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Wine and Spirit Books Worth Giving (October 27, 2016)

book review
by Dean Tudor, www.deantudor.com

This Calls for a Drink (Workman, 2016, 264 pages, $22.95 CAD hardbound) promises to give us "the best wines and beers to pair with every situation," as described by author Diane McMartin. This is how to drink like an adult, what wine goes with a one-night stand, with a blind date, if you are newly single, or binge watching television. She covers work, holidays, music festivals, weddings, baby showers, and dating. There are some good inspirations here, a mix of serious and humourous.

Grand Bordeaux Chateaux (Flammarion, 2016, 200 pages, $85 CAD hardbound) is a joint effort with texts by Philippe Chaix, tasting notes by James Suckling, and photographs by Guillaume de Laubier. It is a weighty tome, coming in at just under 2 kilos. Its main value is to go inside the great wine estates of Bordeaux. Here are 12 chateaux with state-of-the-art cellars that were designed by acclaimed architects. Included are Lafite Rothschild, Margaux, Mouton Rothschild, Petrus, Cheval Blanc and seven more. No Latour, mostly because it doesn't have a modern designed wine cellar. La Dominique is here, especially as it is a UNESCO World Heritage site. A good holiday volume for the wine collector.

Zen and Tonic (The Countryman Press, 2016, 240 pages, $32.95 CAD hardbound) by Jules Aron presents savoury and fresh cocktails for the enlightened drinker. The preps are for making your own drinks at home, using organic spirits, fresh produce, herbs and other botanicals, and natural sweeteners. Covered are drinks that are lush or fruity or fresh or crisp or sweet or spicy, or some or all of these. What with all the add-ons and infusions, these are tall drinks, practically meals in themselves. Personally, I don't think you need organic spirits (they are pricey), but do go the sustainable route with the other ingredients.

Apertivo (Rizzoli, 2016, 224 pages, $35 CAD hardbound) is by Marisa Huff. It deals with the cocktail culture of Italy, with recipes both for drinks and for small dishes to eat with those drinks. All the preps and cocktails come from the better bars and restaurants of Venice, Milan, Turin, and others: the expensive, upscale parts of industrial Italy. Of course, it is also a travel guide to the region. The basic Italian classics are here: the Negroni, the Bellini, and the Spritz. Vermouth and bitters, coupled with the botanicals of gins, give you the herbs that are good for you and your digestion. Suggested foods include carbonara tramezzini and fried sage leaves.

Chianti Classico (University of California Press, 2016, 339 pages, $55.95 CAD hardbound) is by Bill Nesto MW and Frances Di Savino. It is a comprehensive search for one of Tuscany's noblest wines. Previously they had authored the award-winning The World of Sicilian Wine. It's got the history, the Medicis, the Florentine state, and then the slow degradation to the simple wine of the straw fiasco. The geographic and cultural complexity of the region is enhanced by profiles of modern day wineries. 2016 is the 300th anniversary of the Medici decree delimiting the region of Chianti. A good solid read.

Drinks: A User's Guide (Tarcher Perigee, 2016, 258 pages, $27 CAD hardbound) is by Adam McDowell, a Toronto drinks writer with the National Post. It includes beer, wine and cocktails for everyday and all occasions, with advice on what wine to order in a restaurant. Other tips include: don't drink wine at weddings, as they are nearly always poor; try cocktails instead. His tome is basically for beginners, with sections on stocking the home bar, how to make flawless cocktails, and some sparkling wine alternatives.

But First, Champagne (Skyhorse Publishing, 2016, 288 pages, $46.99 CAD hardbound) is by David White, a renowned wine writer living in Washington, DC. It's a modern guide to the world's fave wine, complete with a history of the region and of its wines, a glossary, a bibliography, material on how to purchase and taste Champagne, sabrage, and organic/biodynamic viticulture. He's got profiles of 80 of the leading producers (they sell millions of bottles each year), and some of the best growers (look for R.M on the bottle's label; they sell only thousands of bottles a year). Each profile has the appropriate deets. A good heavy tome for the Champagne lover.

French Wine: A history (University of California Press, 2016, 335 pages, $50 CAD hardbound) is by Rod Phillips, a history professor at Carleton University and who is also a wine writer. His work covers 2500 years on a number of different and evolving levels: vineyard areas, volumes of wine production, climate changes, new methods of making wine, regulation and fraud, changing markets, terroir, export trades. Benchmark wines are made in every region: France is the go-to place for wines in the style of Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, Rhone Syrah, Provence Rose, Rhone GSM, and many others. For all of this in 335 pages (with end notes and index), it is a marvellous overview. Phillips is also very good at making the  connections through his synthesis. I think his best chapter deals with phylloxera and renewal (1870–1914).

