Book Smarts and Tons of Body

By / Magazine / October 19th, 2007 / 1

I want to learn more about wine, but the thought of staring at a computer screen for hours gives me the willies. Can you recommend some good wine-related reading material I can enjoy from the comfort of my couch?

I’m with you; I sit in front of a computer for a living and a glowing monitor is the last thing I want to be cuddling up with during my off hours.

While I do love being able to hit a few keys and have the Internet tell me how to make the perfect martini or what bottle of vino some geeky blogger thinks will match best with my Kraft Dinner, when it comes to information gathering, nothing beats words on paper.

Of course, right now you’re holding my favourite way of getting to know your way around the wine world. But if you’re looking for textbook-style material, many of the same authors that help make me the wine guy I am today are still pounding out some of the best liquid writing on bookstore shelves.

I’m still a student of Hugh Johnson and Oz Clarke and both of these UK celebrity booze writers produce an annual all-in-one volume called the Pocket Wine Book.

Small and easy to carry along with you to the local wine shop, it includes just about everything you need to know written in a laid-back style that makes for easy navigation.

Map freaks will love Johnson’s World Atlas Of Wine, while all you fruit fans will want to pick up Clarke’s Encyclopedia Of Grapes.

For basic introductions, it’s hard to beat Kevin Zraly’s Windows on the World Complete Wine Course. Zraly packs every minute of his thirty years of wine-teaching experience into its pages, making for a book that’s as entertaining for experts as it is for the novice.

Joanna Simon takes a similar welcoming approach and combines it with pretty pictures in both Discovering Wine and Wine: An Introduction. Her book Food And Wine is a great read if you’re looking to learn more about mixing and matching.

Sure, the Web is a fine resource for up-to-the-minute info and opinion-based ramblings, but there’s just something about reading from a book that makes wine come alive.

A friend told me a great tip on pairing food with wine: always match light-bodied wines with light-bodied meals and full-bodied wines with full-bodied meals. Trouble is, I have no idea how to tell which wines are light-bodied and which are full-bodied. Can you help?

Since bringing a scale to the liquor store will be a dead giveaway that you have a weight problem, the easiest way to get a handle on heft is to figure out who makes the wine, where it’s made, what it’s made from, how much it costs or any combination of all four.

Wines are the product of their surroundings, and some areas (like Italy’s Valpolicella or France’s Beaujolais) are famous for their lighter wines, while others (such as Italy’s Piedmont and France’s Bordeaux) are better known for their heavier wines.

Producers, as well, build reputations for certain styles of wine, so a little research into who you’re planning to buy will tip you off as to whether they have a house personality that might sway to either the wimpy or muscular side.

The foundation of any wine is its fruit, and getting a grip on grapes will be time well invested when it comes to your wine education.

Some like Gamay, Riesling and Merlot typically create softer wines, while Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Nebbiolo inject a gutsier edge into their bottles.

That’s grape advice at its very basic, folks. While some keep their primary characteristics no matter where they’re grown, the majority of them are heavily influenced by the elements (both human and Mother Nature’s) so, again, do a little leg work on the winemaker and where he does business.

And then there’s price. While judging weight by place, producer and grape type isn’t an exact science, when it comes to how much you pay, the cheaper the wine almost always guarantees there will be lightweight juice in your glass.

Wine is a journey, and like any trip you’ll to have a lot more fun when you spend some time understanding where you’re going.

Our Bon Vivant lives hard and leaves no question unanswered. So go ahead and try to stump him ([email protected] ).  Illustration by Shiny Pliers.


Fresh, funny and down-to-earth, Peter Rockwell is the everyman's wine writer. Born in Halifax, Nova Scotia he's worked in the liquor industry for over 30 years and has written about wine, spirits & beer since graduating from the School of Journalism at the University of King's College in 1986. His reviews and feature articles have been published in Tidings, Vines, Occasions, Where and on to name a few; he has been a weekly on-air wine feature columnist for both CBC-TV and Global Television and his wine column 'Liquid Assets' appeared weekly in two of Nova Scotia's daily newspapers, 'The Halifax Daily News' and 'The Cape Breton Post.' Today Peter's irreverent answer man column 'Bon Vivant' appears each month in Tidings Magazine and his weekly 'Liquid Assets' column is published across Canada in editions of the METRO newspaper. When not drinking at home, and at work, Peter travels the globe looking for something to fill his glass and put into words.

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