Monday, November 17, 2008

A Year of Wine

As I have mentioned before, I generally do not purchase wine buying guides, though there are exceptions. While at my local bookstore, I skimmed through a new buying guide that actually peaked my interest. That was primarily because it was far more than just a buying guide, more than just a dry recitation of recommended wines. So I bought the book and eagerly devoured it in its entirety the next day.

The Year of Wine: Perfect Pairings, Great Buys, and What to Sip for Each Season was written by Tyler Colman (Simon & Schuster, November 2008, $24.00). You probably better recognize Colman as Dr. Vino, a well respected wine blogger, though he is also a wine writer and educator. If you are not reading his blog, you should definitely do so.

I previously reviewed his first book, Wine Politics, and it had more of an academic flair to it. This is not the case for Year of Wine, which has a more casual style, accessible to readers of all levels of wine knowledge. For example, Colman mentions things like fingerprint goobers, schlepfaktor, and edumacation. Those are not terms you would have found in Wine Politics. Colman is having fun with this book and that enjoyment is infectious. It is also enjoyable to read some of Colman's personal anecdotes, including stories with his wife, Michelle.

This is how Colman characterized his new book on his blog: "The book has short essays and hundreds of wine recommendations across the twelve months of the year. There should be something for wine lovers of all levels, newbie to full-on wine geek. There’s also some information for all seasons about wine style, wine service and how to actually find good wines near you. And twelve wine travel sections help you even change your context for maximum wine enjoyment."

In the introduction to his book, Colman states: "So the thesis of this book is: drink different." (p.xiv). An admirable sentiment and one with which I fully agree. I also encourage people to branch out, to try new wines, whether they be different grapes, different blends or different wine regions. Part of the enjoyment of wine is all of its vast diversity. It can never grow dull as there is always something different out there to taste. The fact this book has a philosophy at all sets it apart from many other wine buying guides that simply present standard lists of recommendations.

Another key element from the book is that Colman emphasizes the importance of context when drinking wine. This would include factors such as when you are drinking wine, where you are, the reasons for drinking, who you are with, and much more. As I have said before, sharing a wine with good friends can elevate the quality of the wine. But it is something that probably does not get discussed enough and it is good to see someone addressing that issue. Colman even points out a reason why he does not provide scores for his wines, as such points ignore context. Wine scores are usually generated in a more sterile environment, devoid of any context, as such context might be seen to taint their scores.

So just in his introduction, Colman has already provided excellent advice that would be beneficial to those new to wine, and a good reminder to those who are more knowledgeable. We cannot lose sight of these issues as they strike to the heart of why wine can be so pleasurable.

The book then begins with a number of shorts essays on subjects such as flavor profiles of grapes, pairing wine and food, and picking wine shops. Then he takes a seasonal approach to wine with a month by month rundown. He tries to place wine into context, such as the seasons, specific holidays, and more. Sporadically throughout the book, he has a Q&A with thirteen different sommeliers.

There are plenty of wine recommendations throughout the book, and I think he had chosen many excellent wines. I was glad to see a very positive mention to Abe Schoener of the Scholium Project, one of my favorite maverick wine makers. Though I would have liked to see a mention for wine maker Sean Thackrey as well. Besides specific wine recommendations, he also recommends certain types and styles of wine, depending on the context.

Yet Colman does not just present specific wine recommendations. He also discusses various wine topics throughout the book, sometimes going into more detail about specific wines or grapes, such as Port, Malbec, Cognac and Mouvedre. He gives an opinion on more unusual food pairings, such as which wine might pair best with chips and salsa during the Superbowl, or what wine goes with a hotdog and sauerkraut. I certainly have not given such pairings much thought so it was fascinating to read Colman's suggestions.

As you might expect, there is a short essay on wine's carbon footprint but then there is also a recommendation for a wine that Tyra Banks might enjoy, who has said she basically does not like wine. I never expected to see a wine recommendation for Tyra. Page after page, you never know what will come next as the topics are so diverse. There are recommendations on box wines and advice on what to do if you don'd have a corkscrew. There are travel tips for various wine regions, including Long Island. I was glad to see that Colman thought highly of Paumanok Vineyards, which had highly impressed me on my visit.

There were a number of little tidbits of information in this book that were new to me, as well as getting a different viewpoint on other matters. For example, Colman recommends taking wine tasting notes in a Moleskin leather bound notebook as it makes you look more professional. I also garnered a few intriguing details that would possibly benefit my theme when I host Wine Blogging Wednesday in June.

This was quite a fun and informative book and I would highly recommend it, especially to those relatively new to wine, though I think everyone will find something of value in it. With its easy reading style, this is a book you will quickly finish. And it may even be something you refer back to over time, maybe following his seasonal approach.


Dr. Vino said...

Thanks so much for the kind words, Richard! Glad you enjoyed it--it was fun to write the book. I'm pleased to hear that you found it at a bookstore near you.



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