- Paperback: 910 pages
- Publisher: Workman Publishing Company; 1st (first) edition (Feb. 1 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1563054345
- ISBN-13: 978-1563054341
- Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 4.6 x 22.9 cm
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 Kg
- Average Customer Review: 38 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #120,786 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Wine Bible Paperback – Feb 1 2000
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Though it drinks deep of its subject, Karen MacNeil's Wine Bible deftly avoids two traps many wine books fall into: talking down to wine novices or talking up to more experienced enophiles. The book avoids these traps through MacNeil's obvious, and infectious, love of her subject, which comes out in almost every sentence of the book, and which lets her talk about wine in a way that combines the good teacher, the trusted friend, and the expert sommelier. As director of the wine program at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley, California, MacNeil is one of the world's true experts on wine. After reading a chapter on the Burgenland, for example, you've learned about the region's sweet wines while feeling like you're actually there, toasting a glass of Cuvee Suss with the author. It is this passion that leads to describing an Italian riservas as "mesmerizing" and a Cabernet Sauvignon as having "texture like cashmere."
The Wine Bible is broken into countries, hitting all of the major wine producers and most of the minor ones. Each section gives detailed descriptions of the country's wines (with chapters on individual regions when necessary), highlighting specific wine producers and individual wines, as well as talking about local foods, customs, and other tidbits that add to the reading experience. MacNeil begins her journey through the world's wine with an invaluable section on "Mastering Wine," which lets a reader get ready before uncorking separate sections. --A.J. Rathbun
"....sets a new standard and makes wine more accessible and user-friendly than it has ever been before." -- Anthony Dias Blue, Wine & Spirits Editor, Bon Appetit Magazine
"...the wine book bargain of the year....It's a remarkable price for such an encyclopedic book..." -- Wine Spectator
"...this is one reference that will have a long shelf life." -- Cooking Light
"...wonderful stream of wine stories, wine anecdotes and tips distributed liberally throughout the book." -- The New York Times
"If it's connoisseurship you aspire to, a great place to begin learning more is The Wine Bible..." -- REAL SIMPLE
"Karen MacNeil's The Wine Bible may be the most valuable of this year's offerings." -- USA Today
"The Wine Bible is original and lively" -- The Chicago Tribune
"The Wine Bible is the perfect gift for wine enthusiasts of any level." -- Metropolitan Home
"Thorough, authoritative, and entertaining, this is the most complete wine book ever....It's a reference to turn to often. " -- Robert Mondavi
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My biggest complaint is that I feel the book doesn't really know what it wants to be. On the one hand, it is a comprehensive reference book that in many areas goes into more depth than other general wine books. But it falls short as a reference book because it lacks the scope of books like The World Atlas of Wine or The Global Encyclopedia of Wine, which cover more up-and-coming wine producing countries, more specific producers and, especially in the case of The World Atlas of Wine, are enhanced by beautiful photographs and maps. Though the Wine Bible is substantial (it weighs in at a hefty 910 pages) its design is more compact than the other books I mentioned, and so might make a better travel companion for someone visiting multiple wine producing regions in a single trip. But the lack of good maps makes a supplemental book necessary.
Additionally, the book can feel like a disjointed collection of articles that ought to have been better integrated before publication. Often, the same information (referring to multiple or confusing names for grape varieties or regions, or quality standards in specific countries) is referred to parenthetically several times, often in quick succession -- something unnecessary, especially given the book's excellent glossary.
But despite these criticisms, I find myself referring to the book repeatedly. Part of the reason for that is author Karen MacNeil's pleasing and unpretentious writing style, which somehow manages to please wine lovers of many different levels of knowledge. Ms. MacNeil's passion for wine comes through in the text and her knowledge of the subject is extremely impressive, with her descriptions often compensating for a lack of quality photos. And though I would like to see more wine producing areas covered by the book, the regions she does address are covered extremely comprehensively. The quality of information is also very even: before travels to these areas I have read the book's sections on South Africa, the Mosel, Loire, Ribera del Duero, Languedoc, as well as everything on my adopted home country, and could not detect any ebb in Ms. Mac Neil's enthusiasm or knowledge.
After some thought, I settled on four stars for this review, despite the complaints I have. The book is just too useful and too skillfully written for fewer stars. The next addition, I feel sure, will earn five on my improvised scale.
Once you have moved beyond the most basic level in wine knowledge, this is an important book to have. If you can buy only one book on the subject, this is not the one I would suggest -- The World Atlas of Wine gets my vote for that honor -- but if you were to limit your collection to two books, then I think this is a serious candidate for that second position. Once you've got that much covered, I'd lean toward a book that focuses on your favorite wine producing region or another specific aspect of the subject, like tasting or wine production.
The author sets forth a series of distinguishing characteristics
which set apart great wine from the imitations. These particulars
are variety, integration, expression and complexity. Wines
evolve from a process of picking, crushing, fermentation,
barreling, filtering and bottling. An experienced wine taster
utilizes a systematic approach consisting of sipping, smelling,
swirling and setting apart outside influences from the
evaluation. The book provides classic wines on a country-by-
country basis. For instance, French Beaujolais wines are
described in the preferred mode of St. Amour or Chenas.
The Cote d'Or is highlighted as the most important wine in the
burgundy family. Important historical data is provided.
i.e. The Swiss are famous for their white wines.
Purchase this work if you plan to entertain a guest list
from all over the world. It is a good investment.
It won't tell you everything there is to know about wine; that only comes with further reading and lots of tasting. But it's a spectacular foundation to learning the history and traditions involved, and it does a remarkable job of covering its subject without prejudices. The history of recent (i.e. last couple of hundred years) of wine development is the focus -- if you're looking for information on ancient wines you won't find much of it here, but if you want to know how Chile or Australia became the wine-growing powerhouses they are today, this book will tell you everything you might wish to know.
I've no real complaints with the book. There are big holes in its coverage, but wine is a truly gigantic subject and MacNeil has done a great job covering as much ground as she can -- there's great information on most of the major wine-growing countries, starting with France and Italy and going from there. There's even a narrative of sorts, with heroes like Robert Mondavi and the Gallo Brothers who rebuilt the California wine industry with book knowledge when the traditions had been wiped out by Prohibition, and villains like the phylloxera aphid that nearly destroyed the wine industry worldwide before American botanists saved the day by grafting European vines onto American rootstocks. Ancient traditions in France, Germany, and Italy are placed alongside modern innovation in California, Australia, and South America, showing that either way is an effective method for creating a great wine. Champagne is mentioned alongside the humble Spanish cava and party-loving German sekt. And the great old fortified wines -- port, sherry, madeira, marsala -- get their due in detail most people probably never imagined.
It's an excellent book to just open to a random page and flip through. It's informative without being snobbish, and written for both the casual browser and the serious oenophile. Tradition and modern science sit side-by-side, and the reader is bound to find a few little-known future favorites (Argentinian Malbec, in my case, a powerfully flavorful wine that I tried alongside some pot roast) just waiting in the "interesting cheap stuff" bins at the liquor store. Essentially, with this book there's no excuse for buying the cheap stuff in the box, or simply settling for the easy varietals (unless of course that's what you want). If you want to learn about wine and like to read, get this book and the address of a good liquor store.
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