Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Book Review - 1000 Best Wine Secrets

One perk in operating a wine blog is we occasionally receive free items to review. Last week we received a new book written by Carolyn Hammond, "1000 Best Wine Secrets". Ms. Hammond's wine writing credentials are impressive. She has written for Decanter Magazine, The Times newspaper, and Wine & Spirit International magazine in London England, as well as Maclean’s magazine, The Toronto Star and The Province in Canada. She also holds a Diploma in Wine and Spirits from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust.

"1000 Best Wine Secrets" consists of, you guessed it, 1,000 facts, broken into several chapters plus an Appendix containing a list of recommended wines that cost less than $20 and a compendium of resources. The printing style displaying 1,000 numbered facts makes it easy to skim the selections looking for topics of interest. But don't just skim this book. It contains valuable information for both the novice and more experienced wine drinker.

In the first two sections, Ms. Hammond gives advice on selecting wine to purchase or ordering at a restaurant and the proper etiquette on tasting and serving the wine. She supplies valuable material such as describing different grape varieties, explaining the differences between Old World and New World wine or American and French Oak barrels, and the value of decanting wine. However the most important advice she gives is #14: trust your own palate.

Section three is the best section of the book and the reason we recommend purchasing it. In these 17 chapters she "Reveals the Flavors of the World", by describing major wine regions in different countries and the grapes and wine that flourish in these regions. The Chapter on French Wine is a must read; Ms. Hammond describes the wines of Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, Alsace, Rhone, and more. I now know the definition of growth wines in Medoc and the Grand Clu classifications in St. Emilion. From France, she weaves her way through Italian wine regions, then Spain Portugal, Germany and Austria. She finishes European wine by discussing Swiss wine as well as Central and Eastern Europe wine and Mediterranean wines. If you've never heard of the puttonyos level in Hungarian Tokaji Aszu or what makes Greek Restsina very interesting, read these latter chapters.

From Europe she discusses American and Canadian wines, then wines from South America, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. Whereas I thought the information devoted to these regions were interesting, I was a little disappointed with her treatment of American wines. She started by describing California wines, then on to Oregon and Washington wines. She then mentions Idaho briefly, provides an overview of New York wines and then notes two wineries in Virginia. I would have like to see her give a more in depth treatment of Virginia wines (a little bias on our part) and other American wine regions. Her readers are left uninformed of the good wines produced in Michigan, Missouri, Colorado, and elsewhere.

Finally, Ms. Hammond concludes with very interesting wine myths and storing techniques, such as, "if its popular, it must be good". Overall, this is a nice handbook for your wine library. I learned a lot, not only about different wine regions but also why uncorking is insufficient for decanting, what makes Madeira unique, some white wines improve with age, and ..........
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