We’re going to end the year with a bang on the Wine Product Review Roundup front, given that my travels in November necessitated that I miss that incarnation of this monthly post, and double-up on the number of products put under the review microscope. Hopefully this “holiday edition” (in terms of timing and volume, at least) will point you in the direction of a great stocking-stuffer (or two) for your greedy-ass self that wine geek on your Nice List.
First up is a product that, to this reviewer, at least, has an incredibly limited use-case scenario: the PortoVino Wine Messenger Bag (about $70). The premise here is that someone (presumably you) needs to a) be able to tote around an entire bottle of wine, b) keep it the appropriate temperature for as long as possible, c) pour it at a moments notice without drawing attention, and d) look incredibly stylish while doing all of the above. I don’t get it, either, but the PortoVino sample that I was sent is more handsome than just about any other piece of luggage that I own. It can function as a normal cross-body messenger bag, with a well-designed and modern interior, but also contains a “secret” compartment into which 1.5L of wine can be poured via removable plastic bag, with a bag-in-box style nozzle pourer that pops out of a flap-closed area on one side of the bag. A rather pricey novelty, I suppose, but one with classic good looks. If you’re a style-minded booze-hound. OK, whatever…
Next, we’ve got Amber Revolution: How the World Learned to Love Orange Wine (Interlink Books, 304 pages, about $35), a new book by Simon J. Woolf (Author) and fiend-of-1WD Ryan Opaz (photographer). This is a beautifully constructed, deftly designed, approachable, and well-written tome with one of the most flawed premises in the history of wine writing. The bottom line is that orange wine, as a category, has not been, is not now, nor will it ever be loved by the majority of wine drinkers. Having said that, the level of acceptance of the most capable examples of that much-maligned category has never been higher, and so the release of a good book that masterfully tells the stories of the regions and producers making the best orange wines – which as heart is what Amber Revolution truly is – has never been more timely…
As my pile of (admittedly somewhat neglected) wine book review copies is growing ever larger, this month’s wine product review roundup will focus on two soon-to-be-released bits of printed vinous educational resources. Both of these books will start to see shelf space in September, both are priced at $24.95, and both are about wine, and both were written in English by carbon-based lifeforms… and those are about the only things that they have in common stylistically. So if you’re up for a bit of an interesting Yin/Yang of vinous-related reviews, by all means read on and try not to get too dizzy.
First, we have Master Sommelier Catherine Fallis’s Ten Grapes to Know: The Ten & Done Wine Guide (The Countryman Press, 189 pages, $24.95). Ten Grapes is an unabashed attempt at simplifying wine for the uninitiated, the premise being that learning about ten key fine wine grapes (Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Viognier, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Zinfandel) will provide pretty much all that one needs to know to begin successfully navigating most wine store shelves and wine lists, with the encouragement to branch out from there (provided mainly through recommendations of similar-but-lesser-known grape varieties at the end of each dedicated chapter).
Each of the chapters in Ten Grapes follows a similar pattern: historical/geographical/taste background of wine made from each grape, followed by food pairings and a recommended price-based shopping list, all sprinkled with anecdotes and concluding with a short quiz. While Fallis’s approach might strike the nerdier among you as overly-simplistic, it works primarily because it mirrors how most normal consumers actually start to experience and purchase wine, and if it has a fault it’s in prose that might be too friendly and familiar. Specifically, Ten Grapes has an un-apologetically feminine stylistic bent. To wit: one of the sections of chapter six, on Sangiovese, begins “I had a nearly religious moment outside the Ferragamo shop in Florence.” If you haven’t shopped Ferragamo in Florence (guilty!), you probably won’t be able to relate, but then it’s hard to fault Fallis for losing some of the audience in brief paragraphs, since there are entire wine books whose prose loses most of the potential audience…
Welcome to the June 2018 incarnation of the ongoing series in which I review samples that aren’t in liquid form. I am so, so, sooooooooooooooooooooo far behind in penning thoughts on various tastings and wine travels, but I’m also so, so, sooooooooooooooooooooo far behind in reviewing the never-ending flood of wine book samples coming my way that I felt compelled to knock off at least a small handful for this product roundup.
First up, we have the small-but-powerful 101 Wines to Try Before You Die (Cassell, 244 pages, about $12) by former Wine Magazine editor Margaret Rand. Generally speaking, I’m not a fan of list-style books, but Rand’s clever ploy here – in which she devotes two pages each to the wines on her list, including a bottle/label shot – is not to introduce you to individual wines per se, but to get people thinking more about things like Savennières, Hunter Valley Semillon, or Bierzo.
Rand gets bonus points for employing a writing style that’s equal parts matter-of-fact, personal, and humorous (included with each selection’s vitals, such as trophy vintages and whether or not to chill or decant the wine, is a “What Not to Say” section; my personal favorite is probably “Is it German?” under Hugel’s Riesling Schoelhammer entry). 101 Wines to Try Before You Die is an honest and fun, if not essential, walk through some of compelling bottles.
Next, there’s (Mascot, 144 pages, about $25) by Michael Biddick. Biddick is a sommelier with an IT background, and his upcoming book is essentially full of vignettes about some of the world’s most important wine regions, accompanied by a sort of info-graphic that displays the area’s major grapes, soils, climate, and recent vintages.
Now, at this point, you’re probably asking yourself “why the f–k did he pick 43 regions?!?” and the answer has to do with Biddick’s IT geekdom, and is the kind of thing that’s just begging for controversy…
For the most recent batch of wine product sample roundup articles, I’ve been focusing on reducing the pile of wine book sample copies currently littering the floor of my home office. And so for March, I am slowly whittling away at said pile by offering up two more hardcover tomes for your vinous reading consideration. You still read books, right?
Firstly, we have French Wine: A History by Rod Phillips (University of California Press, 319 pages, about $30). That’s an unassuming title for a book with such an ambitious scope. Actually, its scope is bordering on insanity. Beginning from roughly 2500 years ago, Ottawa-based historian Phillips carves up the topical elephant into almost-digestible-sized time period chunks: the period before 1000 CE, the Middle Ages, through to the Enlightenment, the onset of the World Wars, etc. I say “almost” digestible because even each of those chapters is sizeable in terms of the rich historical content and context of the topic (remember, wine involves chemistry, historical events, economics, farming….).
The ground zero / linchpin moment of French Wine if there is one, after which all is forever changed, seems to be the phylloxera epidemic of the late 1800s. Like the rootstocks of its precious vines, nothing in the French wine world was ever quite the same after the country’s vineyards were decimated by that little louse.
All of this is told in dense, matter-of-fact prose, but Phillips isn’t afraid to call out others’ opinions (even somewhat challenging the venerable Hugh Johnson at one point). It’s not a fast or particularly easy read, but ultimately a worthwhile one. And its conclusion is appropriately bittersweet: France is growing fewer grape vines, producing fewer bottles, and drinking less wine than in its historical apexes, and yet the standard-bearer wines (in terms of quality and prices) are still at the top of the global game; and while we may be seeing a dip overall, the country’s vinous development has been anything but uniform, as French Wine dutifully shows us…
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