The Instant Wine Connoisseur
I have to admit that the title of this book put me off a bit. I feel strongly that wine should be about normal people enjoying wine as a daily, healthy beverage. Wine shouldn't be about a special, elite class of people having secret knowledge. But be sure to give this book a try. As it turns out, this book is actually about non-pretentious wine situations and learning to enjoy wine as a normal human being. The point of this book is that normal, every day people can be "wine connoisseurs". I feel exactly the same way!
The book is aimed towards an audience that is learning about wine from the beginning. There are great chapters on how to taste a wine, and a full half of the book is dedicated to recipes pairing wine and food - often by very famous chefs. There is even an area in the back of the book with travel notes, giving incentive for wine lovers to take a canal tour in Burgundy!
But back to the wine learning. The content is devised to be understood by those new to the world of wine. For example, the wine section breaks down wine by "red", "white" and "other", talking about the best known wine types in each category. This can be very helpful in one sense, that you only learn a few names at a time. On the other hand, the sections themselves are a bit confusing. For example, red wines subdivide into these unintuitive categories:
* France, California, Oregon and Washington
* Red grapes of Italy
Would a wine newbie know which category to look in for their "Cabernet" information? Where would they look for their Australian Shiraz, or their Chilean Cab?
Still, once you begin reading, the information given on each main wine type (chardonnay, cabernet, merlot, etc) is quite helpful for wine newbies. You learn the primary flavors of each grape, where it is grown, and what to watch for. As with all wine information, you need to take any statement with a grain of salt, though. Of Chardonnay, Hecht says, "the major characteristic of this grape: it can be molded into a number of wines with different tastes." Most winemakers would tell you that they do not mold the wine into different tasting wines - it is the grape itself that takes on different flavors based on where it is grown. It's like with beef cows - if you raise one herd on oats and another herd on clover and grass, the end result will naturally taste different. This is a key concept of wine - that the grape has a natural flavor in a given situation which shines through.
Hecht lives in California and teaches about wine in a college there. His slant towards California wines is apparent through much of the book. Where many wine enthusiasts have believed even to current times that French wines are more complex and age-worthy than Californian wines, the book often lists Californian wines first, throwing in French regions as an "and also" commentary. Americans will find this refreshing, while wine experts will be intrigued at this sudden reversal of fortune.
Other US-slants show up. For example, Hecht comments that "the next great grape (after Cabernet Sauvignon) is the Pinot Noir grape of the Burgundy region". While the whole idea of "ranking" grapes is questionable in the first place, those who DO rank grapes consistently place pinot noir at the top of the quality chart. Of course, pinot noir is not grown in large numbers in California ...
On the other hand, some Californian wines are strangely passed over. Zinfandel is "the red wine produced by a small number of Californian vineyards" - making it sound rare and unusual. Most people I know love Zin as a normal house red to go with burgers and steaks.
A few sections of the book seem to contradict themselves. In one area, Hecht picks on White Zinfandel as being a rose/blush wine. In another, he says, "The southern French have a saying that goes: a wine drinker begins by enjoying white wine, matures into preferring red wine, and ends up loving rose." One section says a rose is "bad", another says the rose is "best". I would say a rose is perfect in some situations, while other wines are perfect in others. It all depends on what you are eating.
Still, again, half of this book is made up of delicious recipes, which are always wonderful. In the other half of the book, much of the basic information is great if you simply start at one end and read through to the other. The food information is really wonderful, especially if you want to know what combinations are classic. Some of his listed traditional pairings include:
* sauternes with foie gras
* bordeaux with beef
* burgundy with lamb
* barolo with wild game
* beaujolais with chicken
* champagne with white wine sauce
As a final note, being an enthusiastic fan of the Three Musketeers, I have to say ... D'Artagnan was NOT one of the three musketeers! He was a FOURTH musketeer - an upstart Gascon - who finally won his way into the order :)
Buy The Instant Wine Connoisseur from Amazon.com
Author: Mervyn L. Hecht
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