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Exploring Wine

The best wine survey books all have two things in common: they talk about wine in minute detail and they are so heavy they take two hands. The world of wine is so big, so extensive that a thorough survey will encompass hundreds of pages.

So if you are going to lift up one of these tomes, perhaps for the holidays, which one? Here’s a serious suggestion for you: Exploring Wine, 3rd Edition by CIA experts Steven Kolpan, Brian Smith, and Michael Weiss. There are 800 pages here, expertly written and carefully organized to give you the best survey of the wine world.

That word “survey” is important. This volume talks about countries, grapes, wines and styles. This is a universal educational tour, one that will have value for you year in and year out. Some great wine volumes focus on individual wineries and specific vintages. Those are great shopping lists, but how often will your local liquor store have that Portuguese specialty from 1998?

In the end, the choice of wine comes down to what is available. And your ability to make a great choice — based on your budget and your taste buds and the food about to be consumed — well that ability is what counts. That’s why these educators from the CIA have slanted this volume to enhance your  knowledge and confidence about wine itself, not just individual producers or bottles.

Wines of the world are surveyed and with the relative emphasis that reflect wine reality. California gets 70 pages, and the rest of North America 20. The chapter on France, an awesome 92 pages, seems to cover that land acre by acre. French wine history, techniques, and prominence are amply detailed here. The inherent complexity of French wines, such as the Bordeaux region, simply demands the careful attention presented in this volume.

The authors’ intent was clearly not to produce a quick read, not something to scan. Here is the definitive guide that you should curl up and slowly treasure. Like a fine wine.

For me, with my interest in food paired with wine, it’s the last third of the book that is so valuable. The layout here includes many tables and charts to guide you in the pairing process:

  • The right white and red wines based on cooking method: use that Chianti for sautéed or fried foods but not for poached or steamed dishes.
  • The right white and red wine for types of dishes: your Viognier is fine for veal but not for beef
  • Classic food pairings: which wines have been found most successful for shellfish
  • A real treasure of 25 sample menus featuring authentic dishes and wine types by region: here’s a six course Alsatian meal with specific wine types for appetizer through dessert
  • The best guide I’ve seen on how to read wine labels from around the world: from Oregon to Italy here is how to decipher all the text on that label

I encourage you to leaf through Exploring Wine. You can let it rest on the table and just turn each informative page. I suspect that, like me, you will find yourself reading and enjoying this book throughout your culinary life.