American Rhone (University of California Press, 2016, 311 pages, $50 CAD hardbound) is by Patrick Comiskey, a major contributor to Wine & Spirits Magazine and other publications. It is the story of a movement by some California winemakers to replicate the wines of Southern Rhone in France by putting their own stamp on them. They are loosely called the "Rhone Rangers," and have their own festivals and wine competitions.  The subtitle here is "how maverick winemakers changed the way Americans drink." Grapes from the Southern Rhone include the reds Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre (Mataro), and the whites Viognier (think Condrieu), Roussanne, and Marsanne. The overheated Rhone Valley nicely transfers to Central California and to Australia. Here Comiskey explains why this wine category is expanding with more production from more acreage and energy. It is, after all, the American frontier experience. One of its leaders has been the eclectic Randall Grahm (Bonny Doon Winery).

Hoptopia (University of California Press, 2016, 306 pages, $41.95 CAD paperbound) is by Peter A. Kopp, a history prof at New Mexico State University. It's a history of hops, an entry in the California Studies in Food and Culture publication program at UC. Basically, the American craft beer revolution of the late 20th century came about through earlier global events that merged in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. Travelling from Eurasia, hops arrived in the Pacific Northwest in the 19th century, and ultimately Oregon was pronounced the "Hop Center of the World." Kopp's academic work tells the story through the environment, the culture, the economy, the labour and the science of the region. "Cascade" hops come to mind easily from this region, as do "Nugget" and "Willamette." An engaging tome, with many endnotes, bibliography, and comprehensive index, but very readable.

World Whiskey, Rev. ed. (DK, 2016, 352 pages, $31 CAD hardbound), has been edited by Charles MacLean, author of ten books on whiskey (including the definitive Scotch Whisky and Malt Whisky). This is another "tell it all" book, international in scope, with 167 pages on Scotland, 34 for Irish, 12 on Canada, 50 on the USA, 25 for Japan, 13 for the rest of Europe, and six for Australasia. The writers clearly show the impact of climate, water, heather, sea breeze, barley, peat, malting techniques, distillation processes, type of wood used for storage, maturation periods. General sections cover aromas and flavours, peats and bogs, regions, terroirs – with lots of illustrations and diagrams. There are short sections on whiskey cocktails (with recipes), and food and whiskey pairing. But this is principally a directory to some of the finest distilled grain-based spirits in the world (over 700 of them, with 1200 colour photos). Tasting notes are also included.

The Beer Geek Handbook (Storey Publishing, 2016, 192 pages, $21.95 CAD paperbound) is by Patrick Dawson, who wants you to live a life ruled by beer. It's an illustrated FAQ to the world of beer, with tastings and pairing, using tulip glasses, taking "beercations" to Belgium, Germany, Colorado, New England (but the British Isles are not listed). There are descriptions of cult breweries, dictionaries, glossary, and a pronunciation guide. He's got quizzes, top ten lists, and a hip and savvy writing style. Millennials anyone?

The Wine Journal (Skyhorse Publishing, 2016, 264 pages, $19.95 CAD paperbound) is by Jennifer McCartney, a poet-drinks writer. It is a pocket-sized guide for jotting down thoughts about your wine. There is space for wine deets of name, price, tasted where and when, vintage, region, shared with, served with, and more. She's also got some helpful data on tasting basics and glossaries.

Pocket Book of Craft Beer (Dog 'n' Bone, 2016, 208 pages, $21.95 CAD paperbound) is by Mark Dredge. He covers 300 different beers arranged by style, from Pilsner to Stout to Extreme Beers. His scope is international, so Canada is included. Features all the deets plus an image of the beer bottle.

Parisian Cocktails (Ryland Peters & Small, 2016, 128 pages, $21.95 hardbound) is by Laura Gladwin. Here are 65 elegant drinks from Paris (spirits, Champagne cocktails, disgestifs) along with some amuse-bouches. Good illustrations, and fancy foods.

Shake.Stir.Sip (Chronicle Books, 2016, 128 pages, $ CAD hardbound) is by Kara Newman. Here are 50 effortless cocktails, each made in equal parts (e.g. Negroni, Martini) so there is no real exact measuring needed. These are all the most popular cocktails, easy to make with a minimum of bar glasses and garnishes and other add-ons.

The Pocket Book of Cocktails (Ryland Peters & Small, 2016, 176 pages, $19.95 CAD paperbound) is packed with 150 easy cocktails devised by leading bartenders plus a beginner's guide to cocktail making equipment and glassware.

