Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Kevin Zraly's Windows On The World Complete Wine Course

What is the best introductory wine book? Which book would you most recommend to a newcomer to wine who wants a basic wine education? Such a book should be comprehensive yet not too detailed. It should be easy to read, not pedantic or snobby. It should make wine fun, reveling in its wonders and diversity. There are a number of books that qualify under these standards, yet one of the ones I most often recommend is written by Kevin Zraly.

I have read a number of the prior editions and recently received a review copy of the latest paperback edition of Kevin Zraly's Windows On The World Complete Wine Course by Kevin Zraly (Sterling Epicure, September 2012, $19.95). This is a trade paperback of 324 pages. Zraly is the founder and teacher of the Windows on the World Wine School, now in its 33rd year. He is well respected as a wine educator, having garnered many awards, including a James Beard Lifetime Award. Each edition is updated and revised, though the basic format is largely the same.

The book is essentially broken down into 11 chapters, with an Introduction and Glossary. The brief Introduction details some of the fascinating changes in the wine world that Zraly has witnessed from 1970-2010. Then, the initial chapter is Prelude to Wine, which provides a brief summary of basic wine matters, from how it is produced to how to taste it. The bulk of the book is a description of the wines of the world, with a strong emphasis on France and California. For example, France receives three of its own chapters while Spain and Italy share a chapter. The book ends with a chapter entitled The Greater World of Wine, and is a compilation of essays on wine topics, like food/wine pairing, with a number of wine recommendations too.

Each chapter has a section of main content, often answering common questions about wine, while including numerous items of related wine trivia in the margins. I find some of the trivia fascinating, and most wine lovers, of all knowledge levels, would probably do so as well. Each chapter about a country's wine usually provides some recommended producers and vintages. As this book is designed for beginners, and is not intended to be fully complete, some of the information on certain wines and countries can be fairly minimal. But as the wine world is so vast, it would take a book much bigger to do just to all wines around the world.

This sometimes presents a small problem, that some of the provided information may not be fully accurate or complete. Unless the reader understands that fact, they might assume they know more information than they actually do. For example, the Champagne section states only 3 grapes are used to produce Champagne, though legally 7 grapes can be used. The other 4 grapes may be rarely used, but they still are used by a few producers and it is incorrect to say only 3 grapes are used. In the Sherry chapter, it mentions only 2 of the 3 grapes used to make Sherry, excluding Moscatel for unknown reasons. But these are minor quibbles in a book geared for beginners.

In this edition, a number of smart tags are also provided, basically QR codes, which you can read with your smart phone if you download the necessary app. Or, you can just type in the URL listed below the code. These codes unlock 9 instructional videos and 1300 audio pronunciations.

At $19.95, this book is an excellent value, a great way for a novice to gain an overview of the world of wine. More experienced wine lovers won't find as much value in the book, though some of the trivia might intrigue you. With the holidays approaching in a few books, this would make for a nice present for someone seeking to learn about wine.

1 comment:

Jason Phelps said...

I've got the 25th anniversary edition and plan on reading it in the next couple of weeks. I've rebooted my desire to pursue several wine certifications and Zraly's book is in the curriculum for them and one of the few there I haven't yet read.

I assumed it was a solid overview missing depth in some areas, but the wine world is indeed vast and anything to spur us to get out into it for more info is a good thing to me.