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Book of the day – The Essential Wine Book by Oz Clarke

Oz Clarke’s New Essential Wine Book: An Indispensable Guide to Wines of the World

by Oz Clarke

  • Publisher: Fireside; 3 Rev Upd edition (December 20, 2005)
  • ISBN 10: 0743286685
  • ISBN 13: 978-0743286688
  • Note: all comments forthwith are based on the 1996 edition of this book.

    Robert Parker says it best on the cover of the edition that I own – The Essential Wine Book…is the best introductory text to wine and the most enjoyable to read.

    My edition is over 15 years old, having been published in 1996. Clarke, a wry Brit who’s not Australian despite his nickname, has found a format that really makes it easy for the wine neophyte to get a handle on the oft confusing world of wine. The book is small enough to be easily handled and large enough to offer space for nice color photographs and numberous sidebars.

    The book is quickly outdated as he gives specific vintage recommendations and specific wine choices. That’s part and parcel of a book that tries to be a consumer guide in addition to a reference work. Even some of the editorial commentary is outdated, but that’s the nature of a rapidly evolving wine trade.

    But what makes this a standout purchase, especially for people who need some brushing up on their wine knowledge, is the ease in which he throws open the curtains to an often complex and arcane wine world.  The book is logically designed and his observations are clearly personal and somewhat idiosyncratic. He doesn’t just plug in the generic tasting notes for the various varietals and regions that some volumes do. It’s clear that he’s describing the various products from his own tasting perspective and when he hasn’t tasted something, he’ll tell you, as in the case of Château Le Pin, the Pomerol winemaker who has surpassed Château Petrus as the world’s most expensive wine due to its tiny output (the output has tripled to ~600 cases a year from the ~200 cases per year at the time of my edition’s publication).

    Clarke has the ability to describe the characteristics of the land and environment that make each wine-growing region unique without sounding too abstract or scientific.

    This would be the perfect book for a waiter to keep in his or her locker or backpack at all times. You can pick it up, open it at any point, and learn something new about wine. His conversational style is refreshingly honest and colorful. It’s a delightful read and there are enough color photographs to give you a sense of the parts of the world that he’s discussing.

    All in all, for beginners, if there were one book that I would recommend, it would be the latest edition of this book, although, if you come across a copy of an earlier edition for $1.50 as I recently did, you should snap it up.

    You won’t be sorry.

    Clarke also has an informative and entertaining web site here:

    Cookbook of the day – Wine

    Christian Callec

    Wine: A Comprehensive Look at the World’s Best Wines

    by Christian Callec

  • Publisher  (October 7, 2003)
  • ISBN 10: 0517221659
  • ISBN 13: 978-0517221655
  • This book is one of those books that was designed from the outset to be marketed as a “remainder”, those less expensive books that you find on the budget tables of bookstores. It’s a handy source of wine information, but its great virtue, and the reason that I’m specifically recommending it this morning,  is the copious amount of photos of actual bottles that illustrate the various winemaking regions. Using top producers as visual examples, you’ll get a look at the labels of many great  producers and the bottles that hold their product.  There are plenty of labels in lieu of bottles as well as the usual panoply of vineyard and “behind the scenes” shots.

    Visually, this is real blessing for any dedicated wine enthusiast and is worth digging around for. As of this posting, has about 15 copies in both new and used condition, and they range in price from .99 to $21.95.

    If you want a visual tour of the great bottles of the world, this is your round-trip ticket.

    Cookbook of the day – Sauternes



    by Bernard Ginestet

    Publisher:Jacques Legrand S.A. Paris ©1990

    ISBN-  0-582-07544-0

    ISBN- 2-905969-39-3

    This is a book that you might have to dig for. It’s a mostly European-distributed book from the series Bernard Ginestet’s Guide to the Vineyards of France. It was translated by John Meredith and has a foreword by Nicholas Faith, who points out that, Unfortunately, the French edition went to press before Bernard could discuss the biggest single revolution in the history of the great sweet wines of the bands of the Ciron: the way in which the technique of cryo-extraction has swept the vineyard, even such vineyards as Chateau d’Yquem, in the past few years.

    Other than that topic, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better discussion of the wine history of the region as well as a rundown of the chateaux of Sauternes, down to a discussion of the soil composition . Most get at least a cursory examination, some very extensive discussions, and at the very least, a listing of the various statistics and whether or not they allow visits.

    There’s a great map of the region, color-coded according to soil type. The photo on the cover shows a typical bunch of grapes which clearly shows the contrast between “healthy” grapes and the raisinesque botytris-attacked “raisins”. There is a comprehensive discussion about botrytis and Ginestet would seem to hope that the popular term “noble rot” disappear from the lexicon. In fact, he points out that this isn’t what we normally would call “rot”, as it doesn’t attack dead tissue but living, healthy grapes. The grapes end up getting picked in two different categories of decrepitude, shrivelled and dessicated. This necessitates constant pickings, and the price of the product is a reflection of this reality.

    You get a detailed report on the meteorology of the region as you would expect from a book covering a French region, as dependent on terroir as they are.

    The language is what you expect from translated French, lugubrious and academic. It achieves this without becoming treacly or haughty. There are copious photographs, which give you a sense of the culture of the region. There are even 5 “savory dishes” recipes from regional chefs in French; recipes that utilize Sauternes in the dish.

    I don’t recommend this book for people only getting into wine. This is for the intermediate wine enthusiast or better. It’s not that it’s above the head of a beginner, it just goes into more detail about a small but significant region of French wine, a region that the beginner might not even encounter, as most restaurants don’t even offer a Sauternes on their wine list. Additionally, it’s not a common book and might be difficult to find at a decent price (I was lucky enough to find mine for $3.00 – would I have piad $20 for it? Probably not, although for a wine expert it would be worth the price).