Book Review: Wines of the World


Wines of the World

Susan Keevin et al.

Eyewitness Companions

DK Publishing, New York

2004

 

If you are at all like me –and I think I am an average Vancouver denizen- you probably own a lot more books that you have never read than the ones you have. It is a bit embarrassing to confess this, coming from me, being a writer. Writers are supposed to read or to have read a lot. When I became more interested in wine I started to collect wine books, thinking “now, I have a real passion here, so I will read all these books.” 

Of course I was fooling myself. We are animals of habit and now, looking back, I should have known that, just as with my other books, I would only read a fraction of them. I must also say, however, that although I have not read most of my books front to back, I have definitely used them for reference, both for my fiction and wine writing. Just in case you started thinking “why should I read this blog? This guy is cranking wine stuff out of his head.” 

In any case, what I wanted to say on this one is that  if I had to choose one book, if I had the money and space on my shelf for only one wine book I would pick the one that gives name to this posting.  Wines of the World provides all the basic information you need in a mere 672 pages. It is compact, it has beautiful photographs, it’s made with nice, thick paper. Plus, it packs condensed, quality information on the world wine regions, grapes, wine people, top producers, history. If that were not enough, you will find handy maps too. 

I don’t know how they managed to pack so much into such limited space but that shows craftsmanship. (Should I write craftswomanship to be gender correct here? Just kidding). These guys knew what they were doing. I also find the language simple, accessible to all, avoiding the excessive industry jargon that drives the wine curious back to beer and rye. Nothing wrong with those two, don’t take me wrong.

If you only read the first chapter “Introducing Wines of the World” (it’s ok if you skip the old stuff and go straight to the 20th century) you will have already a pretty good grasp on the wine areas, who is making what, who is making more -or less- and who is drinking it.  For instance, on page 13 there is a neat table of production and consumption. For the year 2001, the consumption in liters per capita put Canada on place 15th, after France, Portugal, a long list of etceteras and even tiny Switzerland and beer oriented Germany. What they don’t say is that Vancouver drives the Canadian consumption up, with West Vancouverites downing a staggering 90 liters per head a year. That is a whole lot, and yes, this is fresh info that is not in the book. But that is why you come to this blog, see? Now, seriously, I have the 2004 edition, so expect updated info on the current one. You still need to come to Winecouver though. 

Pages 24 to 35 will make you a quasi-expert in terroir, vineyard soil and grape varieties. Knowing red from white and having Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay only in your wine knowledge arsenal doesn’t cut it any more, bud. The terroir explanation text is wittingly accompanied by cool illustrations that will cut through that looming boredom. Then you have the main grapes, both black (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Pinot Noir) and white (Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon) explained in detail, as it should be. Most wine drank today still comes from those main grapes. Then you have shorter descriptions for other grapes that are becoming more popular. Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Sangiovese, for the dark ones and Viognier, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer among many other whites. Stuff you should know to help you understand and appreciate better your new choices. 

The continuing pages until the end of the introduction chapter give some insight on vineyard management and vinification. I find this latter one is quite relevant, as it relates directly to the stuff you are putting in your mouth. Oak vs no oak, blending, bottle aging, malolactic fermentation, these are all areas in which you want to have a working knowledge, for your drinking’s sake. Huh! Talking about sake, this book doesn’t include a Sake chapter, which makes complete sense. I still don’t get why wine people have got into the idea that Sake should be included in wine books, wine courses, wine tastings and wine shelves on stores. Even the Playhouse International Wine Festival has a Sake section! C’mon. Sake may be very tasty but is not grape wine. 

Pages 42 to 45 complete the introduction and are essential. They are about wine styles, meaning sparkling or still, light, medium or full body, red vs white. Here, as you go through the styles, you learn the basic wine lexicon associated to each style, plus a few aromas and flavors you may typically expect. To close this smartly put together chapter, pages 43, 44 and 45 have an inset each, telling you about stuff you definitely want to know: Tanninaged vs young wine and the building blocks of wine. I am talking about sweetness, acidity, tannin and alcohol, the properties you assess when answering two essential questions: do I like the wine? Is this quality wine? I must really like this book Have you noticed how many times I used the word “essential”? 

By the time you finish reading through the first 40 pages you will feel a lot more confident. You only have 630 more to go! ; ) You have now all these sections to explore on the wine regions, from Burgundy in France to the top producers in Lebanon. Yes, they do make wine in Lebanon, as they do in Israel. This a really good section for reference, both for when you want to take a quick look or when you find a wine you like and want to know more about the region. It is also fun to look for the “top producers” segment at the end of each wine region. Chances are that you will recognize some of the wines you have seen at your local store. 

The last bit of the book has some wine tasting technique tips, basic wine and food matching and main aromas and flavors you will easily identify in your wines. There is a very solid index, which I deem truly essential in any good wine book. And, huh, there is a wine glossary near the end too.  You should look at it. In case someone asked you what Qualitatswein mit Pradikat is. No. Seriously. I totally recommend this book. Essential.

Cheers

Ivan Alfonso

 

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