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.

Book Review: Corkscrew, by Peter Stafford-Bow

Posted by | Posted in Book Reviews | Posted on 11-26-2018

51tP9E8lxeL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_Corkscrew is a rollicking page-turner about a quick-witted womanizer named Felix Hart, whose bawdy, booze-filled escapades propel him up the ranks of the UK wine industry. The dialogue is tight and idiomatic, the characters have flesh, and the situations Felix finds himself in are unique to say the least.

There’s a chase scene with a pack of vicious fornicating ostriches; a hairy hermaphroditic powdered drug alchemist whom Felix sets aflame; a group of sadistic master sommeliers who never use spit buckets; and a death by cesspool.

Yea, Peter Stafford-Bow has quite an imagination.

The story begins with Felix in an interrogation room. He’s done something pretty bad; we don’t know what. As his interrogators press him, Felix gives them (and us) the whole story.

Getting his start in a local wine store, Felix’s career takes off when he bludgeons to death a notorious burglar who’s been terrorizing local shops. He takes a gig as a wine buyer and jets off to Bulgaria, Italy, and South Africa, where he negotiates deals, drinks a lot, and charms an endless stream of women.

I did find it a little too convenient that every wine merchant Felix encounters happens to be a good-looking girl who instantly wants to take him to bed, or exchange sex for wine perks. It does, however, give Stafford-Bow endless opportunity to deploy his considerable talent for euphemism.

In South Africa, Felix meets one of the story’s most interesting characters, Wikus van Blerk, an eccentric but much-sought-after winemaker. Wikus is an opinionated sage who has an entrenched point of view on everything, like the superiority of screw caps over cork or the blasphemy of wine filtration. “A winemaker who filters his wine is like a burglar stealing the family silver.”

Wikus’s “gun-toting African” partner Njongo delivers what is for me the most poignant moment in the novel, for its nod to geographic particularity and the shifting essence of wine. The three of them are out on safari, roasting freshly killed game and drinking bottles of Wikus’s wine. “I taste the stars,” says Njongo of a dark Shiraz, “unhidden by cloud. The African earth, caressing the vine. The promise of distant rain. The breath of the leopard.”

“That’s an African tasting note,” says Wikus, “And that’s why Njongo will inherit my estate when I’m gone!”

On more than one occasion, Corkscrew reminded me of Saul Bellow’s Henderson the Rain King. It think because both novels blend absurdity and poignancy—or maybe simply because Felix, like Henderson, visits Africa.

I don’t want to give away too many of the novel’s best moments, but I will say that Corkscrew isn’t merely a series of random, disconnected happenings. Events build upon each other, as Felix gets himself into some real binds with the law and organized crime—the central dilemma concerns a large, conspicuously-low-priced shipment of Asti Spumante—and the draw for the reader is seeing how he wiggles out.

My Recommendation
Corkscrew is a bit too crude at times for my liking. That said, there were moments when I actually laughed out loud. I’d recommend it for anyone looking for an easy read full of lasciviousness and wine (a la Sideways, I’d say), particularly those inclined toward “cheeky” British humor.

Book Review: Godforsaken Grapes by Jason Wilson

Posted by | Posted in Book Reviews | Posted on 07-05-2018

Godforsaken_Grapes_By_Jason_WilsonMany wine nerds have likely heard a similar statistic: about 80% of the world’s wine comes from about 20 grapes. Meanwhile, planet Earth boasts some 1,400 grape varieties used in winemaking, which means there is a whole lot of “obscure” wine out there. Since I’ve been paying close attention to wine, for about a dozen years now, I’ve seen a huge uptick in excitement about wines like Mtsvane from Georgia, Trousseau from Jura, orange wines from Slovenia, etc. Even though I’m still totally happy sipping California Chardonnay, I think this increased attention on lesser known wines has been extremely positive in many ways.

In his new book, “Godforsaken Grapes: A Slightly Tipsy Journey through the World of Strange, Obscure, and Underappreciated Wine,” Philly’s Jason Wilson digs deep into the other 20% of the world’s wine. After focusing on spirits and cocktails for much of his life, Wilson caught a bad case of the wine geek bug, and soon began traveling to Austria, Switzerland, Northeast Italy, and other regions, searching for obscure wines and the interesting people who keep them alive.

