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The Wine Bible, reviewed by Dean Tudor (November 4, 2002)

The Wine Bible (Workman Publishing, 2001, 910 pages, $29.95 paper covers, ISBN 1-56305-434-5) is by Karen MacNeil, Culinary Institute of America director of wine in Napa. She's also a freelancer for food and wine magazines, so she knows how to write well. Robert Mondavi, in his blurb, calls the book "the most complete wine book ever," and certainly it is that, for under 1000 pages and under $30 Canadian.

MacNeil gives a huge pile of acknowledgements for all the help over the years. Every chapter has been read and reviewed by an outside expert, such as Jean Trimbach (Alsace), Kermit Lynch (Beaujolais), Patrice Monmousseau (Loire), Bart Broadbent (Port) – but nobody for Canada. Presumably the egregious error of misusing the word "icewine" would have been caught. Canadian VQA has "icewine," just as Germany has"Eiswein." Yet the copy editor allowed "ice wine" as two different words (in texts and heads), a distinct no-no in Canada but widely used in the US. This despite a photo of an Inniskillin label clearly showing "icewine."

Am I being picky? A small point, perhaps, but it emphasizes the matter that with a lot of data and facts being crammed into this book (all of it readable and legible; no squinting at the typeface), there are going to be errors. Every book has errors, but the more facts, the more errors. (Indeed, the "other" wine book from the CIA, the CIA East Coast, co-authored by Steven Kolpan, uses "icewine" correctly. But that book costs $90.50 Canadian.)

Another part of the book has some problems: each wine region chapter concludes with a few pages on "wines to know", which smacks of commercialism. These are thumbnail sketches of wineries with short, generic-tasting descriptions for a half-dozen or so US nationally-distributed wines from each region, accompanied by its wine label. Unfortunately, the labels have had their vintage years clearly screened out (except for vintage ports). I have no problem with this, for the book needs to have the appearance of "currency." But the tasting notes reflect the generalities of the producer, not the vintage being sold. So there is really no detail on the quality of particular vintages, nor any in-depth tasting notes. There is no range of prices, so you do not know what it is selling for. But there is an "Index of Producers Found in Wines to Know," so you can clearly access these wines quickly (but it could easily have been folded into the main index: to me, it just seemed a little too prominent). And some of the "reviewers", such as Lynch and Trimbach, are listed as "producers" – a clear conflict of interest.

Nevertheless, there is an extensive table of contents (five pages) plus 20 pages of indexes, glossaries and a bibliography (but with nothing specifically on Canada). All the usual wine data are covered, with black-and-white photos, "what to look for" sidebars, technical discussions, and interesting notes scattered about in screened boxes. Her opinions are, for the most part, spot on...

What I don't like about this book: the prominence of certain producers. Also, Canada only gets six pages while Virginia has nine (but then, it is a US book). As well, the binding looks sturdy for the casual reader, but if you use it as a training manual, it will fall apart. My copy is starting to go, just from reading and reviewing the book. Best to order two or three copies for the bar.
What I do like about this book: the price and its value to both the casual and the professional user.
Rating: 92+ (despite my reservations).




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