Cuban Cocktails (Ryland Peters & Small, 2016, 128 pages, $19.95 CAD hardbound) has been compiled by Katherine Bebo. There are about 60 recipes for mojitos, daiquiris, and other rum drinks, both classic and contemporary, from Havana. The thought of Cuba is very popular right now: get there before the Americans do...

Cocktails for Drinkers (Countryman Press, 2016, 144 pages, $19.50 CAD) is by Jennifer McCartney, who stresses the basic side of drinks with red wine, spritzers, Bellinis, etc. The subtitle says "not even remotely artisanal." These drinks have three ingredients or less that get to the point of wit and verve. The emphasis is on drinking.

Gin: shake, muddle, stir (Hardie Grant Books, 2016, 144 pages, $ CAD hardbound) is by Dan Jones who believes in top brand selection for gins. He's got material on stocking the home bar, DIY infusions and syrups, and a range of garnishes. These are 40 of the best gin drink cocktails, including his fave, the Dirty Martini with its caperberry brine.

Spritz (Ten Speed Press, 2016, 166 pages, $24.99 CAD) is by Talia Baiocchi and Leslie Pariseau. Spritzes are Italy's iconic apertivos, and of course the authors provide a wide-range of drinks that come from a variety of US bartenders. They tell how to build a spritz bar. There are also food recipes to accompany the drinks: sardines, tuna, olives, almonds – much like Spanish tacos. Try the Negroni Sbagliato (prosecco replaces gin) or Venetia Spritz (bitters-prosecco-soda).

The Book of Dangerous Cocktails (Castle Point Books/St. Martins Press, 2016, 156 pages, $20.99 CAD hardbound) is on the Mary Jane wagon. It's by Dylan March and Jennifer Boudinot, who present us with adventurous recipes for serious drinkers. Many are excessively alcoholic or not diluted enough, but others are made with marijuana-infused gin and other such infusions, to create "Smokin' Sidecar" or "Wake 'n' Bake." A laid-back book, although I would have thought alcohol alone would do the trick. For your new weedwacker friend...

And so on to the wine annuals. The international leader is Hugh Johnson's Pocket Wine Book 2017 (Mitchell Beazley, 2016, 336 pages, $18.99 CAD hardbound), a guide to wines from all around the world, not just to the "best" wines. Johnson claims more than 6000 wines and growers are listed. News, vintage charts and data, glossaries, best value wines, and what to drink now are here. This is his 40th edition and he marks this anniversary. His book is arranged by region; there are notes on the 2015 vintage and a few details about the potential of 2016, along with a closer look at the 2014. He's got notes on what wines are ready to drink in 2017. There is a section on food and wine matching and also a listing of his personal 200 fave wines.

In Canada, we have The 500 Best-Value Wines in the LCBO: 2017 (Whitecap, 2016, 230 pages, $19.95 CAN paperbound) takes a run at the wines for sale in Ontario at the government-run LCBO. This ninth edition by Rod Phillips, wine scribe for the Ottawa Citizen, has wines arranged by wine colour and then by region/country with price and CSPC number. He tasted 1500 wines. Each of the 500 value wines gets a rating (the basic is now 3.5 stars out of five; there have not been any 3-star wines since 2011), and there is an indication of food pairings. A good guidebook, but I'm afraid most people will just look through it for the 5-star selections and leave it at that. Turnover in Ontario occurs regularly as quotas are unmet or prices rise or the producer decides it is time for a change; there are over 100 new entries this year. Coverage is limited to LCBO General Purchase wines and LCBO Vintages Essentials, the wines that are available (if only by special internal order) in every LCBO store. Phillips has also included the LCBO perceived sweetness notations rather than the older Sugar Codes, and he has included some space at each wine for the reader to make personal notes.

If you have the money (this outsized winebook is definitely not a stocking stuffer) and know someone who likes Australian wines, you'll get great pleasure out of Halliday Wine Companion 2017 (Hardie Grant Books, 2016, 776 pages, $56.99 CAD paperbound) by James Halliday, who has been at wine writing for over 45 years. This is the definitive guide to Australian wines. He gives us data about the wineries and their vineyards, deets on addresses, social media, opening hours, names and other numbers, followed by detailed tasting notes, vintage-specific ratings, advice on optimal drinking period, ABV, and prices. There are supposed to have been some 9000 wines tasted for this edition, and he has full tasting notes for 3963 (couldn't he push it up to 4K?), ratings and prices for 3645 other wines, 1302 winery profiles (68 are new wineries), "best of" lists and five-star wineries listed. There are vintage charts and maps plus multiple indexes. But I am sure if he got together with his Kiwi counterpart, they could come up with some antipodean pocket guide at 256 pages to cover both countries and sell it in North America and the UK, sure to be a winner...

 

 

 

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