Search This Blog

Friday, August 20, 2010

Wine Book of the Month: August, 2010

 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
the entire 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 Not only that but also the bibliography is out-of-date,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 Chateau 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
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.

No comments: