Book Review: Red Wine: The Comprehensive Guide to the 50 Essential Varieties and Styles, by Kevin Zraly, Mike DeSimone, and Jeff Jenssen

Posted by | Posted in Book Reviews | Posted on 12-17-2018

Red WineMy request for a copy of Kevin Zraly’s forthcoming biography was apparently premature, so the publisher sent me Red Wine instead. I hadn’t heard of it, but after poring through it in five- and ten-page sittings, I see why every wine bibber needs to.

Red Wine covers the basics of the 50 red wines you’re most likely to encounter. Full of beautiful photography and with just the right amount of detail, it might be the most practical coffee table book a wine lover can own.

Arranged alphabetically, each grape gets a two-page spread, with the exception of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and other biggies, which get more. To start, the grape name is listed and spelled phonetically—a tremendous blessing for those of us who can’t quite get the pronunciation right for grapes like Montepulciano (it’s MOHN-teh-pool-CHAH-no) and Sangiovese (SAHN-jo-VAY-say).

Next is a tasting profile highlighting the grape’s most common aromas and flavors, followed by a list of ideal food pairings. You’ll want these handy for your next dinner party. Or maybe you flat out want some specific wine recommendations. Zraly and team have you covered with suggestions for “Bargain,” “Value,” “Special Occasion,” and “Splurge” bottles.

Rounding out each chapter are a few paragraphs of abbreviated history, a bit on what’s noteworthy about the grape, and finally, where in the world it’s currently being grown in significant amounts.

What I love about Red Wine is it’s so darn handy. I can see myself using it in a variety of situations: pre-dinner-out research, deciding which wine region to visit next, or even in my own home wine making. A few weeks ago actually, when deciding whether or not to induce malolactic fermentation in batches of Lodi Petite Sirah and Carignane I was fermenting in the basement, I first turned to Red Wine to get a sense of each variety’s typical level of acidity. (We’ll see how that turns out though!)

Red Wine covers key wine styles and regions too. Read these sections and you’ll never again refer to Rioja or Chianti as a grape, and you’ll better understand what constitutes a Super Tuscan (spoiler: it’s kind of a catch-all).

My Recommendation
Some books I read and pass along. Red Wine is one I’ll keep around. It’ll probably find a home on the kitchen shelf next to my cookbooks and drink tomes. Much like Zraly’s Windows on the World, this is a book every serious wine drinker should have on hand, for reference, for inspiration, and for pure visual enjoyment.

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