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…
Next, we have the it’s-such-a-polar-opposite-that-I-think-I-just-got-mental-whiplash Flawless: Understanding Faults in Wine (UC Press, $232 pages, $24.95). Flawless is the latest from the mind of wine-obsessed scientist Jamie Goode, and it might be his driest and most academic wine work to date… which, if you know Goode, is really saying something. In Flawless, Goode tackles the causes, impacts, statistics, and rectification processes behind basically all of the major faults that can ruin wine, from Brett to oxidation to heat damage to greeness to volatile acidity.
Goode approaches each fault subtopic with his characteristic pithy sentence structure and lab-coat-donning thoroughness; personally, despite having spent more time than the average guy researching cork-related wine issues, I learned more in the thirteen-or-so pages of Flawless‘ cork taint section (Chapter 7) than I’d even known before about the causes and remediation of the cork industry’s biggest bugaboo (PSA: cork taint contamination percentages might be as high as 6-8% according to some of the studies cited in Goode’s book). Chapter 8, on smoke taint, should probably be required reading by the entire US wine industry, particularly those in Southern Oregon and Northern CA who will be reading this review during ongoing regional wildfires when their grapes are undergoing verasion, exactly when they are most susceptible to smoke.
Flawless is not without its faults (sorry… you knew that was coming), but it’s very close to being required reading on a touchy set of subjects, and while not exactly an easy read, it’s digestible for both the consumer and those on the inside of the wine biz.