This is the penultimate group of wine reviews provided by Paul. Next week he reviews a group of general wine books.
The Complete Wine Course, Second Edition
Of the five or so books in this particular genre published in 2013, this is one of the best for a number of reasons. For a start it's set out in a colourful, glossy, easy-to-read format with sections on how wine is made, how to taste it, grape varieties, wine styles, where wine is made around the world, the new world versus old, and how best to store wine, with insights on the organic/biodynamic/natural winemaking debate, among other chapters. It's also got the balance right between what is succinct as well as being informative, and comes in the perfect portable carrying size for anyone looking to discreetly refer to it in a wine shop without the world and his granny spotting you a mile off. In this second edition written by Forrest, a certified WSET wine educator, the writing is personable and is aimed at those coming to wine for the first time. It's also opinionated, clearly making the case against some of the principles propagated by natural wine advocates. At times Forrest's friendly and genial style can be a little clunky and over-written, and he is prone to repetition. However, as a package, with its generous mix of vinous photographs and warm, casual voice, there's a lot to like in what is one of the best wine course books from 2013.
Wine: A Tasting Course - Every Class in a Glass
Despite a title that suggests a sole emphasis on tasting, this covers many of the topics raised in Tom Forrest's The Complete Wine Course although it is set out differently with a greater emphasis on diagrams and maps and with only the occasional shot of a grape or glass. Old begins by looking specifically at tasting, offering the 'insider's sensory tour' with insights on how to taste like a pro: whether to spit or not to spit; the wine-tasting checklist; how wine looks; looking at what affects colour in wine; understanding aromas; how wine smells and tastes; and identifying fruit, oak, acidity, sweetness, tannin and fizziness. The next chapters deal with packaging: how wine comes in different bottles; what to read into on a label; and choosing the right glasses. After that, it's back to tasting and the various white and red wine spectrums and the concept of ripeness and predicting it. These chapters are particularly strong on wine styles and how to differentiate a Burgundian Chardonnay from a Napa Valley Chardonnay, or what marks out the minute difference between, say, an Albariño and a Grüner Veltliner. There are also segments on matching food to wine and identifying the effects of salt and sugar, for example. The latter components deal with viticulture and winemaking decisions such as matching grape to region; the effects of terroir; the importance of soil; controlling sweetness; determining colour and style; why one chooses oak barrels over steel tanks; the difference in styles between old and new world; and an overview of grapes and regions.
It's all pretty comprehensive and informative and each chapter finishes with a checklist to recap.
On the negative side, this is one of those new-fangled modern books where the fonts are up and down and all over the place and lilacs, reds and greens attack the senses. While many will really buy into this scheme and arrangement, I'm sorry to say it makes me rather dizzy. That said, this is the sort of wine book that one warms to as the pages flick by. It is admittedly a funky, clever way of looking at how we taste and experience wine and for that reason, it's one to thoroughly recommend. Just mind your eyes on those fonts.
Idiot's Guides - Wine
Unlike the cheap paper used for 'guides for dummies', this 'idiot's guide' is a lot more flash, swanky and very approachable. While being by no means effusive, Slinkard manages to get across everything she needs to say as quickly as possible without going into any great detail, although to call it an idiot's guide is to do it a disservice at times. The style is, however, at first minimalistic - three paragraphs on wine basics, two paragraphs and a line on how wine is made - before expanding to whole pages on growing grapes and the harvest; the influence of oak; and old world versus new. After that, Slinkard pinpoints eight grapes to know; offers insights on buying, serving, tasting and storing wine and the 'look, sniff and sip' of wine; and outlines factors for pairing food with wine.
In case any consumer watchdogs are wondering if the title contravenes the trade descriptions act and tends towards an unannounced sophistication, it's worth reporting that there are also sections on the restaurant wine ritual (order, presentation, the cork, the taste, the nod); corkscrew protocol; and broken cork contingencies. From there, Slinkard takes us on a tour of the wine regions - Europe, North America, southern hemisphere - as well as looking at other types of wine, including champagne, sherry, port and dessert wines. This guide is glossy, colourful and says everything it needs to say in as few words as possible. It's as good a first book on wine as any, whether you're an idiot or not.
A Little Course in Wine Tasting
Taking a different approach to those already mentioned, Williams, after quickly looking at what is needed to host a wine tasting (the right glassware and knowing how to serve the wine perfectly) as well as looking at the science of growing grapes and winemaking, has divided his book in three sections: the different styles, flavours and tastes in wine; the various grape varieties; and the effects of oak, climate, age, and how to match wine and food. With plenty of bottle shots, diagrams and basic maps of wine growing regions, Williams offers a generous awareness of what to expect from a typical Chardonnay or a Bordeaux classic. And he doesn't just cover the usual suspects you'd expect to see in a primer. Fruity dry whites from Rueda to light and elegant Spätburgunders are also included. In fact, much of the book is devoted to what to expect when you open a Washington State Merlot, California White Zinfandel or Chenin Blanc from the Loire. The list goes on and on.
Colourful, glossy, well written and to the point, in essence, it's a reasonable primer that touches on most of the basics you'd like to experience and pick up on if you were opening a typical wine for the first time.
The Essential Scratch and Sniff Guide to Becoming a Wine Expert
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
This is an unusual wine book in that, if you weren't looking at the title,
you'd think it was a children's hardback, with very thick pages, filled with nursery rhymes or a pop-up storyline. This is not the case. Written by Master Sommelier Richard Betts, this is a book dedicated to the nose. It's also quite a sophisticated book with a number of little hands on various pages throughout pointing to areas the reader should scratch - just like you would with a lottery ticket. Instead of revealing a prize or a number, your poking will uncover aromas one would normally associate with pears, strawberries, cherries, blackberries, stone fruit, dill, vanilla, leather, butter, flowers, grass, and bacon. The aromas are divided up into a number of key components from the olfactory world - fruit, wood, earth and other - which are then subdivided into red or black fruit, for instance. The idea being, presumably, that you will then recognise these aromas in a glass of wine. The book also comes with a circular tasting wheel which neatly unfolds to allow the reader to chose a wine based on their particular taste at that particular moment. So, if you are looking for a red fruity wine with American oak, the wheel leads you to a Rioja with Tempranillo and Garnacha.
I have to say that everyone I showed this to in the last couple of weeks was sceptical initially. But, after experiencing the whole gamut of aromas, they were taken aback by how clever the concept was. For my part, I had my reservations about the dill-infused patch and whether it resembled the aromatic herb that I grow for summer dips. But hey, that's being picky. It's not exactly a rival to Le Nez du Vin but then it doesn't have a Le Nez du Vin price tag either. Overall this is a really innovative aromatic tool that's a bit of fun as well as being educational.