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Saturday, December 29, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: My Italian Garden (La PLace)

MY ITALIAN GARDEN; more than 125 seasonal recipes from a garden
inspired by Italy (Broadway Books, 2007, 258 pages, ISBN 978-0-7679-
1825-1, $24.95 paper covers) is by the well-known Italian cookbook
author, Viana La Place. She's a personal fave of mine, with her other
books (Cucina Rustica, Verdura, Pasta Fresca, Cucina Fresca, Panini)
sitting on my shelves. The 125 recipes are based on her seven-tiered
garden in her backyard in San Francisco, which is modeled after Italian
gardens. She's planted three dozen varieties, such as lacinato kale,
fig trees, treviso radicchio, wild fennel, lemon trees, and jasmine.
The book is arranged by season, summer through spring, as the garden
itself changes. There are no complex recipes here, just veggies and
herbs with pasta (or panini, pizza, risotto) forms for the most part.
US volume measurements are used for the ingredients. She lists eight
sources for Italian seed varietals, including one direct from Italy
(the rest are all USA). Full courses are given, from apps through
condiments and desserts.
Audience and level of use: Italian food lovers.
Some interesting or unusual recipes/facts: Sicilian zucchini al picchi
pacchi; orecchiette with little yellow tomatoes and parsley; chioggia
beet and radicchio salad; whole sage leaves in pastella; risotto with
orange and lemon; herb and parmesan custards with truffle oil.
The downside to this book: no metric conversion tables.
The upside to this book: well-developed index.
Quality/Price Rating: 92.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Book Review: Art and Science of Wine (Halliday & Johnson)

THE ART AND SCIENCE OF WINE (Firefly Books, 2007, 240 pages, ISBN
978-1-55407-247-7, $29.95 paper covers) was originally published in
1992; it has been revised and updated to a 2007 copyright date. James
Halliday is Oz's answer to Hugh Johnson; Hugh Johnson is the main guru
of wine writing in the UK. Between them they have been responsible for
about 100 books on wine, and they have judged several thousand wines.
To summarize the book, I'll take this quote from the Library of
Congress: "An overview of the subtle artistry and sophisticated science
of the winemaking process from the vineyard to the bottle. Explores
factors affecting the growing and harvesting of grapes, describes the
various kinds of wines, and discusses the chemistry and analysis of
wine". The book is divided into three parts. One deals with the
vineyards (vines, terroir, microclimates, grape varieties, pestilence,
irrigation, mechanization), another with the winery (regional
characteristics, oaking, styles of wines from light to full and
fortifieds), and the third part deals with the bottle (analysis of
wine, aging, faults, manipulation). A basic glossary and index
concludes the book. The essential differences between New and Old world
winemaking styles are explored: the Old world is limited by laws and
traditions, while the New world winemakers can do virtually anything
they want. Names and reputations are based solely on the selection
process of choosing what goes into the bottle.
Audience and level of use: an extremely useful book for the beginning
wine student, and an aide memoire for the experienced hand.
Some interesting or unusual facts: the book has been completely re-
written to take into account New world production methods, using screw
caps, the art of terroir, and changes in pruning and irrigation
The downside to this book: there should have been material about
chemical additives. We all know that most New world and many Old world
producers goose up their wines' body, flavour, smoothness, and ageing
by adding such things as Tanin Plus, glycerine, and the like - all of
which is supposedly harmless to our bodies, but none of it recognized
or sanctioned by any wine regulating body. I'm just waiting for the day
when an expose happens. The 2003 vintage in Europe was such a stunner
in sculpting basic New world-style wines (and gaining that audience in
the New world) that it would hard to go back to normal wines in a
normal year. I taste thousands of wines a year, and already I can taste
atypical tones in some 2004 and 2005 European wines, tones which remind
me of the 2003 vintage and of the New world style.
The upside to this book: more than 200 colour photos and illustrations,
coupled with occasional anecdotes. A good basic oversized paperback
book, well-worth the money (Amazon.Ca offers it for $18.87)
Quality/Price Rating: 95.

More reviews at

Monday, December 24, 2007

Book Review: Oz Clarke's Bordeaux

OZ CLARKE'S BORDEAUX; the wines, the vineyards, the winemakers
(Harcourt Inc., 2006; distr. Raincoast, 240 pages, ISBN 978-0-15-
101300-5. $43.95 hard covers) is by the ever-accessible Oz Clarke, who
has been following in every wine writer's footsteps (Johnson, Robinson,
et al) in popularizing wine lore. This latest book is being touted as
an "insider's guide", with profiles of the leading chateaux. Clarke is
master of the dictionary arrangement; indeed, his company is known as
"Webster". The main book is arranged by region: Medoc, Graves, Right
Bank, Cotes and Entre Deux Mers, and Sweeties. Each has its own A - Z
reviews of important chateaux. Internal cross-references are useful,
but of course there is an overall index at the back of the book. For
each chateau, there is a label and generic tasting notes with an
indication of "best years". The grapes used are listed. In the
beginning basic data chapters, Clarke runs through why Bordeaux
matters, grapes, styles, effect of Mouton Cadet, second wines produced,
viticulture, vinification, reading the label, and the effects of Emile
Peynaud and Michel Rolland, a student of Peynaud. There are aerial maps
and lots of overview photos. He concludes with an interesting chapter
on the future of Bordeaux. The 2003 vintage was a revelation,
especially in sales. There are profound changes augmented by the Robert
Parker fruit bombs, and a declining market for sales.
Audience and level of use: Bordeaux lovers, armchair tourists,
libraries, wine schools.
Some interesting or unusual facts: Bordeaux has 57 appellations, 250
classed growth wines, 10,500 growers, and produces over 800 million
bottles of wine a year.
The downside to this book: too many pix of Ozzie. Some typos (e.g.,
weened), vintage table only goes back to 1985 (it should go back to
1970, still in the marketplace).
The upside to this book: Clarke is open to suggestions about Bordeaux
look-alikes in other countries. He uses lots of photos and colour in
the affordable book.
Quality/Price Rating: 90.

More reviews at

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

HOLIDAY GIFT BOOKS: wine and food humour and diets

Part Four: HUMOUR & DIET

What's a holiday without humour? We seem to have another bumper crop
this year. DINNER PARTY DISASTERS; true stories of culinary catastrophe
(Abrams, 2007, 96 pages, $17.95 hard cover) is by Annaliese Soros with
Abigail Stokes. These are true tales of faux pas. Vital facts about
each party are followed by a first person account, accompanied by
sidebars offering real-life solutions (how to prevent fires, recovering
from a hangover, sparking conversation, mending broken furniture).
Soros also gives her formula for a goof-proof dinner party which is a
perfect mix of guests, food, decor, and entertainment.

THE FOOD SNOB'S DICTIONARY; an essential lexicon of gastronomical
knowledge (Broadway Books, 2007, 176 pages, $16.95 paper covers) is one
of series following on Rock Snobs and Film Snobs. David Kamp, one of
the authors, wrote last year's hit book "The United States of Arugula".
Essentially, this is a bluffer's guide which has been done before, but
now, of course, with the mushrooming information about food, needed to
be modernized. This compendium, alphabetically arranged, of food facts,
terminology, and names, is not a humourous book, but it does poke fun
at foodies. A lot of the material is useful, such as how to pronounce
names, definitive histories of foods and restaurants, and terms used.
But the sarcasm can be hard to handle, and the sentences written to
show usage are, quite frankly, useless. Typical entries include
"grassfed beef", "farmstead cheese", and "dayboat fish" There are also
internal cross-references. Fun to read before dropping off to sleep.

ALL GONG AND NO DINNER; home truths and domestic sayings
(HarperCollins, 2007, 414 pages, $24.95) is by the Brit wordsmith Nigel
Rees; he is the author of over 50 reference books. These are over 1000
homely phrases and curious domestic sayings, illustrating every aspect
of home life. They have been organized thematically, from the kitchen
to the bedroom. There are topics of food, drink, health, and money. It
is a humour portrait of British family life - and it is perfect it you
are British, less so if not. There is some US stuff here, offered by
comparison. For instance "delivered by the stork" is the same as "found
him under a gooseberry bush" or "found under a cabbage patch" (in the
US). BTW, the title is a reference to "all talk and no action".