In an interview with Wine Enthusiast, Wilson said this about his motivations behind writing the book: “This book is very personal, dealing with my own growing obsession with wine during my late 30s and 40s. I wanted to write about what happens when one goes down the rabbit hole into serious geekdom. I also saw a bigger story. The wine industry is undergoing a massive sea change and the influence of a certain type of ‘serious wine critic’ is on the wane. I wanted to capture this moment.”

The title of the book was taken from a now infamous screed posted by Robert Parker in 2014, in which he complained that a younger generation of wine-lovers (which he called a “group of absolutists”) was engaging in, “near-complete rejection of some of the finest grapes and the wines they produce. Instead they espouse, with enormous gusto and noise, grapes and wines that are virtually unknown.” These “godforsaken grapes” (like Trousseau, Savagnin, Blaufränkisch and others), Parker decreed, made wines that were “rarely palatable.”

A lot of people were ruffled by Parker’s post, but I remember feeling a bit sad. It reminded me of an old metalhead ranting about how bands these days don’t make music like they used to. Blah, blah, blah. This thinking also sets up a false dichotomy, pitting what Wilson calls “serious wines” against the “obscure” or “natural” or “geeky” wines. I’ve never felt the need to pick a side in this fight — Napa Cabs are great, so is Schiava from Alto Adige. The world is big enough for everything. Isn’t there enough tribalism in the world already? It’s just wine — right? Read the rest of this entry »

Book Review: Tasting the Past, by Kevin Begos

Posted by | Posted in Book Reviews | Posted on 07-02-2018

Tasting the Past - Book CoverThis book wouldn’t exist had Begos not found himself bored in a hotel room in Jordan. Reaching for a bottle from the minibar, he encountered Cremisan Cellars, and sparked a journey that has culminated in Tasting the Past: The Science of Flavor & the Search for the Origins of Wine.

Begos documents his visits to some of the oldest wine sites in Europe and the Middle East, searching for (but as you’d expect, not conclusively finding) the origins of wine. Along the way he encounters experts, scientists, and passionate winemakers who, each in their own way, are seeking to discover and experience wine in its most ancient forms.

A former MIT Knight Science Journalism fellow, Begos does an excellent job striking a balance between travel writing, history, and science—the science, thankfully, isn’t too heavy handed. What I admire most, however, is his relentless curiosity.

Begos could not shake his desire to learn more about Cremisan’s unusual grapes (Baladi, Jandali, Hamdani) and to understand why, in a world full of thousands of wine grape varieties, each suited to its particular clime, we have limited ourselves to just a handful. Most of it is market driven, of course, but Begos laments how we’ve “rammed the famous [i.e., French] varieties” into so many unsuitable habitats.

A recurring theme in the book is the friction between nature and viniculture: what the vine desires to do and what man makes it do. It’s actually what I found most compelling. For instance, I was surprised to learn (so was Begos, when Swiss grape geneticist Dr. José Vouillamoz told him) that “if you plant the seeds from any grape … the new vine will have different flavors and characteristics.” It seems obvious, until you realize what this actually means, that the varietals familiar to us today have all been propagated through the centuries by cuttings alone.

How had I not known this?

Take Cabernet Sauvignon. It was born of a “vineyard love affair,” as Begos calls it, between Sauvignon Blanc (yes, a white grape) and Cabernet Franc, 200-300 years ago in southwest France. Carole Meredith, plant geneticist at UC Davis, puts it simply: “A single pollen grain landed on a single flower and a single seed grew into a single plant. Every Cabernet Sauvignon vine across the world comes from this one original vine.”

The modus operandi of modern winemaking is to “lock in the tastes but shut down any evolution,” says Begos. But this desire for vinicultural consistency comes at a price.

Because today’s most popular wine grapes exist in a state of arrested evolution, they’re particularly susceptible to pandemic disease (which is what happened during the Irish Potato Famine). Climate change, too, will increasingly come negatively to bear on a world full of vines that have been artificially kept from adapting and evolving. For winegrowers, if Begos’s experts are right, it looks to be a losing battle.

