When it comes to wine, you can never know it all. The abundance of regions, micro-regions, single vineyards, obscure grape varieties (anyone for Trollinger?), producers, winemaking techniques, viticultural practices, marketing information and history connected to wine has spawned a seemingly endless supply of books on the subject.
It just so happens two recently released wine books are among the best educational tools for the general public, as well as wine pros, I’ve ever read — user-friendly, fairly comprehensive and lots of fun, each in their own way.
Jancis Robinson is one of the world’s leading and most respected wine critics. The U.K. writer holds the Master of Wine title, one of only a few hundred in the world to do so. She has penned some of the largest, most information-packed wine books out there, such as the 1,280-page thriller Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including Their Origins and Flavours.
Her latest is the pocketbook-sized paperback The 24-Hour Wine Expert (Penguin, $11). Compared with Robinson’s normal output, it seems absolutely miniscule. "The aim of this book is to share my knowledge with you and make you a self-confident wine expert in 24 hours," the back jacket states.
The amount of her wine knowledge Robinson is able to impart in this slim volume is impressive. Her conversational tone is accessible, while every page is filled with practical knowledge on an impressive number of subjects. Proper glassware, food-and-wine pairings, grape varieties, regions, common tasting terms and much more are broken down into easily digestible portions, with nice little drawings to illustrate certain technical components. Highly recommended for wine lovers of all stripes. Keep it in your glove compartment and consult at the store the next time you need to pick up some wine.
Imparting a near-equal amount of information but in a larger, visually stunning package is Madeline Puckette and Justin Hammack’s Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine (Avery, $33). The winefolly.com braintrust has, in print format, pulled together a comprehensive guide to wine that’s loaded with information for everyone from novices to sommeliers.
Much of the same subject matter is tackled here in 200-plus glossy, full-colour pages, albeit with a focus more on visual learning and sharp design. The bulk of the book’s mid-section features a comprehensive look, page-by-page, at the world’s most popular wine grapes — where they’re grown, common styles made using the grape, and a miniature aroma/flavour wheel that describes typical notes found in each grape. The section on wine regions at the book’s end, meanwhile, features easy-to-read maps, production details and more.
If you’re a visual learner, this is the wine book for you. Their website has plenty more resources as well.
Switching gears, here are a few beers from the first wave of the Coast to Coaster beer promotion. They’re around until Wednesday, at which time the second wave of eight beers will be introduced. All are available at select Liquor Marts, beer vendors, restaurants, pubs and the — see liquormarts.ca for details.
Parallel 49 Tricycle Grapefruit Radler (Vancouver — $2.25/355ml can)
This looks pretty much like grapefruit juice in the glass and brings loads of grapefruit-rind notes on the nose, as well as lighter malt and just a hint of hops. At 3.5 per cent alcohol, it’s relatively gutsy for a radler, with the malty notes underneath the barely sweet grapefruit flavours adding a touch of roundness that keeps things from getting too acidic/sour. ★★★1/2
Lake of the Woods Brewing Co. The Beer With No Name (Kenora, Ont.— $3.85/473ml can)
Slightly deeper in colour than Parallel 49’s radler, this raspberry ginger wheat ale has an almost strawberry jam-like note on the nose, with the wheat and ginger notes providing some secondary support. At 6.5 per cent it’s got way more kick than the radler, and doesn’t show as much sweetness. The wheat and strawberry notes work well here, although the ginger’s a little quiet on the palate. ★★★
PEI Brewing Company Beach Chair Lager (Charlottetown — $2.95/473ml can)
Medium-gold in colour and with a white head, this lager is pretty straightforward aromatically — think light malty notes and a hint of something floral. It’s light-bodied and crisp, evading those corn flavours some lagers pick up; instead, the malty notes show just a hint of sweetness, with soft carbonation. It’s not a beer for contemplation but would taste good on a hot day at the beach. ★★1/2
Fort Garry Brewing Co. Black Pearl Ale (Winnipeg — $2.96/473ml can)
A dark ale brewed with locally roasted Black Pearl coffee beans, this brew is cola-ish in colour, with an off-white head. The coffee beans certainly come through in a big way aromatically — there’s a chocolate-covered espresso bean note on the nose that’s tough to shake. It’s medium-bodied, slightly sweet and fairly rich, with the chocolate-covered coffee bean note front and centre on the palate, some mild hops and dark-roasted malt flavours that show well. ★★★
Literary editor, drinks writer
Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson edits the Free Press books section, and also writes about wine, beer and spirits.