MOONSHINE! (Lark Books, 2007, 176 pages, $19.95 paper covers) is a book
all about illegal distillation. There are recipes, "tall tales",
drinking songs, history of moonshine in the US, jokes, techniques on
how to make it, hangovers, and evading the law. Matthew b. Rowley is a
food writer and historian; he sits on the board of the Southern
Foodways Alliance at Ole Miss. There are good historical photos and
neat how-to instructions.

GASTROANAOMALIES; questionable culinary creations from the golden age
of American cookery (Crown Publishers, 2007, 176 pages, $29.95 hard
covers) is author James Lileks hysterical follow-u[ to his "The Gallery
of Regrettable Food" (2001). This is like volume two, and is a
collection of foodstuffs from the mid-century: pizza in the fifties,
scalloped ham and potatoes, the "Bacon-Egger" implement, recipes for
banana all-bran nut bread, the plate crab, the burning bush, and the
like. It is a totally funny compilation of restaurant items, strange
cocktails, "international: foods, and old menus. He's got illustrations
from old adverts, and lots of old coloured pictures.

DESERT ISLAND WINE (Ambeli Press, 2007, 190 pages, $14.95 paper covers)
is by Miles Lambert-Gocs. It is a collection of 28 humourous vignettes
on wine. His previous humour book was "Greek Salad" in 2004, from the
same publisher. He opens with a CNN-styled interview with Dionysus,
followed by profiling of oenophiles as a wildlife species, wine-food
combinations, and quality control. There are literary parodies and
sinister puns. Good fun...


Okay, this is the hard part since we must pay for our sins of
overeating during the December period. It is January 1, and the start
of a New Year (2008) means new resolutions to keep (or break). If you
are really comfortable with your friends, you could give them health
books for the holiday. At least, you might be able to use them

* THE TRUTH ABOUT FOOD (Bloomsbury UK, 2007, 240 pages, $34.95 paper
covers) is by Jill Fullerton-Smith, a BBC producer of science programs.
The title is derived from her TV series of the same name. The show
looked at our myths and asked: is drinking eight glasses of water a day
really useful? Do blueberries increase intelligence? Her topics are
about how to stay healthy, how to stay slim, how to feed the kids, and
how to stay young and beautiful.

healthy ways to permanently shed unwanted pounds. 2d ed. (Celestial
Arts, 2007, 320 pages, $23.95 paper covers) is by Ellen Kamhi, a
holistic nurse and a clinical instructor at a medical school. The first
edition was in 2000. Since then there have been major advances in
understanding weight loss and how to keep it off. There are newer ideas
here on major diet challenges such as a sluggish thyroid or sugar
cravings. She has eating plans, recipes, effective at-home exercises,
and detox ideas.

* THE EAT-CLEAN DIET COOKBOOK (Robert Kennedy Publishing, 2007; distr.
By National Book Network, 344 pages, $23.95 paper covers) is a follow-
up to Tosca Reno's successful earlier book, The Eat-Clean Diet - which
had only offered 30 recipes. Here she restates her dieting principles
and gives us 150 recipes, emphasizing low-fat meats, protein-rich vegan
dishes, gluten-free meals, and nutritional information on all the food
that we put into our system. Excellent photographs. Her basic
principles: eat six meals a day, drink two litres of water a day, avoid
fats and simple carbs, and exercise. Simple...check also

* WEIGHTWATCHERS' ALL-TIME FAVORITES; over 200 best-ever recipes from
the WeightWatchers test kitchens (John Wiley, 2007, 336 pages, $35.99
spiral bound) is actually a collection of 225 preps culled from all of
their previous books: a sort-of greatest hits anthology. Here are
appetizers to desserts, for all kinds of meals. It includes the POINTS
system for every recipe and both the Flex Plan and the Core Plan for
the whole meal. A good way to start the New Year...

Buy all of these books and have a great holiday season.

Friday, December 14, 2007

HOLIDAY GIFT BOOKS: Food and wine memoirs, history, tips


For the more literate person, there are the "memoirs" of writers,
chefs, and wine people. Some have called these memoirs "creative non-
fiction", suffering from embellishments and gilding. And also suffering
from a lack of indexing, which makes it difficult to find what the
writer said about another person or subject. But this also avoids the
potential for lawsuits and disjointed noses. Nevertheless, they are
rewarding to read. Who cares about poetic license? Here then are some
that stood out from last year's run, and any of them would make great
gifts for the reader. Here we go, in no particular order.

* THE AMATEUR GOURMET; how to shop, chop, and table-hop like a pro
(almost) (Bantam Books, 2007, 216 pages, $32 hard covers) is by Adam D.
Roberts, who has both a jurisprudence degree and an MFA in writing.
Noted logrollers assembled to help this amateur along include the Lee
Brothers, Michael Ruhlman, and Clotilde Dusoulier. It's a good read if
you like schadenfreude. Roberts takes readers through everything from
slicing and dicing an onion to cooking for a date.. He interviews
Amanda Hesser as she tours her pantry, he lunches with Ruth Reichl to
get the ten commandments of dining out. There are a dozen or so sourced
recipes from Batali, Child, Shere, et al, and the print is large enough
so you cannot miss anything. There is more stuff to check out at But unfortunately there is no index to retrieve
the tips or the recipes.

* KITCHEN WISDOM (Ryland, Peters & Small, 2007, 96 pages, $18.50 hard
covers) is by Anne Sheasby. It's a basic book of tips, advice, hints
and tricks, with chapters on staples, flavourings, produce, dairy, and
so forth. There is a reference section on food safety and food
preserving. What I like about this book is the large typeface; I hate
squinting when I am reading for reference.

* ALICE WATERS AND CHEZ PANISSE; the romantic, impractical, often
eccentric, ultimately brilliant making of a food revolution (Penguin
Press, 2007, 336 pages, $35 hard covers) is a biography of both Waters
and Chez Panisse, surely the most influential California restaurant in
the 1970s. Thomas McNamee has written this "authorized" biography; he
had access to her and to her friends, private collections and
memorabilia. The story is revealing of how Alice fell into the food
business: she was essentially a Francophile replicating Provencal food
(as in the name of the resto), quite similar to Julia Child of twenty
years earlier. She was the first "foodie", no doubt about it. But she
is now a public figure: chef, activist, advocate, and spokesperson for
the good food movements. There are also some recipes and some
historical menus.

* ANIMAL, VEGETABLE, MIRACLE; a year of food life (HarperCollins, 2007,
370 pages, $33.95 hard covers) is by novelist and essayist Barbara
Kingsolver, with her husband academic Steven L. Hopp and teenage
daughter Camille Kingsolver. This is the story of a year in which they
make every attempt to feed themselves with items whose provenance they
know about. They moved from Arizona to a farm in Appalachia. Of course,
all of this only works if you live on or close by to a farm, as they
did. Hopp contributes the scholarly analysis of the food environment
(journalistic investigation) while both Kingsolver women deal with the
memoir part. The daughter provides good material on teenage
"adjusting". There are some recipes, a bibliography, a list of
organizations and websites (including some from Canada). The book is
also available as an audiobook, with readings by the same principals
and printable recipes. There are more recipes and resources at

* COMFORT FOOD FOR BREAKUPS; the memoir of a hungry girl (Arsenal
Press, 2007, 171 pages, $19.95 paper covers) is by Marusya Bociurkiw.
She's a fiction writer, film maker, and food blogger. These are
vignettes (4 - 5 pages each) about food in her life: how it nourishes,
comforts, and heals. There are about a dozen recipes, mainly Ukrainian
and Italian food. Some stories have been previously published; many
deal with travels throughout the world.

* EATING INDIA; an odyssey into the food and culture of the land of
spices (Bloomsbury USA, 2007, 304 pages, $30.95 hard covers) is a
travel memoir, with cultural history and descriptions of festivals and
traditions. Most of the Indian food in North America is based on
Punjabi recipes. Chitrita Banerji, a food writer, takes us through the
influences of other aspects of India: the Aryan tribes, Greeks, Jews,
Mongols, and Arabs who have left their mark on Indian food. Recipes are

* TABLE TALK; sweet and sour, salt and bitter (Weidenfeld & Nicolson,
2007, 271 pages, $34.95 hard covers) is a collection of previously
published articles by Brit food critic A.A. Gill; they are from his
Sunday Times and Tatler columns (four of the latter). He is exuberant
about great eating and caustic about poor preps. He suffers from one
disease: he is allergic to bad food - and he writes about it. His
writings here focus on specific experiences of food fads, tipping,
chefs, ingredients, eating in town and country, and eating abroad. They
cover the range of a decade, and there is nothing on individual
restaurants such as a review or critique. All material has a source
date, and there is even an overall index.