The silver lining here is novelty. There exists the possibility for entirely new varietals with new flavors—flavors not merely coaxed out of existing varietals by the next great winemaking process innovation, but flavors born organically of seed and soil. A few winemakers are already on it, says Begos.

Tasting the Past is a rallying cry for the obscure grape and for regional particularity. I’m on board with that. There’s a great big world out there beyond the French grape.

My Recommendation
There are so many great stories and characters contained within Tasting the Past’s 250 or so pages, and Begos’s journalistic style keeps it all moving. I liked, too, that each chapter concludes with information on how to obtain the wines he discusses (although some are unattainable outside of the wineries themselves). Anyone who wants to know what else is out there, beyond even what your local Total Wine can supply, will want to read this book. Those with a bent toward wine history, paleobotany, or grape genetics will be especially pleased.

Wine Book Reviews: The Wandering Vine

Posted by | Posted in Book Reviews | Posted on 06-16-2018

9781472938442It’s hard to imagine what the “Old World” wine maps would look like today had the Roman Empire never existed. So many lives, cultures, religions, and independent groups of people were crushed under the heel of Rome — but vineyards and wine spread out to almost all corners of Rome’s reach.

To cover the entire history of vineyard expansion under Roman rule would be a daunting task, and likely result in a heavy read. Luckily, Nina Caplan’s travel and wine memoir, “The Wandering Vine: Wine, the Romans and Me,” is a joy to read.

In the introduction, Caplan says her goal is to trace the path of the Romans, “back from England to France, Spain and Italy… an attempt to understand how they conquered the world through wine, and to look at some of the more unlikely consequences of that conquest.” She manages to weave together historical and modern wine stories expertly. Caplan travels from her home of England to Champagne, to Burgundy, to the Rhone, to Provence. She covers lots of Spanish and Italian regions (Barcelona, Tarragona, Seville, Palermo, Naples), and finishes up in Rome.

The story of wine, like the story of people, Caplan writes, is a story of displacement, of constant movement and adaptation. “How much duller our dinner tables would be if people and vines had ever learned to stay still!” she proclaims. “If we are lucky enough to happen on the right soil and left to inhabit it peacefully, we can root ourselves and flourish, to the benefit of all.” Read the rest of this entry »

Book Review: Napa at Last Light, by James Conaway

Posted by | Posted in Book Reviews | Posted on 04-16-2018

Napa at Last Light Book CoverWith Napa at Last Light, James Conaway brings his trilogy on America’s most iconic wine region to a close. His conclusion, based on decades of experience in the region, is that Napa, like so many other once-pure places in America, has been despoiled by commercial interests, and perhaps irrevocably so.

But Conaway does more than state the obvious. He does an excellent job of exploring some of the specific instances of self-interest and political and legal maneuvering, if not outright corruption, that drove Napa to this place.

In 1968, the powers that be in Napa County voted unanimously in favor of the Napa County Agricultural Preserve, an ordinance that established agriculture as the “highest and best use” of land in Napa Valley. Conaway homes in on a “small change” to the ordinance from 2008 that “seemed innocuous but was in fact as potent as an aggressively metastasizing cancer cell.” That change was an eight-word addition (see italics) to the long-held definition of agriculture: “Agriculture is defined as the raising of crops, trees, and livestock; the production and processing of agricultural products and related marketing, sales and other accessory uses.”

This new definition said, in effect, that the activities of wine tourism were just as much a “highest and best use” of Napa land as grape growing.

Napa at Last Light looks at both sides of this battle between agriculture and commercialism, preservation and development, through the stories of individuals and families living in valley. Conaway’s account is, however, highly biased; it’s by no means objective journalism. (He actually describes it as a combination of “narrative journalism and personal reflection.”) Conaway distinctly aligns himself with the farmers and preservationists who hold to the spirit of the original ordinance and the old definition of agriculture, not the “drifting one percenters” who flock to Napa to develop the land and become “lifestyle vintners.”

I understand Conaway’s protective stance toward the place he holds dear and once labeled an American Eden, but I grew tired of his negativity. He tends to draw stark good-vs-evil contrasts, and even gets nasty with the people he dislikes, referring to a group, at one point, as “lucky spermers.” There’s no need for that.

