers, actually)… which is where our second product comes in, the ChampagnePopper (ChampagnePopper.com, about $15). And yeah, it’s one word.
This device is basically a curved metal crowbar of sorts, with the added benefit of a bottle opener on the handle. Using it is pretty straightforward: you slip the tongs around a sparkling wine cork (that’s had its foil and cage removed… and is properly chilled for opening…), cover it with a dish towel (so the cork doesn’t injure anyone or anything), and sloooooowly pry the cork out.
Generally speaking, this thing works; that cork pops out, and it does so with minimal effort. Having said that, the loud POP! action that ensues isn’t really what you want happening with any medium-to-high-priced bubbles, because it’s indicating that you’ve let waaaaaay too much CO2 escape. If you’ve got physical concerns that make opening bottles of bubbles difficult, or you need to open a lot of budget-priced bubbles quickly, then the ChampagnePopper is a reasonable, solidly-built buy (you could probably knock someone out with this thing, honestly); just don’t let it near your vintage Champers.
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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