* THE LAST CHINESE CHEF (Houghton Mifflin, 2007, 288 pages, $32.95) is
a novel by Nicole Mones (she write "Lost in Translation"). A food
writer is coming to grips with her husband's premature death. From out
of nowhere comes a paternity suit filed against her husband's estate.
Could he have fathered a child while in his firm's Beijing office? A
good read.

* THE YEAR OF THE GOAT; 40,000 miles and the quest for the perfect
cheese (Lyons Press, 2007, 224 pages, $28.75 hard covers) is by food
writer Margaret Hathaway. This memoir explores the possibility of
starting a goat farm and fromagerie. Her therapist suggested it: "Take
off a year, away from New York city". She and her boy friend
photography Karl Schatz (he took the pictures here; they are now
married) went through 43 states in search of the perfect goat cheese.
She talks with (and we listen in on) farmers, breeders, cheese makers,
and chefs. They now live in Maine, and are involved with the Slow Food
movement and the Maine Organic Farmers group.

* A PIG IN PROVENCE; good food and simple pleasures in the south of
France (Chronicle Books, 2007, 224 pages, $29.95 hard covers) is by
Georgeanne Brennan. It is a culinary history from a Beard winner and an
IACP winner, but it has still been log rolled by Alice Waters and
Frances Mayes. She now runs a seasonal cooking school in Provence.
Thirty years ago she relocated her family to the south of France. Each
chapter is centered on a traditional Provencal food or meal. Local
material includes eight informal recipes plus histories and talks with
local people and markets.

Things are a little slow in the memoir world of wines. I saw only a
handful. One was A DAY IN TUSCANY; more confessions of a Chianti tour
guide (Globe Pequot, 2007, 256 pages, $23.75 hard covers) by Dario
Castagno, who earlier had written "Too Much Tuscan Sun". This current
book concerns the activities of one spring day in 2005 (they don't
bother to say which day). "The sights he sees and people he meets as he
takes a one-mile walk through his village during the course of this day
trigger memories of his childhood and adolescence in Tuscany." He also
talks with the village elders and reviews his career as a Tuscan tour
guide. Did you know that more than a million Americans visit Tuscany
each year?


Nostalgia and popular history come together in the form of THE
TOOTHPICK (Knopf, 2007, 443 pages, $35.95 hard covers) by Henry
Petroski, an engineering prof at Duke who has written a dozen other
books in popular history (such as The Pencil, The Evolution of Useful
Things, and Small Things Considered). This time he goes even smaller,
driving the pencil into the toothpick. He begins in Rome with silver
toothpicks; in mediaeval Spain it was used by maidens to resist those
with an ardent pursuit of the kiss. Charles Forster in 19th century
Boston hires Harvard students to create a demand for toothpicks in area
restaurants. A modern day factory can churn out 200 million toothpicks
a day. A fascinating microstudy. Another useful popular book is TEA;
the drink that changed the world (Tuttle Publishing, 2007, 256 pages,
$21.50 hard covers) authored by Laura C. Martin, a botanical
illustrator and storyteller. The illustrations are black and white, and
mainly historical. This basic history comes with added material such as
"best times of day for sipping various teas", a bibliography, and a
website listing.

For culinary historians, we've got plenty this year.

* THE LAST FOOD OF ENGLAND: English food - its past present and future
(Ebury Press, 2007, 488 pages, $65 hard covers) is
by Marwood Yeatman. He and his photographer-wife Anya live in a
farmhouse in Hampshire, on two acres, from which they derive fuel,
fruit, nuts, and vegetables. They brew their own beer, salt their meat,
and bake bread in an original brick oven. The region covered in this
book is just England - not Wales, not Scotland. He abhors the words
British and Britain. His contention is that English food had a
provenance, and that a lot of it still does. He does a deep analysis of
regional food, such as Cheddar (cheese), Hereford (cows), Middlehorn
beef, and Southdown mutton. For example, he notes that there are
thousands of types of apples, and that there are different varieties
for eating, for storing, for sauces, for pies, for mincemeat, and for
cider. The same for pears. He covers the cattle markets, the local
shows, towns and villages, and rural outposts. His people chapters
include bacon curers, seine fishermen, and tripe dressers. Other
products include historic breads, homemade butters, mediaeval peas,
seagulls and eggs. He claims that England has more breeds of livestock
and fruit cultivars than any other country in the world. He has some
basic recipes and a bibliography (of mostly older books). His history
of milling is a compelling read.

* THE PANTRY; its history and modern uses (Gibbs Smith,,
96 pages, $20.95 hard covers) is a useful small book. The
author, Catherine Seiberling Pond, is a New England architectural
historian and writer; she lives in an 1813 home with pantries (plural).
It is a basic book with the past, present, and future possibilities for
the pantry. She comments on storage solutions, design and layout.
Topics include larders, butteries, store rooms, and Victorian
farmhouses. There are 75 photos of old adverts, furniture, shelving,
and the like. She has more details at

* FEAST; why humans share food (Oxford University Press, 2007, 364
pages, $60 hard covers) is by Martin Jones, an archaeologist professor
specializing in the study of fragmentary archaeological remains of
early food. This is an historical approach to communal dining, ranging
from the chimps at a kill to the formal dinners of the 21st century. He
covers Roman banquets, TV dinners, and drive-through diners. He also
deals with the ecology of the surroundings in his scholarly approach to
the history of the meal. There are illustrations, end notes,
bibliography, and an index.

* AMERICAN FOOD WRITING; an anthology with classic recipes (Penguin,
2007, 753 pages, $50 hard covers) has been collated by Molly O'Neill
who was a food columnist for the New York Times - and a major cookbook
author. The book is part of the Library of America series; the 50
scattered recipes come from both vintage and modern cookbooks. This
book is supposed to present 250 years of US food writing, and not
everybody here is a food writer. There is Thoreau on watermelons,
Melville on clam chowder, Mencken on hot dogs, Ellison on baked yams,
Styron on fried chicken, and Ephron on internecine wars among the food
establishment. Food writers include Fisher (oysters), Claiborne
(foreign restaurants), Brillat-Savarin (American food), Villas (being a
waiter), Bourdain (cooking school days), and Child (early French Chef
TV series). There is a bibliography listing for the original source

* SECRET INGREDIENTS; the New Yorker book of food and drink (Knopf,
2007, 585 pages, $37.95 hard covers) is a selection of essays and
fiction from 80 years of the New Yorker. David Remnick, the current
editor, did the selecting. Topics: eating in, dining out, foraging,
drinks, "tastes funny", and fiction (e.g. Roald Dahl's "Taste" from
1951, plus John Cheever). There are 58 in all, with a date supplied for
their original appearance in the magazine: A.J. Liebling, Calvin
Trillin, James Thurber, M.F.K. Fisher, Anthony Bourdain, John McPhee
(but NOT the article on oranges nor on that great chef in New Jersey),
and Adam Gopnik.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

HOLIDAY GIFT BOOKS: art and expenmsive wine and food books


Actually, these might be the best books to give a loved one (or
yourself, since you are your own best loved one), because most are
going to cost you an arm and a leg, even at a discount. Books for the
coffee table have their place in the gift scheme: just about every such
book is only bought as a gift! And don't let the prices daunt you. Most
such art books are available at a discount from Amazon.Ca. These books
here are mainly wine and travel books, with some elements of food.

