Reviewed by Richard E. Quandt
This volume is a member of the very successful series on just about any topic for dummies. It is a basic but very solid introduction to the mysteries of wine for readers who would like to know many details and have little or no prior preparation in the subject. The first part of the book covers the basic aspects of wine: color, nose, taste, tannin, body, flavors, and so on, and the discussion is interspersed with homey but sensible advice about how to taste wine ("1. Slow down, 2. Pay attention") and also has a useful section of grape varieties. Part II deals with issues that can be quite tricky for the neophyte, namely how to shop for wine, and even more importantly perhaps, how to order wine in a restaurant. It is quite good in giving advice for saving the inexperienced wine drinker some embarrassment.
Part III is a detailed discussion of the wines of the principal wine growing regions. We find a chapter on France, one on Italy, another on other regions in Europe such as Spain, Portugal, Germany and (very briefly!) Switzerland and Austria. There are two chapters on wine regions outside of Europe: one deals with Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina and South Africa and the other deals with North America. All these chapters are good and useful; if I have any complaint, it is that the book could have been more complete by including Eastern Europe, specifically the Czech Republic for its good Moravian wines and Hungary principally for its unmatched dessert wine, the Tokaji Aszu (which is appearing more and more often in wine stores, with its "mysterious" designations of "4 puttonyos" or "5 puttonyos," etc.) Indeed, I find the treatment of dessert wines in Chapter 16 a bit skimpy; while it does treat sherry, marsala, port, madeira and sauternes, it not only omits the Tokaji, but also omits the Monbazillac from the Southwest of France and the splendid dessert wines from the Loire such as Coteaux du Layon. The final part of the book deals with various practical issues such as how to buy wine, what magazines and worth reading, how one can describe something as ephemeral as taste, what food goes with what wine, and how to collect wines.
There is some excellent advice in the book, e.g., the recommendation on p. 145 that Bordeaux wines are often not good choices in restaurants because they will tend to be too young. But the same problem exists in buying Bordeaux wines in wine stores, and given the emphasis placed on first growths, I wish more emphasis had been given to the usefulness of auctions. While they are definitely discussed, the reader could benefit here from some more hand holding (and it would have been useful to mention that The Chicago Wine Company does not charge a buyer's premium). In particular, it might have been useful also to discuss the mechanics of bidding by mail, which will be the only practical way for most people to bid at auctions unless they happen to live in the city in which the auction takes place. But these are minor quibbles. This is not intended to be an encyclopedia, but an introduction for people who do not already have a great deal of knowledge, and it serves that purpose very well. It is a useful book, written with a light touch, but never in a condescending fashion.
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