Serious Reads: The Ultimate Wine Companion and Slow Wine 2012


Sometimes you want a glass of wine (something rich and Italian sounds nice). And sometimes you want to read about wine (knowledge is power, yo).

Thankfully there are two new books to help you master either goal: Slow Wine 2012: A Year in the Life of Italy's Vineyards and Wines and The Ultimate Wine Companion: The Complete Guide to Understanding Wine by the World's Foremost Wine Authorities will have you sipping with substance and style this spring.

In 2012, Slow Food launched the first English edition of a wine guide that has been published in Italy for years. Slow Wine 2012 is built on the Slow Food mantra—good, clean, and fair. The guide embraces the idea that Italian wines can't be judged by scores or other numerical evaluations, but should be assessed according to a larger agenda. To do this, the editors of Slow Food went out into the field, traveling and tasting throughout Italy, visiting over 400 cellars and reviewing 3,000 wines (these numbers are for the English edition, the Italian edition remains even more exhaustive).

Slow Food prides itself on giving a voice to the producer behind the product and this book is no exception. The story of each featured winery is told through its people (a short bit about the winery's back story, family, and winemaking team) vineyards (location and special practices), and wines. Knowing that some form of evaluation was important, Slow Food branded wineries with symbols of snails (a winery particularly good at promoting Slow Food values), bottles (high quality wines) and/or coins (good value). Similar categories are used to review each wine. This means no matter your set of priorities you can find the Italian wine that's right for you. To this good-taste-meets-good-ethics publication, I say "Cin cin."

It's hard not to get distracted by the name on the cover of The Ultimate Wine Companion. That's because the editor is Kevin Zraly, the author of the best-selling Windows on the World Complete Wine Course.

But don't go thinking that this is a companion book to that academic tome. Instead of sommelier-level lectures on regions and grape varieties, this book is a collection of writings about wine from some of the best-known wine experts out there. We're talking essays by people like Hugh Johnson, Gerald Asher, Eric Asimov, and more. Zraly selected—and introduces—the pieces that are divided into sections like "Thoughts on Wine," "On Tasting Wine," and "Wine and Food." There are also ample pages devoted to making wine and to New World versus Old World wines.

What I like best about this book is how approachable it is. So many wine books claim to be geared towards anyone, but are actually stuffed full of expert vocab and esoteric information. This collection is built on the supreme knowledge of all these authors (if you gathered them together it seems they would have tasted all the wine in the world) and good writing. Simply put: This book is a fun read. Novelist-turned-wine-writer Jay McInerney offers his opinion on what to drink with chocolate. Zraly's not sure he agrees with McInerney, but the essay is delightful. Meanwhile, importer Neal Rosenthal gives an impassioned plea for the importance of terroir. The distinguished Michael Broadbent produced something entirely new for the book—a loving explanation of why Bordeaux remains a red wine powerhouse. A book to dip in and out of, The Ultimate Wine Companion is so well written it makes absorbing wine facts easy. I'll drink to that.