Top | here to there to everywhere

“WineWise” Review

(post, Emilie Shh)

WineWise, “Your Complete Guide to Understanding, Selecting, and Enjoying Wine”
By Steve Kolpan, Brian H. Smith and Michael A. Weiss / $29.95 listed

Now I received this book months ago back in 2009 when Culinate was offering free books to users willing to review them (thank you, Kim!). Of course things often don’t go according to plan, as I had intended to finish this before the year was out, but I’ve finally gotten the time to sit down and write a review after reading through it.

WineWise is a hefty tome, measuring 9” by 11.5” and containing over 350 pages. It’s endorsed by The Culinary Institute of America and is written by three of its professors. According to the front flap jacket, the book claims to be a comprehensive source for beginners entering the world of wine, with topics ranging from the process of winemaking to the different categories and regions. There is also information on pricing and pairing, which is always nice to know for practical application!

As a beginner with nary a clue to wine and all its subtleties (I can recognize names and have heard of general rules, but I don’t drink wine often; however, I would like to learn more and and be able to appreciate it), I found WineWise to be a great source with almost any and all the information I could wish to know. The chapters are well organized for relaying the basics, and the book’s large pages are full of pictures and pointers to help break up the abundant amount of information. Also, each chapter is prefaced with a two-page spread containing a relevant picture, title and intro, that help make clear what it is you’re about to read – great for breaking up the chapters and letting you skip around if you decide that section doesn’t sound as interesting as the next!

My favorite parts were the first and last few chapters of the book, the former being a comprehensive introduction to wines and the latter more on choosing wines:

The first chapter was very helpful, explaining everything from style to color to pricing. They give great information and examples for the basic vocabulary of wine, and I learned about body (light is “like lemonade”) and fermentation processes (malolactic introduces bacteria to make harsh acids more mellow). Though it’s a lot of facts, the paragraphs are generally short and the text is clear and conversational, which helps keep things from getting too dry or intimidating. I also learned that naming is a big, BIG thing (it seems obvious, but you don’t really understand how intrinsic it is until they explain the system) and is often attached to the region of the wine. This importance of attachment for wine names is something that really becomes apparent when they get into more detail in other chapters.

The following two chapters go into further information on wine, first relaying the white grapes and then presenting the red grapes. I thought this was great, because this was the sort of information I really wanted to know when initially approaching wine. Why should I care about Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc? What is the difference between Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and Pinot Noir? What in the world is Syrah/Shiraz and Zinfandel?? What is a Reisling?! All these questions are addressed and answered, as they give a quick profile on the grape and its resulting wine, plus information on established producing regions and names. And all the little pictures definitely help, giving you a glimpse of what the grapes actually look like!

The middle chapters break everything down locally, really going into the specifics and histories of a certain winemaking region and covering all the major areas over the world. For people who can’t get enough of this wine knowledge, these are the chapters for you! These parts are also really helpful if you’re about to travel somewhere, such as Spain, Australia or even South Africa, and you want to know what the region is known for and what names to keep an eye out for.

The last four chapters are all about practical application, which is great for people who don’t want to wait until after they’ve read all 350 pages before they start exploring these flavors! There is one on general pairing with food, which has a bunch of great regional charts and food sections, plus several mini sections to warn you of possible mistakes; for example, asparagus and artichokes “may cause your wine to taste sweeter than it is.” I certainly wouldn’t have known that, and the writers not only warn you but include tips on how to remedy these palate run-ins. (P.S. The “Cheat Sheet” is on page 292!)

The following chapters give some ideas on how to enjoy wine and include it in your life (matching them up with the season and/or having get-togethers with friends), as well as all the little details of ordering in a restaurant and what to look out for. And finally, the last chapter is each writer’s list of bargain wines, in their own words. It’s a great go-to index for anything, with bottles under $10 and up to $30, and further divided by white wine, red wine, rosé wine, etc. 

Any criticism? Though there is a bit of overlapping between the wine-by-color chapters and the wine-by-region chapters, I found the information to be as organized and clear as one could expect.  The only complaint I would have for the book is some of the graphics. For a few of the pictures, it was clear that a low-quality image was used, as it showed up pixely or with color distortion. Also, I even found the exact same image occurring twice in the book. These are little things that do make the book seem a little more rushed or unprofessional, but they don’t detract too much from it as a resource.

The book is written for the beginner who wants to learn more about wine but isn’t sure how to delve into the sommelier’s world. The writers understand this and write in an encouraging style, telling readers not to be daunted and simply to enjoy wine by exploring different names and flavors themselves. I found that this down-to-earth, friendly style made the reading enjoyable and interesting, since you can tell that the authorities relaying the information aren’t snobs (the last part of Chapter 15 is all in favor of screw caps over cork stoppers!_) but truly just want to help introduce you to this grapey world they really love.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who wants a solid, approachable source on wine, and personally, I would have no trouble lending it out to a friend or passing it around. WineWise covers all the basics in an easy-to-read format, is full of interesting facts and tidbits and essentially delivers what it says – a great, comprehensive introduction to help you decipher and navigate the world of wine.