Articles Tagged wine books
It’s time for the first monthly wine product sample review round-up of the new year, which means you now have a couple of recommendations for vinous-related things to buy after you’ve returned the crappier gifts that you received during the holidays! You’re welcome!
Since it’s been as cold as Dante’s icy ninth circle of hell around here lately, I decided to focus on reading material, all the better to curl up in front of a fireplace with (drink in hand, naturally) and enjoy while hiding from the real world under a cozy blanket.
First up is Red Wine: The Comprehensive Guide to the 50 Essential Varieties & Styles, (Sterling Epicure, 288 pages, $27.95) by three people that I happen to know personally (consider yourself full-disclosure-warned): the affable World Wine Guys Mike DeSimone and Jeff Jenssen, and the legendary Kevin Zraly (who might actually still owe me some money). This well-designed book has been getting serious positive press lately, and I’m happy to report that it’s well-deserving of all of it. The subtitle is apt, as Red Wine focuses on being comprehensive rather than exhaustively deep. Having said that, for 98% of wine lovers, they will not need (nor are they likely to find) a better guide to world’s fine red wine grapes than this one. Each grape gets at least a two-page spread that includes wine color, a tasting profile scale that focuses on the wine’s acidity/body/tannin combo, tasting notes and food pairings with at-a-glance icon references, a photo, a brief write-up, and a list of recommended wines to try (from bargain through to splurge price-levels). More ubiquitous grapes get a longer treatment, focusing on stylistic variances between countries, as well as winemaker quotes, and a handful of obscure red varieties (Teran, anyone?) get short highlights. Mad props to Christine Heun, who is credited as the designer, for putting together one of the easiest to navigate references I’ve ever seen in the wine world.
Closing out this month’s roundup, we have the gorgeously-photographed (think major food-porn style) Drink Progressively: From White to Red, Light- to Full-Bodied, A Bold New Way to Pair Wine with Food (Spring House Press, 240 pages, $27), by Hadley & TJ Douglas, the husband-and-wife owners of Boston’s The Urban Grape. This is a food-and-pairing-focused wine guide, and includes recipes by Straight Wharf’s Gabriel Frasca. The main idea behind Drink Progressively is to focus on wine body above all else, and then suggest wines and recipes to match that body accordingly. The Douglases do this by moving wines through an increasing body scale of 1 to 10, which leaves us with shorthand terms like “5W” (to describe whites from Burgundy and Mosel, for example) and “9R” (e.g., for bolder reds from Dry Creek Valley, Mendoza, and Barossa). It’s a clever, seemingly-simple conceit that I found gets confusing very quickly. Having said that, this book might be worth the cover price for the recipes and wine recommendations alone, though the latter tend towards the geekier (and therefore probably more difficult to find) end of the spectrum. The unsung hero here is Beatrice Peltre, whose photographs are downright stunning.
This month’s wine product review roundup requires you to get your reading glasses, as we’re taking a look at two upcoming wine reference book releases, one of them tiny (and insanely useful), the other heavy and large (and maybe a lot less useful).
First up is the venerable Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine, 2018 edition (Mitchell Beazley, 336 pages, about $17). This tiny marvel is updated annually, and at this point I struggle to say anything about it that I’ve not already said in my usual yearly boot-lickingly obnoxious recommendation of this mighty mini-tome. No wine reference book series even comes close to packing as much utility into such a small package, and doing it so consistently. That I know so may of the contributors probably only makes my endorsement seem even more boot-lickingly boot-licking, but that won’t stop me from highly recommending it. Again.
In the interests of offering a balanced appraisal, I will say that the supplemental material in last year’s 2017 40th Anniversary edition is, in my view, superior to this most recent release; so if you own that one already, you may want to skip this one and see what the 2018 edition has to offer.
Next up is a new edition of the much larger, heavier, and visually impressive Larousse Wine (Hamlyn, 656 pages, about $60). Headed by technical consultant Master Sommelier Georges Lepré, with a team of contributors that are primarily French-based or French-wine-focused, you’d think that a book with 800 photographs and 37 maps would be insanely useful. And you’d be half right…
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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.