* AROMAS OF ALEPPO; the legendary cuisine of Syrian Jews (Ecco, 2007;
distr. HarperCollins, 388 pages, $52.95 hard covers) is by Poopa Dweck,
an expert on Aleppian Jewish cooking. She performs cooking demos and
lives in New Jersey. The book weighs five and a third pounds; it is the
heaviest book I've reviewed this season (and it ships 12 to a carton:
that's 65 pounds a box!)...180 Syrian-based recipes are presented in a
historical and cultural context, with material on customs and
celebrations and observations. The range is from appetizers to small
dishes to daily food to holiday fare (e.g., a 12 course Passover
seder). There is a 40 page guide to Syrian Jewish holidays, and six
menus, along with historical photos, glossary, and bibliography. This
is a very comprehensive package.

* MY LAST SUPPER; 50 great chefs and their final meals: portaits,
interviews, and recipes (Bloomsbury USA, 2007, 224 pages, $49.95 hard
covers) is deliciously described via the subtitle. Unfortunately, the
index is only by chef, so you wouldn't want to use this book in looking
for a recipe. Each chef is asked: what would be your last meal? Who
would prepare it? Where would it take place? Who would sit with you at
the table? The photographs are of chefs in unusual settings, and are
worth the price of the book alone. I am not going to spoil the fun by
telling you what the chefs want to cook. But I will tell you that there
are few women here. Chefs include Anthony Bourdain, Mario Batali, Alain
Ducasse, Ferran Adria, Rick Bayless (great pork recipe), Charlie
Trotter, Thomas Keller, Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay, et al.

Chang, 2007, 496 pages, $90 hard covers) comes from the 20-year old The
French Culinary Institute in Manhattan (think Pepin, Immer, Soltner).
Contributions came from Alice Waters, Bobby Flay, Alain Sailhac, and a
bevy of alumni. Judith Choate is the focusing food writer ("distill it
into an accessible book"). There are 650 colour photos and 20
illustrations, and 200 recipes. This book presents the six- and nine-
month courses at the FCI, and illustrates 250 basic techniques of
French cooking. Each of the sessions opens with theory, moves to
techniques, and then creates a demonstration for you to try in the home
kitchen. All measurements for each ingredient are in both US volume and
metric. There is also a glossary. Be warned: the book is heavy in

* THE ART OF DRINKING (Victoria & Albert Publications, 2007, 144 pages,
$60 hard covers) has been edited by Phillippa Glanville and Sophie Lee,
both researchers and curators at the V and A. Glanville curated "Drink:
a history 1690-1920" at the UK National Archives a few years back.
Here, she and Lee pull together a lot of visual material (paintings,
cartoons, sketches, architect plans) from the past and three
dimensional objects (stemware, vessels, tankards, cups) in a stunning
array of photography. It celebrates attitudes, ritual and ceremony,
drinking establishments, drinks and vessels. The scope is 500 years in
the UK; the range of material is principally derived from the V and A,
but collectors, auction houses, dealers, and other museums furnished
items for discussion. Glanville wrote most of the text, but there are
about two dozen other contributors.

* FANDANGO; recipes, parties, and license to make magic (Artisan Books,
2007, 314 pages, $49.95 hard covers) is by Sandy Hill, a free lance
writer and owner of Rancho La Zaca and Oak Savanna Vineyard. There are
125 recipes contributed by Stephanie Valentine (currently chef at the
Vineyard), once a sous chef at Charlie Trotter's and a chef at
Roxanne's (raw food in San Francisco). They purport to create an
environment for true entertaining, and it is a lot of work. This big
book is not for the faint of heart. They admit it upfront. Entertaining
ain't easy: no pain, no gain. While the preps look easy enough, they
must be done with just fresh ingredients - nothing prepared by others.
Here are accounts of memorable parties: rodeos (I've just had one in my
city backyard, thank you), treasure hunts, shooting skeet, riding
horses on the beach, reciting poetry, blind wine tastings, and the
like. Recipes also have wine pairing notes, using the Oak Savanna wines
and other California wines, beers and spirits. Recipes embrace French,
Mexican, Italian, Spanish, and Indian cuisine. A good concept: when the
going gets tough, the tough get going...

* WHERE FLAVOR WAS BORN; recipes and culinary travels along the Indian
Ocean spice route (Chronicle Books, 2007; distr. Raincoast, 287 pages,
$51.95 hard covers) is by food writer Andreas Viestad, who is also a TV
chef specializing in Scandinavian cooking. He currently lives on a farm
outside Cape Town, South Africa. The book weighs just under 4
pounds...The spice route here rims the Indian Ocean and includes the
Red Sea. The 100 recipes (all sourced as to country) are augmented by
travel material and historical matter for about 20 different countries
in the region (India to Australia to Bali to Zanzibar, etc.). It is
atmospheric with its street scenes and agricultural farm fields. The
arrangement is by spice (cumin, pepper, ginger, chilies, cardamom, and
coriander - 14 in all). The book concludes with a bibliography.

* NO RESERVATIONS; around the world on an empty stomach (Bloomsbury
USA, 2007, 288 pages, $39.95 hard covers) is by bad boy chef Anthony
("Call me Tony") Bourdain, and is derived from the Discovery Channel
series of the same title. Bourdain had previously written eight other
books, including Kitchen Confidential and The Nasty Bits. Here are 400
photos with a written opinionated commentary, warts and all. The warts
include pictures of hazardous bathrooms, strange and indigenous
beverages, and weird looking cooks. Go with Tony on the planes, hotels,
boats, and through the jungles.

* COUNTRY COOKING OF FRANCE (Chronicle Books, 2007, 392 pages, $59.95
hard covers) is by Anne Willan. It weighs 5.25 pounds, a perfect size
for the coffee table. Rustic cuisine is emphasized, with more than 200
recipes, from all regions in France, There is, of course, the cassoulet
de Toulouse, Provencal fish stews, savoury tarts, and Alsatian
treasures and Burgundian beef stews. There are 270 colour photos, split
amongst food styling, markets, and people. There is even sort of a

* THE TASTE OF FRANCE: 25th anniversary edition (Stewart, Tabori &
Change, 2007, 288 pages, $60 hard covers) was first published a
quarter-century ago. This tour of France went on to sell 200,000 copies
over the years. It now has 375 colour pix and 100 recipes, plus a
narrative description of some 14 food regions, as written by Richard
Olney, Alan Davidson, Anne Willan, Jill Norman, and others. Robert
Freson did the photography; Jacqueline Saulnier researched and adapted
the recipes, which have the ingredients expressed in both US volume and
metric weight measurements.

Monday, December 10, 2007

HOLIDAY GIFT BOOKS: stocking stuffer recommendations

For those of us at Gothic Epicures, it gets more difficult each year to
match a recipient with a food or wine book gift over the holidays -
there are so many new and newish items out there and people, lately at
least, have such picky tastes!! I have cast about for material for my
newsletters and my Internet site, and I have come up with a decent
selection to satisfy any pocketbook, any host, and any friend. All
books and book-like materials are recommended, and probably can be
purchased at a discount via Amazon.Ca or Chapters.Ca (with free
delivery on a total purchase of over $39). Price Alert: because of US
dollar parity and more, the Canadian prices quoted below may actually
drop. It will depend on the publisher, or the distributor, or the book
store, or the dollar itself. Unfortunately, the GST remains (it will
drop one percentage point on January 1, 2008)...


