Top positive review
5 of 5 people found this helpful
on May 10, 2002
See the Amazon review dated September 29, 2001 for an excellent treatment of this book.
Since I first became interested in blind wine tasting almost 25 years ago, I have searched for a book that provided a complete and authoritative guide to describing the taste of different wines and grapes-a reference point or sounding board, if you will, against which to calibrate my own impressions. Never mind that the essence of blind tasting and the apprehension of quality depend on forming your own innate vocabulary of scents and flavors. There have been many times when I have struggled, and have just wanted an expert to tell me what the heck a textbook Crozes-Hermitage, for example, is supposed to taste like.
Jancis Robinson's Guide To Wine Tasting is an excellent contribution to this subject for beginners. I didn't realize until around page 150 that the book had originally been published in 1983 under the somewhat unfortunate title, Masterglass, but I think we can forgive her this youthful indulgence. Because over time, she has truly become the heir apparent to mantle of most prolific British wine commentator, eclipsing my other English heroes Michael Broadbent, Hugh Johnson, and Clive Coates. With multiple books, a TV show, videos, a weekly column, a new DVD and a website ... she is, to paraphrase wine newcomer Howard Stern, the Queen of All Wine Media.
This book systematically lays out the factors that contribute to the taste of a wine, and how to appreciate them. It follows the model of a "wine course," in that each chapter combines theory and practice, the practice consisting of specific instructions of what wines to try that best illustrate the principles being taught. Like all good teachers about wine, she staunchly advocates blind tasting as the key to developing your own wine appreciation faculties. Just keep in mind that to pursue the practice, you'll need a willing accomplice to pour the disguised wines for you so you can really benefit.
Two things make this slender volume particularly noteworthy and a valuable contribution for amateurs of all stripes. First, Jancis is one of the most democratic and unintimidating wine writers on the planet. She goes out of her way to make beginners feel at ease, correctly observing that in many cases the less you know, the more accurate your initial impressions can be. She also makes it clear that even experts routinely embarrass themselves at this game, which is half the fun and often offers a better learning experience than actually guessing correctly. No one interested in learning more about wine appreciation will feel condescended to within the pages of this book.
Second, I give Jancis a lot of credit for being willing to describe specific flavors that derive from major grapes, variations in winemaking practice, and geographical differences, since that is after all why I most wanted to read the book. It is not as detailed or quite as specific as I would like, but it does an admirable job nonetheless and can refresh the core knowledge of a more experienced taster just as well as empower a newcomer.
I don't have much to criticize about the book. There's a very bad typo on page 47 where Brunello di Montalcino is described as coming from the nebbiolo grape (instead of the sangiovese clone, brunello), but this is correctly stated later on. I also think the selection of some of the second-tier grapes she characterizes is a little odd (why even bother with trebbiano if she says it's undistinguished, when she ignores other Italian white grapes that make wonderful wines). Finally, there are a few pages whose layout contains very little information (I counted one with fewer than 50 words) and since this isn't an art book, it gives the appearance of padding.
Nevertheless, this book provides all the basics of what you need to know to not just enjoy tasting wine, but to actually appreciate it.