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The point of wine is to give pleasure, as much of it to as many people as possible. Anyone who suggests otherwise—that wine appreciation is a difficult business which only a very special elite are worthy and capable of, for example—should be treated with scorn. In my experience, anyone who claims to be a wine expert invariably has little to offer except prejudices.
Wine is emphatically not a serious subject. Wine is one of life's perks, an indulgence, a mood-lifter, a social mixer. It's just that understanding a bit more about it brings the confidence to relax and enjoy it.
Although wine is clearly much more than mere lubrication, to appreciate it, all you need is an interest and a sense of smell. This book explains that by taking you from the glass in your hand, back along the supply line, making sense of tasting, serving, choosing and buying wine (Getting the Most Out of Wine pages 11-57), to How Wine is Made (pages 59-93) before embarking on two important and parallel guides to help make sense out of the thousands of wines available: Wine Grape Varieties on pages 95-153 and The World of Wine on pages 155-305.
From the outside, the world of wine looks horribly complicated. Wine's great attribute, its variety, is also one of its drawbacks. Wine lists in restaurants and rows of bottles on a shelf can seem like an impenetrable jungle of proper names in foreign languages.
But help is at hand. Learning about wine has become a great deal easier over the last few years as more and more wine producers are putting the names of the main grapes from which their wines are made on labels, either the main label or an explanatory one on the back of thebottle. Classicists deplore this trend, arguing that wine should be an expression of place rather than grape variety and that only wines labelled geographically with no mention of grape varieties are 'real' wines.
With respect, as they say, I think this is rubbish. Of course the perfect wine is an expression of the exact slope of the vineyard, its latitude, altitude, soil texture (though not, as is commonly thought, soil composition) and so on, but that's the second stage in wine appreciation (and how many wines demonstrate their provenance so clearly that any experienced blind taster can immediately locate the village in which they were made?). The first stage, the main factor shaping the characteristics of most wines in commercial circulation, is the grape variety or varieties used. And the pathways through that supposedly impenetrable jungle are to a large extent the result of recognizing the relationships between, say, different Chardonnays from around the world—all of which in any case also carry some geographical clues that help us make up a picture of the world of wine and its influences on grape varieties so that eventually we reach the second stage by accumulating an impression of, for example, California's Carneros or Meursault in Burgundy.
So the great thing is that to learn about wine today, you don't need to learn hundreds of different foreign place-names. All you need to begin with are about seven names, those of the main grape varieties from which a sizeable proportion of wines you are likely to come across are made: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and poor, undervalued Riesling for whites and Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Syrah (or Shiraz) for reds.
Wine Grape Varieties provides a detailed guide to these seven varieties as well as a great deal of information about hundreds more varieties, those that will be mentioned more and more on labels over the next few years as producers increasingly experiment, and become more conscious of consumers' needs in their labelling. Here and throughout the book I have tried to explain the most important thing—how wines are likely to taste.
The World of Wine takes you on a detailed tour of those corners of the globe where wine is produced, highlighting what makes them different and, of course, which grape varieties are grown there, and explaining not just how things are but giving the real explanation (not necessarily the same as the public relations pitch) of why they are that way.
As a subject for study, wine happens to come with an amazing amount of baggage, which we can choose to revel in or ignore. Its history stretches back past the Bronze Age, to at least 5500 years ago. Its geography encompasses all of the world's temperate zones (and quite a few of the tropical ones too). The wine business is conducted in some of the most beautiful corners of the world, and its personalities are some of the most colourful in any field of commercial activity. Wine is rich in religious symbolism, and has the unusual attribute of being able to last and evolve for centuries, providing a direct, tastable link with past generations. Yet today, wine production is a scientifically sophisticated business that is unusually open about what in many other businesses would be its secrets.
This book, which has been a seriously exciting project for me, aims to give you an insider's view of the world of wine. As I became involved in planning and then began writing, I realized not just how rapidly the world of wine has changed in the last decade or so, but how much less ignorant (I would certainly not say more knowledgeable) I am now—partly thanks to spending the last five years editing The Oxford Companion to Wine—and how much more insider information and advice I want to communicate. My hope is that in some small way this book will help its readers to get even more pleasure out of wine.
A Few Insider Tips to Set You on Your Way:
Wine amateurs may say opener . . .
But professional winos say corkscrew
Wine amateurs may say crate (of wine) . . .
But professional winos say case (= 12 bottles)
Wine amateurs may say drink (active verb)
But professional winos say taste
Wine amateurs may say champagne (for all fizzy wine) . . .
But professional winos say sparkling wine (for all fizzy wine except that made in the Champagne region in north east France)
Wine amateurs may think sediment in a bottle is a bad sign . . .
But professional winos know it's a sign of a producer who worships quality above cosmetics
Wine amateurs may think claret is any old red . . .
But professional winos know claret is a word used in Britain exclusively for red bordeaux
Wine amateurs may think Zinfandel is white . . .
But professional winos know Zinfandel's a red grape that no one wanted so someone cleverly began to make a very commercial off dry white out of it in California in the 1980s
Getting the Most Out of Wine
The True Sense of Taste
How to Taste Wine
Becoming a Wine Taster
The Mechanics of Serving Wine
Serving the Right Bottle
Wine and Food
Wine and Health
Whether to Store Wine
How to Store Wine
Clues from the Package
Deciphering the Label
How to Buy the Right Bottle
Choosing Wine in a Restaurant
Some Special Wines
How Wine is Made
The Importance of Place
Does the Answer Lie in the Soil?
The Wine Plant and its Fruit
The Vineyard Year
A Bluffer's Guide to Winemaking Jargon
The Winemaking Process
How Sparkling Wines are Made
How Sweet Wines are Made
Wine Grape Varieties
The Vine Family
White Wine Varieties
Red Wine Varieties
The World of Wine
Mâconnais and Beaujolais
Provence and Corsica
South West France
Vins de Pays
Rest of France
North West Italy
North East Italy
Rest of Central Italy
Southern Italy and Islands
Ribera del Duero
North East Spain
North West Spain
Central and Southern Spain
Central & Eastern Europe
Rest of North America
Rest of South America
New South Wales
Where to Buy Wine
How to Find Out More
Author Biography: Jancis Robinson is the only British journalist to have qualified as a Master of Wine. She was the wine columnist for the Sunday Times from 1980 to 1986 and now has a regular column in both the Financial Times and the American based Wine Spectator magazine.