What's a good book for a novice wine connoisseur?
February 3, 2004 10:51 AM   Subscribe

Looking for a good book as an introduction to learning about wines. This will be a gift to a novice who wants to learn the basics and then proceed from there.
posted by turbanhead to Food & Drink (3 answers total)
I've just started getting into wines within the past few months, and I can make two recommendations.

Wine for Dummies is a great overview of basic information, especially what sort of things you can glean from wine labels. Especially good for sorting out what regional names correspond to what varieties. (In most of the world, wines are named for the type of grape they are made from, but in France, Italy, and Spain they tend to be named for the region that they're grown in--and there are strict limitations on what grapes can be grown in what regions, if the wine is to carry the name of that regions. So this book was very helpful in figuring out that a French Burgundy is made from Pinot Noir grapes, for example.)

Great Wine Made Simple: Straight Talk from a Master Sommelier is also a very good starter, and takes an unusual approach: throughout the book there are a number of tastings, with recommended wines so you can taste what the author is talking about. (For example, when talking about oaky flavors, she has you sample a wooded chardonnay and an unwooded chardonnay for comparison. That flavor you taste in the wooded chard and not the unwooded one is what people call an "oaky" or "woody" flavor.) For each tasting she gives quite a variety of wines to choose from, so it's not like you have to find one particular wine in order to do the tasting. The first tasting in the book is sampling what she calls the "big six" varieties (Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon, and she mentions that you can certainly taste the three whites separately from the three reds if six at one tasting is too much for you), so if you wanted a little more extravagant gift you could give this book along with a bottle of each of six wines needed for the first tasting. She gives a wide range of prices for the first tasting as well, so if you stick to the less expensive ones this could easily be done for $7-10 per bottle.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 11:40 AM on February 3, 2004 [1 favorite]

These authors are all extremely knowledgeable and good writers; Hugh Johnson's Pocket Wine Book, updated every year, is a handy guide to carry around and help make sense of the initially overwhelming variety in the wine store. You might also consider a gift membership in a wine-tasting group; tasting as many wines as possible (with someone who can help you analyze what you're smelling and tasting) is the best way to learn.
posted by languagehat at 11:52 AM on February 3, 2004 [1 favorite]

In college I read an earlier edition of Kevin Zraly's Windows on the World Complete Wine Course and found it quite helpful. Of course, I've forgotten a lot of it since.
posted by Songdog at 12:56 PM on February 3, 2004 [1 favorite]

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