Monday, May 28, 2007

Becoming a Wine Connoisseur: Part II

Last week I managed to waste an entire column talking about my testicles and trying different wines. And though both are important, this is a wine column and I need to focus on making you a wine connoisseur.

Step 2: Dick and Jane Read About Wine (while Spot gets plastered)

You’ll only get so far by randomly tasting different wines. It really helps if you know something about the wines you’re tasting. That’s where book larnin’ can come in handy. Books are the cheap and easy way of becoming – if not a wine connoisseur – then at least knowledgeable about wine.

But which books? A search for “wine” at turned up 239,546 results. Ouch! That’s a hell of a lot of readin’ before you can get your buzz on. There’s gotta be a way to trim that down a bit.

Probably the best way is to break the books into types. Not every wine book serves the same purpose, and knowing what you’re looking for can really help you out when you stroll into Barnes and Noble. I break wine books into five categories.

Wine Courses

I call these books “courses” because that’s what they often call themselves. They are generally introductory books on wine, covering the basics on how wine is made, where it’s made, what grapes are used, etc. If you know nothing about wine, these books are the place to start.

Wine for Dummies – This is actually a pretty darn good book that breaks down wine into very understandable terms. Unfortunately, you’ll have to hide this under your bed – no true connoisseur would ever be caught dead with “Wine For Dummies”.

Great Wine Made Simple (Andrea Immer Robinson) – I really like Andrea Immer (now Robinson); she keeps things fun and simple, just like the book’s title. She manages to cover a lot of ground while giving you fun hands-on tasting assignments to boot.

Wine Encyclopedias

Once you have a basic handle on the difference between Burgundy and Bordeaux, you might want to gain more specific knowledge about wines of particular regions. That’s where the wine encyclopedia comes in, generally replete with history, background, types of wines, and examples of specific producers for each wine region in the world.

The Wine Bible (MacNeil) – Probably the single most popular wine book on the market, it combines a bit of the wine primer with the encyclopedia. However, there are no color pictures or maps, so I've never liked it.

The New Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia – OK, this is the real deal. If you want the lowdown on every winemaking region on the globe, this is the book. Lots of great background info, plus lists of specific recommended producers and lot of color pictures and maps! Overkill for all but the true wine geek.

Wine Guides

The purpose of wine guides is to help you decide which wines are good. They contain lists and lists of wines, with scores and notes and ratings. I generally don’t like wine guides for the simple reason that I can never actually find or buy any of the wines they recommend, and I don’t always share the same taste as the author. Still, people love these books.

Andrea Robinson's 2007 Wine Buying Guide for Everyone – This is about the only wine guide that I consistently like, both because Andrea includes wines that you can find most anywhere and because she’s generally right on for my taste.

Wine Stories

Once you really get hooked into the world of wine, you might want to know the history of the 1976 Paris tasting, or the rise and rise and rise of the world’s most powerful wine critic…but I’m going to leave all that for another day.

Wine and Food

Wine was made to go with food, and there’s a whole art and science to wine and food pairing.

Everyday Dining with Wine (Andrea Immer) – Organized by varietal, this book gives good background info on each grape and tons of tasty recipes to go with each.

What to Drink with What you Eat (Dornenburg and Page) – I love this book. Look up a food and it tells you what drink (wine, beer, cocktail, tea) goes best with it. Look up a wine and it tells you what foods go best with it. Best wine with salmon? Oregon pinot noir. Wow.

Of course, there are 239,539 other books on wine out there that I didn't cover, but hey, I’m pushing my word count as it is.

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