Stuffers --

Stocking stuffers are at the top of everybody's gift list: something
affordable (under $10 - $30) that can also double as a host gift,
something small and lightweight. Most of the books here are paperbacks.
And of course they can stuff an adult stocking. Typical is FOOD FOR
THOUGHT: fish and feather (Think Books, 2007, 160 pages, $12.95 hard
covers) which is a second collection of essays by Brit food writer
Simon Courtauld. They had originally appeared as part of his Spector
columns. The first collection was "Fruit, Herbs and Vegetables". Here
he observes and describes seafood and poultry. The essays are divided
by month (January through December) and the best eating season. There
are 51 recipes, in narrative style. A BUTLER'S GUIDE TO TABLE MANNERS
(National Trust Books, 2007, 136 pages, $16.95 hard
covers) is an etiquette book, British in tone, authored by Nicholas
Clayton who has been a butler for 11 years. The book shows how to wine
and how to dine, with material on eating habits, dressing habits,
cutlery, and table manners. There are diagrams for table placements and
folding napkins. There is also an index. THE CURRY COMPANION (Think
Books, 2007, 160 pages, $12.95 hard covers) is a deftly presented
handbook by Sonja Patel. It purports to tell you all about curries: as
she says, the British took India with gunpowder, and India took Britain
with curry powder. The spice trail is highlighted, as are the
individual spices which go into curry. Recipes are also here. It comes
complete with a bookmark ribbon and a bibliography of source material.
THE BEST OF MRS. BEETON'S CHRISTMAS (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2007, 250
pages, $16.95 hard bound) has been hived off from her 1861 book - with
updates, of course. This is a good book for that Victorian Christmas
season. There's a traditional feast with all the trimmings, baking and
party food. There are menus, drinks, and formal table layout. There is
even a countdown for the Christmas preps, beginning a year in advance
with the pudding. It has been fully updated for freezing and

LOVER'S POCKET GUIDE (Ten Speed, 2007, 220 pages, $14.95 paper covers)
has more than 600 listings for the best and most interesting eateries,
market, and other food-related spots in the region (East Bay, Marin,
Napa). THE FOOD LOVER'S GUIDE TO FLORENCE, with culinary excursions in
Tuscany (Ten Speed, 2007, 256 pages, $18.95 paper covers) is in its
second edition, written by Emily Wise Miller. It purports to be the
only travel guide to Tuscany devoted solely to food. There are 100
restaurant reviews (ristorantes, trattorias, enotecas, and gelato
shops). She has a glossary and two maps, and for credibility, she is
based in Florence.

Still other smallish books include FRESH FROM THE OVEN (Hamlyn, 2007,
128 pages, $11.95 paperback) which is an anonymous collection of some
70 recipes for home baking of cakes, muffins and cookies, particularly
apt for holidays. ANTIPASTI MADE EASY (New Holland, 2007, 80 pages,
$14.95 paper covers), by Abigail Brown and Melissa Webb, is a
collection of small Italian dishes suitable for openers. There are
about 30 master recipes with variations. For a single food product
book, then look no further than EGGPLANT (Sterling, 2007, 128 pages,
$17.95 paper covers) by Ofir Jovani. It is a collation of some 75
recipes covering every course. The recipes are all well-chosen classics
(stuffed, moussaka, bolognaise lasagna).

Then there is the charming GENTLEMAN'S RELISH; a gourmet's guide
(National Trust Books, 2007, 143 pages, $16.95 hard covers) that is
packed with the strangest English culinary oddities that you would ever
want to read about. That includes "Bovril", "Piccalilli", the evil
"Marmite", "Spotted Dick", "Pickled Walnuts", "Buck's Fizz", etc. There
are about 80 of these, all with a little social history and in most
cases a recipe. Great fun (and why have many people named their cats
after these concoctions?).

Calendars are always monster hits and are often appreciated, both the
wall and the desk type. The best of the desk are the three "page-a-day"
(PAD) calendars from Workman. THE WINE LOVER'S CALENDAR 2008 (Workman,
2007, $13.95) has been put together by Karen MacNeil, author of "The
Wine Bible", and Emily K. Bell. There is a new varietal highlighted
each month, tips galore for pouring and tasting, food and wine
matching, bargains, pop quizzes, etc. etc. And 160 "must try" wines are
highlighted. 366 BOTTLES OF BEER FOR THE YEAR 2008 (Workman, 2007,
$13.95) is by Bob Klein, author of "The Beer Lover's Rating Guide".
It's a Leap Year, so we'll get one more page. Most of the beers appear
as imports in Canada, but otherwise there are few Canadian brews
included. Lights, lagers, ales, porters, stouts, and lambrics - they're
all here. Other material in the PAD includes beer festivals, beer
facts, label lore and vocabulary. If you buy any of the PAD calendars,
then you can go online to the website and pick up other stuff, usually
free at For wall calendars, there is THE COLLECTIBLE
TEAPOT & TEA CALENDAR 2008 (Workman, 2007, $15.99) with text by Joni
Miller. Size is 12" by 12". These are vintage teapots arranged in
settings, with historical details and lore. The teapots come mainly
from company archives. 12 colour postcards are also included. SCOTCH
CALENDAR 2008 (Workman, 2008, $17.99) is packaged in a die-cut gift box
that doubles as a mailer. It includes six punch-out custom coasters
with scotch-themes quotes. Each spread features a photograph of a
special bottle plus notes: aroma, appearance, flavour, tasting chart,
water source, casking, map, and history of the distillery. Meet Miss
March (The Balvenie) and Miss June (The Glenlivet).

Another non-book entry is the collection of recipe cards, often called
recipe decks. This year there is SEMI-HOMEMADE COOKING (Quirk Books,
2007, 55 two-colour cards and 5 dividers, $19.95 set) is from Sandra
Lee who has a Food Network show in combining 70 percent store bought
ingredients with 30 percent fresh foods to create a meal at home. The
recipes come from her two cookbooks. Check out

Clarkson Potter has a whole slew of decks, but only four concern food.
There is THE CRAFT OF THE COCKTAIL DECK; artful tips and delicious
recipes for serving masterful cocktails (Clarkson Potter, 2007, 50
cards, $20 set) is by Dale DeGroff. CHEESE DECK; a connoisseur's guide
to 50 of the world's best, is by Max McCalman and David Gibbons. It
concentrates on choosing, tasting, and sharing 50 cheeses, along with
wine pairing. They show how each one is made and who the best producers
are; the material is derived from their book CHEESE. TAPAS DECK; 50
little dishes that capture the essence of Spanish cooking, is by Jose
Andres, from his book TAPAS. Try the chorizo stewed in cider. SHORT &
SWEET DESSERT DECK; 50 mouthwatering recipes with 8 ingredients or
less, is by Gale Gand, and come from her books. The cards are tabbed so
that you can bring them to the grocery store or prop them up on the
counter - a good idea.

Other non-book items include WINE LOVERS GIFT TAGS (Crown, 2007, 50
tags, $15 set) which also includes ribbons for attaching the tag. There
are three colours for the ribbons, and three sizes for the tags.
Different quotes are used on each tag. This is a real charmer of a
gift. WINEPARTY; the sniff, swirl, and sip winetasting kit (Quirk
Books, 2007, 16 page guide, 24 wine wrappers, 36 stem tags, 12 aroma
sheets, tasting notepads, $29.95 set) is fun for a party. The guide
tells you how to set it up, plus gives some creative ideas for a party.
It also has material on aromas and flavours. It was pulled together by
Jennifer Elias and Julie Tucker (both San Francisco) who also did
WINESMARTS (Quirk Books, 2007, 12 page booklet, 100 cards, scorepad,
$21.95 set), a game of 100 Q and A in categories such as region, grape,
and vocabulary. It was created for the novice wine lover. It can be
played as a social game at a dinner party - no experience necessary.
All details are in the booklet, including a pronunciation guide. These
two authors were also involved in WINEPASSPORTS (Quirk Books, 2007, 24-
32 pages, $10.95 each paper covers), a series of five pocket guides
with pop-out maps, for California, Italy, France, Portugal (this one
authored by Amy Sherman) and "Bubbly". The grape and region guide gives
a brief overview of the country's forte. There is an explanation of
labeling requirements and local wine terminology.

Yet another non-book is the journal. I have one for food and two for
wine. The food journal is COOK'S RECIPE COLLECTION (Ryland, Peters &
Small, 2007, 144 pages with 8 card pockets, $24.95 spiral binding). You
can keep all your loose recipes in one place (unless you have hundreds
of them). There are many lined pages for making notes or indexing
recipes from books. There is a quality elastic closure band. One wine
journal is WINENOTES (Quirk Books, 2007, 112 pages, $14.95 paper
covers) which is pulled together by Elias and Tucker (see above). It
has material on winespeak, pronunciation, glossary, geography of wine,
and a quick guide to grapes. There is also a bibliography for more
reading, and 50 pages for notes (two wines to a page). It'll get filled
fast, which is unfortunate, and there seems to be no provision for
refills. But hey - you can always make photocopies of the lined pages,
and just attach them to the main book. Some of the same criticism can
be made for TOWN & COUNTRY WINE COMPANION; a tasting guide and journal
(Hearst Books, 2007, 175 pages, $14.95 hard covers). Author Ted Loos
covers the basics and then some fill-in-the-blank pages for your wines.
Each wine page is headed by a significant wine quote. Since they are
the same price, I might give the nod to Loos' book because it is a hard
cover edition.

