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Light reading about wine When you want to read about wine but don't feel like studying.
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Light reading about wine

Sometimes you want to read about wine for enjoyment but you really don't feel like studying wine. Today, with just over a week left to get in those calls to Santa for stocking stuffers, let's take a reader's look at a couple of new wine books that should serve you well in those less serious wine moments. Also in today's report, you'll find a link to this year's edition of a perennial wine-reference favorite that I like to find hanging from my mantel every year.

Oldman's Guide First, a strong new entry that I find grows on me the more I browse it. Oldman's Guide to Outsmarting Wine is a hefty (400-page) coffee-table-size paperback by Mark Oldman, a New Yorker who's in the job-seeking and career-information business by day (check out his popular Website,, and a devoted wine "geek" and wine educator by night.

Designed primarily for newcomers and apprentices in the world of wine but with plenty of interest for more serious students of the grape as well, it's neatly organized in the form of 108 short articles presented under wine-learning categories like "Appreciating Wine," "Basic Grapes" and "Basic Regional Styles." It goes on to varied topics including "food and Wine," "Restaurants" and information about buying, storing, handling and serving wine, and more. The articles are short - typically two or three pages each - but not at all "dumbed down," highlighted with bright graphic sidebars and tips from noteworthy wine figures.

I like Oldman's style, which is first-person, literate and intelligent yet conversational and breezy. I suspect if I sat down with Mark over a few glasses of wine - something I wouldn't mind doing - we would discover that we share similar attitudes about wine and wine writing.

Just for fun, here's a quick sample of Oldman's prose, from Chapter 32, "Red Burgundy: French Pinot Noir, Gloriously Aromatic and Silky."

There I was, finishing my first barrel sample in the dark, chilly cellar of one of Burgundy's most celebrated domaines. As I went to pour the remnants of my glass into a nearby spitoon, my host, a renowned wine-maker, reacted as if I were about to leap off a cliff.

"Non!" he barked, grabbing my arm. He then poured the remains of his glass back into the barrel and motioned for me to do the same. I did so reluctantly, wondering if this winery was in the business of hawking backwash at $200 a bottle."

Well, you get the idea. Maybe this story resonated with me because I shared a similar reaction the first time this happened to me, at a "cult" winery in Spain. But if "literate and intelligent yet conversational and breezy" appeals to you as much as it does to me, you'll want to put this book on your shopping list.

Oldman's Guide to Outsmarting Wine is published by Penguin Books, December 2004. To read about it on, click's sale price is $12.24, 32 percent off the $18 list price. If you use this link to buy, we'll earn a small commission at

Horse in My Wine Colorado-based Jennifer Rosen, who calls herself "Chotzi" and says she teaches wine seminars that feature games and belly dancing, writes about wine for Denver's Rocky Mountain News and hosts a Website about her wine business at

Her new book, Waiter, There's a Horse in My Wine, with cartoons by Gary Hovland, is a collection of 65 short wine columns, assembled into four broad categories, "Preliminaries," "Wines," "Around the Globe" and "Drinking and Tasting."

Rosen's shtick is humor, and the cover of her book is not shy about declaring her "America's Wittiest Wine Critic." Her style is light and breezy, too. Here's a sample from an early chapter, "A Very Good Year: Do vintages matter?"

The year 121 B.C., according to Roman historian Pliny the Elder, was "a vintage of the highest excellence." He wrote that in 70 A.D., nearly 200 years later, so chances are he was bluffing, as wine writers do. In any case, it didn't impress his brother, Pliny the Welder, who preferred beer. You've heard people gush about an '82 Bordeaux or a '63 port, but why do vintages differ, and are they really important enough to pay attention to?

Years are important simply because grapes are important. No matter how talented the winemaker, Hungarian-oak-barrel-stave-inserts notwithstanding, he's only as good as the grapes he's working with. Among agricultural products, grapes have an odd temperament; they thrive, like a Jewish mother, on suffering. Forget Miracle Gro.

Waiter, There's a Horse in My Wine is a 304-page trade paperback published by Dauphin Press in Denver. Its publication date is March 15, 2005, but says it's ready to ship within 24 hours of your order. For more information click
There's no mention of a discount, but the $14.95 list price seems fair. Again, purchases made through this exact link will help us pay the rent at

Hugh Johnson 2005 When I first became serious about wine, one of the first reference books I purchased was a little pocket-size guide by the prolific British wine writer Hugh Johnson. It must have been the 1979 edition, or thereabouts. Here it is almost a quarter of a century later, and Johnson is still at it and so am I. (Our paths actually crossed at a wine judging in Torgiano, Italy, in 1982, to my great delight if not to Hugh's. He's just as unassuming and friendly a gentleman in person as he is in print.)

The world of wine has changed a great deal over those years, and Johnson's publishers, Mitchell Beazley, have managed to squeeze a little more information into the undersize volume every year. The 2005 edition, just out, holds the line at 288 pages, and it's still helpful to have a magnifying glass to scrutinize the tiny print that's needed to fit in many thousands of short reviews, ratings and vintage advice for wines around the world.

Someone in Mitchell Beazley's marketing department a few years ago changed the name from "Wine Encyclopedia" to "Wine Book," but the contents remain encyclopedic. When I'm traveling light and can't take an entire wine library along, I simply tuck this one slim volume into my travel kit.

To read more about Hugh Johnson's Pocket Wine Book 2005 on, click's sale price is $10.17, 32 percent off the $14.95 list price. You know the drill by now: Treat yourself to a copy through this link, you get a bargain and we earn a few cents.

If you have other wine books you would like to recommend, or to comment further about today's topic (or other wine-related issues), you'll find a round-table online discussion in our interactive Wine Lovers' Discussion Group, where you're always welcome to join in the conversations about wine.

If you prefer to comment privately, feel free to send me E-mail at I'll respond personally to the extent that time and volume permit.

Saratoga Wine Exchange
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Still Time to Ship for Christmas!

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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.

Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2004
Copyright 2004 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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