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Grapes & Wines: A comprehensive guide to varieties and flavours (July 6, 2010)

book review
by Dean Tudor,

Grapes & Wines: A comprehensive guide to varieties and flavours (Sterling Epicure, 2010, 320 pages, ISBN 978-1-4027-7730-1, $31.95 Canadian, paper covers) is yet another accessible wine book by Oz Clarke. It first came out in 2001, with a revised edition in 2003. The paperback appearance, revised yet again, this time for 2010, has been an annual since 2007. It has had a minor title change (dropping the words "Oz Clarke's" from the title, as well all of the former subtitle, "the definitive guide to the world's great grapes and the wines they make").

Seventeen "classic" grapes are covered in depth, with material on tradition, innovation, viticulture and vinification methods, plus contrasting wine styles in a global context. Actually, he should also add Pinot Gris to this basic list, to make it an even 18. He's too tied into the UK: pinot gris (or pinot grigio) has swept North America for a few years now.

Clarke also has details about 15 more "major" grapes, a sort of a second tier, which does include Pinot Gris. The dictionary arrangement covers 300 grapes over 260 pages. The basics of grape growing and wines are in the first 32 pages.

The classic grape book is of course Jancis Robinson's Guide to Wine Grapes, published in 1996 by Oxford University Press and now out of print (some of it has been absorbed into her Oxford Companion). Clarke's book is an adequate replacement, but strangely, he doesn't even mention Robinson's book in his bibliography. Not only that but also the bibliography is out of date, with the latest entry being 2000 – it has not been updated since the book was first produced in 2001.

Not everything is perfect here. He has no entry for the white varietal "Auxerrois" (which should be news to Ontario's Château des Charmes winery). It is widely planted in Alsace and other places in north-east France. The red varietal of the same name is mentioned, but not the white strain. Yet it is the white varietal which is referred to in other parts of the book (I looked them up). The distinction between "Shiraz" and "Syrah" needs closer definition. On the label, the former term is used for the fruit-forward Australian-style drink, while "Syrah" is normally used for the Euro-style or Rhone food wine. For example, Stellenzicht in South Africa makes both syrah and shiraz in these two different styles, and it is thus labeled.

At the back, Clarke has an index of grape names and their synonyms, as well as a glossary of technical terms. But no pronunciation guides. Just like Robinson, Clarke has a European wine decoder that lists which grapes go into which wine. But unlike Robinson, he doesn't cover Croatian wines.

The book should prove useful to wine lovers who also like to approach their wines by grape variety, to see what's available in different countries or regions. It might have been useful to have some production figures or vintages with a year mentioned, but maybe the publisher thought that that might date the book. Maturity guides have been added for some of the wines made in the 2000s, but the vintage years on the label reproductions in the book come largely from the 1990s.

Some interesting or unusual facts: "Vernaccia wines are found all over Italy, but to try and relate them to each other is often a waste of time."

The downside to this book: There is just a brief mention of terroir and yeasts. And the bibliography shows no sign of updating.

The upside to this book: Lots of small but useful colour photos.

Quality/Price Rating: 88, if you don't have a copy of this book already; otherwise, pass and wait for another revision a few years down the road.




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