There is a category of foodbooks called "little cookbooks"; these are
usually placed at POS (point-of-sales) spots. I've located a very good
collection, from Ryland Peters and Small, all published in 2007. They
are 64 pages each, and sell for $15 (cheaper than last year because of
the dollar) - but they are also hard covers, so they look a bit more
posh -- especially with the photography and the metric conversion
charts. There are about 30 recipes in each. First, there's WRAPS by
Jennie Shepter, proposed as an alternative to sandwiches or snacks.
These are just the basic wraps and rolls (chicken, spring rolls, lamb
wraps, corn flautas, etc. with flour and corn tortillas, chapattis,
crepes). Then, there's DINER (36 recipes) by Jennifer Joyce. There's
nothing much about American diners per se, just the recipes: Manhattan
clam chowder, Cobb salad, meatloaf, cheesecake, apple pie, et al. PATES
& TERRINES is by Fiona Smith, and embraces pork, chicken, livers,
lentils, mushrooms, goat cheese, veggies, and smoked fish. Mousses are
also included. OLIVE OIL has only 25 recipes, which includes bagna
cauda, sauces, dressings, pesto and pistou. TAPAS covers fish and
shellfish, such as garlic shrimp and mussels in overcoats, lamb with
lemon, and chorizo in red wine. PUMPKIN, BUTTERNUT & SQUASH by Elsa
Petersen-Schepelern includes salads, breads, and cakes - in addition to
pies and soups. Zucchini, acorn, hubbard and patty-pan squashes are in
the mix. TAGINE by Ghillie Basan is a closely focused book on the
Moroccan kitchen, using lamb or chicken or fish or beef. Vegetarians
can try a sweet yams and carrots and prunes tagine, or artichoke hearts
with peas and saffron. ONE-BOWL MEATS by Tonia George includes eggs and
pasta, such as a thin stew for a soup or a thick soup for a stew.
Chorizo, meatballs, beef polpetti, chick peas, and tagines are here.
Lastly, look at COFFEE INDULGENCES by Susannah Blake, emphasizing
dishes with coffee in them as well as dishes to eat with a drink of
coffee. Some chocolate is also here. A TASTE OF TEA by Brian Glover
only has 4 recipes, but is heavy with basic data about tea, from
delicate Oolongs to smoky Souchongs to sweet Darjeelings.

Periplus Editions (Ten Speed Press) also has a series, for less money.
This publisher specializes in SEA food. WOK COOKING MADE EASY
(Periplus, 2007, 128 pages, $12 spiral bound) has easy instructions for
stir-frying - and not everything need be done in a wok. There are v65
recipes with good illustrations from all over SE Asia and India, plus
websites for more data. QUICK & EASY ASIAN TAPAS AND NOODLES (Periplus
Editions, 2007, 128 pages, $12 spiral bound) deals with SEA appetizers
and picnic meals, about 60 recipes. It is matched by QUICK & EASY ASIAN
VEGETARIAN RECIPES and includes rice and tofu dishes. The spiral
binding is always a good idea for the kitchen. There are four other
previously published books in this series.

There is also the River Cafe pocket book series from Ebury Press, 2007,
192 pages apiece, $23.95 paper covers. Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers,
founders of the River Cafe in London, have re-packaged and re-
positioned recipes from their cookbooks and their restaurant. There is
FISH AND SHELLFISH (100 recipes, as in all the books) with basic stuff
about grilling, roasting, poaching and curing, as well as salads and
risottos. PASTA AND RAVIOLI has 105 recipes, with raw sauces, cheese
sauces, vegetarian, fish, meat, gnocchi, and stuffed pasta. SALADS AND
the books have large print too.

Kyle Cathie has a Festive Food series, all 96 pages, $12.95 hard
covers, which cover ethnic celebratory foods. Each book provides
historical information on its country's religious, cultural and
culinary festivals and holidays. THE FESTIVE FOOD OF CHINA is by Deh-Ta
Hsiung, THE FESTIVE FOOD OF FRANCE is by Marie-Pierre Moine, THE
from Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz, THE FESTIVE FOOD OF SPAIN is from
Nicholas Butcher, and THE FESTIVE FOOD OF THAILAND is by Jacki
Passmore. There are about 50 colour photos throughout, and about four
dozen recipes.

Small drink guides abound this season. There is the Mini Bar series
from Chronicle Books in San Francisco. Each has been called "A Little
Book of Big Drinks", with 50 recipes for the home bartender. They are
about 80 pages in length, with 16 colour photos, and only $9.95 in hard
covers. Mittie Helmich has put them all together, at 4" by 5.75". There
cider, coffee, tea, hot chocolate, spiced punch, and spirits (Ten
Speed, 2007, 96 pages, $19.95 hard covers), a collection by Mary Lou
and Robert J. Heiss of 50 hotties for the winter season, both alcoholic
and non-alcoholic. The classics are augmented by new twists such as Hot
Root Beer Float or Candy Cane Mojito. WHISKY; a brief history (Facts,
Figures and Fun, 2007; distr. Canadian Manda Group, 96 pages, $6.95
hard bound) is by Gavin Smith. He has, ahem, distilled as much as he
could to present the techniques, the history, the lore and anecdotes
about Scotch whisk. Then he goes on to give background about whiskies
of the world and cocktails, festivals and awards, visitors' centres,
statistics, and a bibliography. It's just too bad that he mentions the
Seagram Museum in Waterloo, which has been gone for years...

Annuals --

There is a sub-category of stocking stuffers that is really appreciated
by wine and food lovers: the ANNUAL.Most of these books are pocket
guides, at least the wine ones are. The food books are regular-sized.
But you can wedge them into a stocking -- somehow.

BEST OF THE BEST, v10; the best recipes from the 25 best cookbooks of
the year [i.e. 2006] (American Express, 2007, 287 pages, $35.95) has
more than 100 recipes, about four from each book, all re-tested.
Cookbooks include "Biba's Italy" (Biba Caggiano), "Jamie's Italy"
(Jamie Oliver), "Lee Brothers Southern Cookbook", "Kitchen Diaries"
(Nigel Slater), and four other Italian-themed cookbooks. Twenty brand
new recipes have been contributed by the cookbook authors. In addition,
there are interviews, quotes, extra reading, and ingredient and
technique advice. Websites are listed for even more recipes. This is a
great formula annual.

FOOD & WINE ANNUAL COOKBOOK 2007 (American Express, 2007, 408 pages,
$38.95) delivers good value in its more than 500 recipes: and then why
bother to subscribe to the magazine? There are no adverts here in this
book. There are accompanying wine recommendations for just about every
prep. Some categories have been rearranged to allow for a section on
fast foods, healthy foods, comfort foods, and "chef recipes for home
use". There is a plethora of advice (50 new ones this year, plus a
glossary of accessible wines). Unfortunately, the year covered is 2006,
so the book will always be a year behind. Too bad.

On to the wine annuals. The two leaders are HUGH JOHNSON'S POCKET WINE
BOOK 2008 (Mitchell Beazley, 2007, 304 pages, $17.95 hard bound) and OZ
CLARKE'S POCKET WINE GUIDE 2008 (Harcourt Books, 2007, 344 pages,
$16.50 hardbound). Both are guides to wines from all around the world,
not just to the "best" wines. Similarities: Johnson claims more than
6000 wines are listed, while Clarke says more than 7000, but then
recommends 4000 producers. News, vintage charts and data, glossaries,
best value wines, and what to drink now are in both books. The major
differences: Johnson has been at it longer - this is his 31st edition -
- and has more respect from erudite readers for his exactitude and
scholarliness. Johnson also gives a thirty year overview, as a sort of
celebration of his achievement. Bravo! His book is arranged by region;
Clarke's book is in dictionary, A - Z form (about 1600 main entries).
It is really six of one, or half a dozen of another which one to use.
Johnson's entry for Canada is 1.2 pages (big deal). Oz has only one
paragraph apiece on Canada, Okanagan (recommending just red wines), and
Niagara (recommending just icewines). Both books have notes on the 2006
vintage, along with a closer look at the 2005. It is fun to look at
both books and find out where they diverge. Note that Oz is selling for
$1.45 less. Both books could profit from online accessibility or a CD-
ROM production.

