Tuesday, October 21, 2008
If you are seeking an introductory book concerning wine, if you want to learn the basics of different grapes and different wine regions, which book should you choose? You should seek a book that is easy to read and understand but which is fairly comprehensive. There are several such books out there and I want to tell you about another one I recently read.
WineWise: Your Complete Guide to Understanding, Selecting, and Enjoying Wine by Steven Kolpan, Brian H. Smith, Michael A. Weiss, and The Culinary Institute of America (Wiley Hardcover, September 2008, $29.95) is a large-sized hardcover with 360 pages, broken down into seventeen chapters. The three authors are professors of wine studies at The Culinary Institute of America. I received a sample copy of the book and was impressed by what I read.
In general, the book is well written, easy to understand, fairly comprehensive and has some excellent photographs and maps. It will definitely give anyone new to wine a fairly thorough understanding of wine basics, the main grape varieties, the common wine regions and more. It will be of less use to those who already know a fair deal about wine though might be helpful if you are seeking to learn more about certain wine regions.
The first chapter, Palate Pleasure: Enjoying Wine, covers some basics about wine in general, including wine making, wine pricing, appellation systems, and tasting wine. Their advice is sound, especially on choosing wines. They want you to trust your own palate and they warn against fully trusting wine scores. They state you should "...taste, experiment, and enjoy" which is very sound advice.
The next two chapters deal with the major white and red grapes. For each grape, they describe its general characteristics and then explain how the wines made from that grape differ by geographic region. For example, you will read about the differences between Chardonnay from France , the U.S. and the Southern Hemisphere. The white grapes they cover include Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Gewurtraminer, Pinot Grigio and Viognier. The red grapes include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Zinfandel, and Grenache. These two grape chapters are vey helpful, especially in indicating the differences that are found regionally. The book also later discusses other grapes, more indigenous grapes, in some of the regional chapters.
There are then ten chapters on different wine regions. They do not seek to cover all wine regions but mainly the largest and most common, though there are a few exceptions. For example, in the U.S., they cover California, Washington and Oregon but also cover New York. Canada and Greece also are discussed in these chapters. Each regional chapter contains information on that region, how to read their wine labels, a map, their appellation system, suggested producers, and some indigenous grapes. I think these chapters do an excellent job of explaining the basics of these wine regions, giving the reader a very good idea of the type of wines that can be found there.
Chapter Fourteen, Eat/Drink/Man/Woman: Wine and Food, covers pairing wines with food. This chapter provides several basic principles for such pairings, allowing you to experiment as to which wines you feel pair best with your food. The basic guidelines should help you find better matches. There are also some more specific recommendations dependent on the type of cuisine. For example, what wine should you have with Greek Moussaka? They recommend a dry, full-bodied Greek red.
The next chapter, The Good Life: Living With Wine, discusses how to organize a wine tasting at home, wines that go well with different seasons, Kosher wines, and wine enclosures. These are some more well written sections with plenty of good advice. This is followed by a chapter on Wine in Restaurants, which gives advice on how to order wines at restaurants as well as the type of wine service you should expect. The final chapter, Got Cash?: Our Bargain Choices, are lists of recommended bargain wines from all three authors.
I think WineWise does a very good job in providing a thorough basic introduction to the world of wine. I have no significant complaints about the book. Sure there are wine regions and topics it did not cover, but it was not intended to be completely comprehensive. It is intended as an introductory overview and succeeds in that goal. I think it is very reader friendly and should entice newcomers with its more casual attitude. I do recommend this book.