The literate wine lover
But it's also a fact that, at least for those of us who've chosen to make the enjoyment of fine wine a hobby interest, a little effort spent on study can pay dividends in enjoyment.
While you certainly don't HAVE to know anything about the history, geography, geology, agriculture, wine-making or even the cultural heritage behind what's in your glass, it seems to me that paying attention to all these things adds nuance and context to what would otherwise be just another beverage. And in a world that seems increasingly dominated by "dumbed down" entertainment, I'm all for wine as a "thinking person's drink," one that pleases the brain as well as the senses.
In short, reading about wine can almost as much fun as tasting wine ... and as the holiday season nears, you can generally please the wine lover in your life with gifts of books.
Today, then, let me offer a few quick reviews of four new or revised wine books that I've enjoyed recently. Purely by coincidence, they're all by British authors; but they speak authoritatively to wine lovers everywhere. These books are widely available in book stores and wine shops; should you choose to order them online from Amazon.com using the links provided, however, you'll get a substantial discount, and WineLoversPage.com will receive a small commission.
Hugh Johnson's Pocket Wine Book 2002. Speaking of "dumbing down," I'm not sure why the publisher changed the name from "Pocket Encyclopedia of Wine" for this, the 25th annual edition. But the contents remain above reproach. I've been faithfully buying each year's new edition since the early 1980s, and continue to update it annually. While you may need bifocals or a magnifying glass to peruse its tiny type, it's an indispensable companion at the wine shop, with Johnson's good advice on many thousands of wines from around the world, including his simple four-star wine-rating system and his opinions on which vintages are good and which are ready to drink.
Real Wine: The Rediscovery of Natural Winemaking, by Patrick Matthews.
Wine enthusiasts argue endlessly over the distinctions between "old world" and "new world" wines and the perceived impact of agribusiness and corporate domination on mass-market wines as compared with wines grown organically and made by hand. Matthews writes stylishly and with real passion about artisanal wines and their sometimes quirky makers in this enjoyable book.
How to Taste: A Guide to Enjoying Wine, by Jancis Robinson. Robinson, one of the most popular British wine writers (and editor of the massive Oxford Companion to Wine, another must-have reference), recently re-issued this basic but thorough wine-appreciation primer, an updated version of her 1983 "Masterglass," which she calls "a complete wine course for the thirsty." Loaded with colorful photos and concise, well-organized information, it begins with a sound "learning to taste" tutorial, followed by extensive discussions of red, white and sparkling wines and matching wine and food.
The World Atlas of Wine. The geography of wine never fails to intrigue me, and I love to study maps of the wine regions I've visited ... and those I would like to see. Hugh Johnson has produced several editions of this fine, large-format book full of maps and photos since 1971; now Jancis Robinson joins him as co-author of this latest, expanded and updated edition published last month. Similar in organization to the previous editions, it contains many of the same maps but much that is new, with expanded sections covering Eastern Europe and the New World in much more detail.
Looking for other wine books? You'll find my favorites on our Amazon.com Wine Bookshelf, http://www.wineloverspage.com/winebook/quickbooks.phtml.
What's your favorite wine book? Write me at email@example.com with your suggestions and reviews, or feel free to post a message on our interactive Wine Lovers' Discussion Group, http://www.wineloverspage.com/cgi-bin/sb/index.cgi?fn=1. I regret that the growing circulation of the "Wine Advisor" makes it difficult for me to reply individually to every note. But I'll respond to as many as I can and do my best to address specific questions. Please be assured that all your input helps me do a better job of writing about wine.
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Good value Valpolicella
Valpolicella, a pretty region in the hills above Verona in Northeastern Italy, is one of those wine places that enjoys a less than stellar reputation because it produces a lot of palatable but unexciting everyday wine. But at its best, Valpolicella is anything but boring. This $10 item is a good one, very dark ruby in color, with full black-cherry aromas and hints of spice. Fresh, tart cherry flavors and crisp acidity make it a natural at the table. U.S. importer: Winebow Inc., NYC; Leonardo Locascio Selections. (Nov. 24, 2001)
FOOD MATCH: Excellent with a Venetian veal stew, Sguazeto de Vedel, from Fred Plotkin's fine Friuli-Venezia Giulia cookbook, "La Terra Fortunata."
Come and visit these exclusive collections at www.2000yearsvintage.com by clicking to http://www.wineloverspage.com/wineadvisor/porto.html.
Need a gift that sparkles?
The California Wine Club recently acquired the last 180 bottles of Robert Hunter's '93, '94 and '95 Brut de Noirs "Extended Tirage".
As the smallest Champagne House in the US, Robert Hunter's award-winning vintages invariably sell out!
For more information or to reserve a shipment, please call The California Wine Club at (800) 777-4443 or visit the California Wine Club website, http://www.cawineclub.com.
Delivery is limited to locations where interstate wine shipping is permitted by law.
Another holiday Champagne
Champagne Duval-Leroy non-vintage "Elegance de Champagne" Brut ($32.99)
FOOD MATCH: Anticipating a New Year's Eve appetizer, it was a delight with dollops of caviar on sheep's-milk yogurt on savory potato-onion pancakes.
WEB LINK: The English version of the winery's Website is at http://www.duval-leroy.com/html/html_gb/presentation.htm. The site is also available in French and German through its main page, http://www.duval-leroy.com/.
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All the wine-tasting reports posted here are consumer-oriented. In order to maintain objectivity and avoid conflicts of interest, I purchase all the wines I rate at my own expense in retail stores and accept no samples, gifts or other gratuities from the wine industry.
Vol. 3, No. 45, Monday, Nov. 26, 2001