Other wine annuals - mostly paperbacks -- deal with "recommended"
wines, not all of the wines in the world. Thus, they can afford the
space for more in-depth tasting notes (TNs) of what they actually do
cover (usually just wines available in their local marketplace). FOOD &
WINE's WINE GUIDE 2008 (American Express Publishing, 2007, 320 pages,
$13.95 paper covers) offers notes on 1500 wines from all over the
globe; there are plenty of European wines here. Sections cover the
elements of tasting, a Bargain Wine Finder (a listing of 50 rated wines
that offer the best value for the price: thankfully, only five
chardonnays are listed). New to this edition are food pairing guides,
wine country trend reports and the year in wine. Canada is listed along
with Mexico and Uruguay. Glossaries, guides, tips, wine and food
pairing charts, best of lists - it goes on and on, and his top 230 star
producers are highlighted. Many of the wines can also be found in

FOOD & WINE COCKTAILS 2007 (American Express Publishing, 2007, 232
pages, $18.95 paper covers) is a spirits companion to the wine guide.
It keeps tabs on the trendiest nightlife and drinks. These are the top
150 drinks that bartenders get asked for again and again. The
arrangement is by type of spirit, and there are plenty of anecdotes.
KEVIN ZRALY'S AMERICAN WINE GUIDE 2008 (Sterling, 2007, 246 pages,
$16.95 paper covers) tries to cover all 50 United States. It is by the
author of the best selling "Windows on the World Complete Wine Course".
Not all wines in his book are derived from grapes; some come from other
fruit such as pineapple, rhubarb, pears, apples, and the like. He has
maps for each state, with grape-growing areas clearly presented as well
as illustrations of noble labels. The accompanying fact box highlights
state wine production, the number of wineries producing what types of
wines, and the key varietals. There are also wine trails and guides,
vineyard tours too. Zraly also has a recap on wine tasting and wine
history in the US. Most of the detail is on big state producers, which
are (in order) California, Washington, New York, and Oregon. Websites
of well-known wineries are also listed. The back of the book has lists
of his hot picks and best values under $50.

WINE REPORT 2008 (Dorling Kindersley, 2007, 432 pages, $18 paper
covers) is edited by Tom Stevenson, author of The New Sotheby's Wine
Encyclopedia and other great and useful reference books. This book
reports on what happened during the previous 12 months in the wine
business. It will never go out-of-date, so hang onto your copy of the
previous year. The Wine Report is a sort of insiders' guide to the
world of wine, with the latest data from each wine region, plus tips on
recent vintages and on your wine investments. There are sections for
new wine finds, bargains, the latest harvests, wine science and the
greatest wines. The contents are arranged by country and region within,
with local experts (each credited, and with a photo). Many have MWs.
The 40 or so contributors include David Peppercorn on Bordeaux, Clive
Coates on Burgundy, Nicholas Belfrage on Italy, Julian Jeffs on Sherry,
Dan Berger on California, and our own Tony Aspler on Canada. Each has
key top ten type lists of the greatest wine producers, the fastest-
improving producers, up and coming producers, best-value producers,
greatest quality, best bargains, and "Most exciting or unusual finds".

Friday, December 7, 2007

November 28, 2007: Foster's Wine Estates Holiday Party wine tasting

The Time and Date: Wednesday, November 28, 2007 5:30PM to 8 PM
The Event: Foster's Wine Estates Holiday Party (actually, a portfolio
tasting for some of the wines available in Ontario; these come from
Australia, California and New Zealand).
The Venue: Gibsone Jessop Gallery, Distillery District.
The Target Audience: wine media, and who knows? A lot of party
The Availability/Catalogue: all wines, except some older ones and late
arrivals, are at the LCBO, except where noted below.
The Quote: "This is from palate to palette at the gallery (or is it
palette to palate?). Something to satisfy every taste, from $9.95 to
over $125 a bottle for those that were available at the LCBO"
The Wines: there were over 77 wines; I did not taste them all.

**** Four Stars (90 - 93 in Quality/Price Rating terms):
- Rosemount Show Reserve Traditional 2004
- Devil's Lair Margaret River Chardonnay 2004, $39.95
- Stags' Leap Napa Valley Chardonnay 2005, $29.95
- St. Clement Napa Valley Merlot 2002, +8714, $39.95
- Greg Norman Lake County Zinfandel, +38042, $23.95
- Stags' Leap Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, +996405, $54.95
- Wolf Blass Grey Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2004, +470120, $34.95
- Wolf Blass Black Label Shiraz Cabernet Malbec 2002, +960468, $89.95
- Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz 2004, +309625, $34.95
- Penfolds RWT Shiraz 2004, +564278, $125
- Chateau Souverain Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley 2001
Winemaker's Reserve
- Etude Cabernet Sauvignon 2000 Napa
- Penfolds Pinot Noir Adelaide Hills 2004 Cellar Reserve

*** Three Stars (86 - 89 in Quality/Price Rating terms):
- Wolf Blass Bilyara Reserve Chardonnay 2005, +8128), $13.95
- Gabbiano Pinot Grigio 2006, new General List in 2008, $12.95
- Rosemount Show Reserve Hunter Valley Chardonnay 2006
- Wolf Blass Gold Label Sparkling, +218518, $19.95
- Greg Norman Sparkling Pinot-Chardonnay 2003
- Matua Valley Paretai Sauvignon Blanc 2005 (consignment)
- Chateau St. Jean Chardonnay 2006, +421644, $19.95
- Greg Norman Chardonnay 2005, +552083, $19.95
- Beringer Napa Valley Chardonnay, +348342, $28.15
- Beringer Founders' Estate Pinot Grigio 2006, new General List, $19.95
- Beringer Third Century Cabernet Sauvignon 2004, +47704, $23.95
- Wolf Blass Premium Selection Cabernet Sauvignon 2004, +321927, $24.95
- Wynns Cabernet Shiraz Merlot 2004, +511600, $19.95
- Saltram Mamre Brook Barossa Shiraz 2004, +32227, $21.95
- Penfolds Bin 128 Coonawarra Shiraz 2004, +509919, $29.95
- Rosemount Mountain Blue Mudgee, +583138, Vintages $65, 60/40 shiraz-
cabernet sauvignon.
- Spragia Merlot 2003 Home Ranch

The Food: stylish catering (spring rolls, rare beef toasts, veggie
burgers, lamb lollipops, etc.). But no fish? Cheese board, nuts and
The Downside: it got crowded really fast.
The Upside: some wine media (those who had indicated) were let in early
to a sitdown tasting at their leisure, from 3 to 5:30.
The Contact Person:
The Effectiveness (numerical grade): 89.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

NOVEMBER: Toronto Gourmet Food and Wine Expo, 13th Annual

The Time and Date: Thursday, November 15, 2007, 6 Pm to 10 PM

The Event: the opening of the 13th Annual Gourmet Food and Wine Expo, at the
Metro Convention Centre. Tonight was VIP and trade night.

The Venue: Metro Convention Centre South.

The Target Audience: knowledgeable consumers and the wine trade, wine press.

The Availability/Catalogue: most wines were available for sale at the LCBO
wine store on site. Otherwise, the wines were usually part of the General
Listing or Vintages operations.

The Quote: "I put my bag down for a minute, next to my leg, while I tasted.
When I went to get it, it was gone - the thief made off with my tasting
notes!! I hope that he can read my writing..."

The Wines: I tasted a few wines in the Chile area, the host country. They
had put on a show of music and dancing, along with some empanadas for the
starving media...Most of my time was at Churchill Cellars for their trade
tasting of partial portfolio wines. Another part of my time was at the New
York area tasting some wines with Robert Ketchin, from Finger Lakes and Long
Island. In Toronto they only exhibit at this show and in the spring show at
the Airport.

**** Four Stars (90 - 93 in Quality/Price Rating terms):

-Robert Mondavi Napa Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 (Vintages +255513, $37.75)

-Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 (Vintages +954834, $24.95)

-Mission Hill Chardonnay Reserve 2005 VQA Okanagan (+545004, $22.15)

-D'Arenberg The Laughing Magpie Shiraz Viognier 2006 (Vintages +936971,

-Blackstone Zinfandel 2004 (+26247 Private Order Churchill, $21.95)

-Chateau Au Pont de Guitres 2003 Lalande de Pomerol (+45666 Vintages,

-Dr.Konstantin Frank Dry Riesling 2006 Finger Lakes ($21.50, Hobbs & Co.)

