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Tuesday, August 17, 2010


1. GOOD BETTER BEST WINES; a no-nonsense guide to popular wines (Alpha
Books, 2010; distr. Penguin, 238 pages, ISBN 978-1-59257-977-8, $12.95
US, soft covers) is by Carolyn Evans Hammond, wine writer and
sommelier. Her first book was "1000 Best Wine Secrets". Here, she has
produced the latest guide to best-selling wines in the USA, but with an
engaging format. She has categorized the wines by grape variety such as
Merlot or Pinot Grigio or a blend. Then she further subdivides by
nationally distributed price ranges such as $5 to $7.99, $8 to $10.99,
and $11 to $15. Then her last category is to pick wines in each
reference area (such as a Chardonnay for $10.99) and give us her notes
on these wines: the good, better and best of the title. Her cut off was
$15, except for dessert wines. In Canada, this would be $20 to $25. And
of course, you know that American stores widely discount best-selling
wines as loss-leaders, and give case discounts. None of this happens in
Canada, so we'll just have to play along. Quite a few of the wines are
available in Canada, since these are (after all) "best-selling" popular
wines. But since most Americans drink domestic wines, there are (for
Canada) a disproportionate number of US wines. There are no Canadian
wines, which (if you included Cellared in Canada products) would lead
to Ms. Hammond's next book, on Canadian wines, "The Good, the Bad and
the Ugly". There is the usual thumbnail primer on wine basics, on why
we drink what we drink, notes on the varieties, many sidebars of
interesting information, and some choices for bargain wines and party
wines. "Parties" include wedding reception (an invaluable guide here
for the upcoming June brides), dinner party, cocktail party, BBQ,
beach/cottage/pool, garden party, and banquets. Each wine is
illustrated with a small black and white pix of the bottle and label
for shelf recognition.
Audience and level of use: regular wine drinkers looking for
suggestions on trading up or trying new wines. Its size makes it very
convenient to take with you into a wine store, hoping to spot a sale.
Some interesting or unusual facts: The quality of everyday wines has
never been better.
The downside to this book: lacks an index, so there is no easy way to
find out what she thinks about a wine. Also, a quick check through an
index would make it easier to correlate with a wine that is on sale.
The upside to this book: a great way to pick up basic wine knowledge
without breaking the bank. It's "back to basics", "learn the rules
before you break the rules". Have a clear understanding of what wines
you yourself like at this moment before moving on.
Quality/Price Rating: 91.

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