-Jamesport Vineyards Chardonnay 2005 Long Island ($24.90, Private)

*** Three Stars (86 - 89 in Quality/Price Rating terms):

-Mission Hill Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 VQA Okanagan (+545004- it says --

-Chivite Gran Feudo Reserva 2003 (Vintages +479014, $15.75)

-Segura Viudas Lavit Brut Nature 2003 (Vintages +277269, $14.75)

-Chateau de Campuget Viognier Marsanne 2006 (Vintages +662775, $16.95)

-Robert Mondavi Napa Fume Blanc 2005 (Vintages +221887, $24.75)

-Casa Larga Riesling 2006 Finger Lakes ($22.80, Private)

-Chateau Lafayette Reneau Riesling 2006 Finger Lakes ($23.60, Private)

-Castello di Borghese Chardonnay 2006 Long Island ($21.70, Private)

-Osprey Dominion Sauvignon Blanc 2005 Long Island ($19.95, J. Hanna)

-Lamoreaux Landing Dry Gewurztraminer 2006 ($28.60, MCO)

-Raphael Merlot 2001 Long Island ($42.95, Private)

-Fox Run Cabernet Franc/Lemberger 2006 ($19.75, Lorac Wines)

-Peconic Bay Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 Long Island ($33.30, Private)

The Food: empanadas for the press (from the Jumbo Empanada people) and some
cheese with M+G Kitchens shortbreads (chai, smoked paprika, coconut curry,
Moroccan spice, herbes de Provence) at the Churchill Cellars area.

The Downside: my wine notes were stolen. Also, it was very warm and very

The Upside: a chance to taste New York wines.

The Contact Person: or at

The Effectiveness (numerical grade): 88.


Sunday, December 2, 2007

Grandi Marchi Tasting, Toronto, October 24, 2007

The Time and Date: Wednesday, October 24, 2007 2 PM to 4 PM

The Event: Grand Marchi Iconic Wines of Italy; a Vintages Taste and Buy

The Venue: King Edward Hotel

The Target Audience: the afternoon was for the trade and media

The Availability/Catalogue: All wines were available in some form, either as
exclusive to the event or as Vintages offerings on specified dates (or
already here). Most wines were exclusive.

The Quote: "Digitus tinto reigns supreme at this tasting: heavy, dark wine
stains on the fingers and thumbs"

The Wines: the Grandi Marchi is a group of 18 wineries, from all regions of
Italy. They specialize in high quality wines, not necessarily at high
prices. Many of the principals were here at the tasting to answer any

Best wine: Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 2005 Toscana ($169.95, Vintages Feb 2,
2008: load up!) with deep structure, 4.5 stars.

**** Four Stars (90 - 93):

- Marchesi Antinori Pian delle Vigne Brunello di Montalcino 2001 ($61.95,

- Ca del Bosco Brut Sparkling Wine Franciacorta ($38, Vintages)

- Gaja Pieve Santa Restitua Sugarille Brunello di Montalcino 2001 ($150,

- Gaja Sperss 2001 Langhe Nebbiolo ($259, Classics)

- Masi Campololongo di Torbe Amarone Classico 2001 ($85, Vintages)

*** Three Stars (86 - 89)

- Marchesi Antinori Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico Riserva 2001
($39.95, Vintages)

- Marchesi Antinori Guado al Tasso 2003 ($81.95, Vintages)

- Poggio Salvi Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 2001 ($99, Classics)

- Michele Chiarlo Barolo Cerequio 2003 ($85, exclusive)

- Folonari Campo al Mare 2005 Bolgheri ($34, exclusive)

- Alois Lageder Benefizium Porer Pinot Grigio 2006 ($28, exclusive)

- Alois Lageder Krafuss Pinot Nero 2004 ($50, exclusive)

- Pio Cesare Barolo 2003 ($62.95, Vintages)

- Pio Cesare Barbaresco Il Bricco 2003 ($99, exclusive)

- Rivera Puer Apuliae 2004 Nero di Troia ($43, exclusive)

- Tasca d'Almerita Rosso del Conte 2004 ($69, exclusive)

- Umani Ronchi Pelago 2004 ($44, exclusive)

The Food: cheeses and breads and crackers, dried fruit.

The Downside: my ticket got lost in the mail despite my email RSVP. But they
took me anyway.

The Upside: a light attendance during the day meant that many dilettantes
did not turn up, saving me some conversational grief.

The Contact Person:

The Effectiveness (numerical grade): 87.


The Time and Date: Tuesday, November 6, 2007 5 - 8 PM

The Event: The President's Tasting, Maxxium Canada.

The Venue: Vaughan Estate.

The Target Audience: clients, sommeliers, wine media, LCBO product

The Availability/Catalogue: this is basically a portfolio tasting since all
the items are available at Vintages, Classics, Consignment Program, or
Private Order. In the past, with reduced numbers, we had been favoured with
single offerings of wines from the 1950s and 1960s. Special order prices
were not given.

The Quote: "This event started when the company was Sainsbury; that must
have been about 15 to 20 years ago. Every year the wines and foods get
better, although I do regret the lack of older wines."

The Wines: I did not taste every wine - I passed on the fortifieds and
spirits. Still, there were a total of some 42 wines. My overall fave was
Charles Heidsieck Champagne 1989 Jerobaum (warm, toasty, well-aged: special

**** Four Stars (90 - 93 in Quality/Price Rating terms):

- Piper Heidsieck 2000 Champagne

- Simonnet-Febvre Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos 2005 (Classics, $69.95)

- Simonnet-Febvre Chablis 1er Cru Montmains 2005 (Vintages, May 24/08,

- Maison Louis Latour Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru 2005

- Maison Louis Latour Chambertin Grand Cru Cuvee Heritiers 1996

- Masi Serego Alighieri Vaio Armaron Amarone Classico 1988

- Johns Blend Cabernet Sauvignon Langhorne Creek 2001

- Sena Aconcagua Chile (Jan 2008 Classics, $79)

- Cathedral Cellar Chardonnay Paarl 2005 ($14.95, sold out)

- Cathedral Cellar Shiraz Paarl 2003 (Vintages, $16.95)

- Clos du Bois Briarcrest Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley 2003 (Vintages
Feb 6, 2008, $59.95)

*** Three Stars (86 - 89 in Quality/Price Rating terms):

- Charles Heidsieck Mis En Cave 2001 Champagne

- Chateau La Louviere Rouge Pessac-Leognan 2003 (Vintages, $49.95)

- Collavini Merlot dal Pic 2001

- Masi Serego Alighieri Vaio Armaron Amarone Classico 2000

- Donnafugata Mille e una Notte 2004

- Poderi Colla Barolo Bussia 2003

- J & F Lurton Chacayes Mendoza 2004 (April 2008 Classics, $77.95)

- J & F Lurton Piedra Negra Mendoza 2004 (July 19, 2008 Vintages, $39.95)

- Masi Tupungato Passo Doble Mendoza 2006 (General List, $14.95)

- Cathedral Cellar Triptych Paarl 2004 (Vintages, December 2007, $16.95)

- Kanonkop Pinotage Stellenbosch 2004 (April 2008 Classics, $45.95)

- Buena Vista Carneros Chardonnay 2005 (Vintages Aug 30, 2008, $23.95)

- Clos du Bois Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 (Vintages, $29.95)

- Geyser Peak Reserve Alexandre Meritage Alexander Valley 2004 (Vintages Feb
2, 2008, $54.95)

The Food: as usual, the unusual - oysters, seafood paella (with lobsters),
shrimp, mushroom tartes, cheeses, breads, and the like, with desserts in the
fortified and spirits room.

The Downside: despite restrictions, there was an interesting assortment of
gatecrashers ranging from singles to couples. How did they get in? Also,
some of the waitstaff did not know where their wines were on the table.

The Upside: the show was very relevant.

The Contact Person:

The Effectiveness (numerical grade): 90.