It’s hard to keep track of all the characters in the book, but perhaps the most interesting, even admirable, and foremost among those whom Conaway glowingly profiles, is Randy Dunn, winemaker and owner of Dunn Vineyards. It was Dunn who, in 2005 and 2006, led efforts to acquire and preserve a 3,000-acre parcel of land on Howell Mountain known as Wildlake, even putting up $5 million of his own money. Conaway, who appears to be a friend of Dunn’s, admires the winemaker’s mix of sentimentality, agricultural know-how, and self-determination, and shares the story of the time he helped Dunn safeguard his property against approaching wildfires.

Conaway has a flair for the dramatic. In the wildfire story he imagines a scenario in which the fires have encircled them and he and Dunn are forced to stand in the middle of the property’s pond and listen to the fire consume all that Dunn had built.

You can tell what Conaway dislikes by what he renders absurd. Most notable are his belabored descriptions of Napa’s more opulent attractions, like the Red Room at Raymond Vineyards. But the root of his ire are the wealthy individuals, particularly from Texas (which made me laugh), who, having accumulated their fortune elsewhere, move on Napa like they would any land ripe for development and profit taking.

Conaway’s crosshairs here fall on Craig Hall, owner of HALL Wines and one time part owner of the Dallas Cowboys. Conaway laughs at the décor at Hall’s winery, calls his wine “another overripe cabernet sauvignon reaching for cult status,” and delivers a selective biography with emphasis on Hall’s shortcomings. But Hall’s principal sin is Walt Ranch, a vineyard project, potentially including some other development, which would level thousands of oak trees and steal the water supply from a community of innocent retirees.

While I take issue with Conaway’s unwillingness to take a serious look at opposing viewpoints and his tendency to disparage those he disagrees with, I ultimately come down on his side. Napa is a finite resource and there has to be a line drawn when it comes to development.

A few final comments on the structure of Napa at Last Light.

I admire Conaway’s non-linear approach, but it jumps around a bit too much. The storylines converge and diverge, characters appear and disappear, making it hard to keep everything straight—although the moments when everything clicks together are rewarding. There’s something to be said, too, for simple expression. There’s no need, in my view, for opaque sentences like this one from the first chapter: “The essence of a thing that by virtue of excellence testifies to an aspirational ethos promptly loses it by embracing brand, which is primarily the assertion that one has arrived, whether or not one really has.“

My Recommendation
Napa at Last Light is one-sided and pessimistic, but strangely, still a great read. And few books are timelier. With a major vote on what some consider the fate of Napa to occur in June (for a great overview, see Esther Mobley’s recent article), Conaway’s book is essential background reading that’ll give you at least half the argument.

Book Review: Around the World in Eighty Wines, by Mike Veseth

Posted by | Posted in Book Reviews | Posted on 02-12-2018

book coverWhen a copy of Mike Veseth’s new book hit my doorstep, part of me was hoping for a clever retelling of Jules Verne’s classic novel. (Perhaps featuring the bawdy misadventures of a drunken-yet-loveable Phileas Grogg?) Instead, I found the book to be an interesting if selective exploration of the global wine scene, as well as—much more interestingly and of greatest value—a look ahead at how incredibly dynamic the world of wine will be ten or twenty years from now.

To be clear, Around the World in Eighty Wines isn’t a novel. But Veseth uses Verne’s tale skillfully as a framework for taking readers on a fast-paced, anecdote-filled journey to wine regions at all corners of the globe.

Here are a few of the more memorable stopping points. In Lebanon Veseth introduces us to the Saadé family, Orthodox Christians making wine in the heart of the Middle East, who count inbound rockets among their vine-tending struggles. Off the coast of North Africa we visit Lanzarote, where the winds are so strong that vines are planted in conical depressions in the island’s volcanic ash. In Kenya and Bali—well, have you ever even considered that wine is made in Kenya and Bali? Then there’s Tasmania, which Veseth calls “one of the hottest emerging wine regions on earth.”

Veseth seems to me like the guy who knows all the good bands before they get famous. In fact, you could treat Around the World in Eighty Wines as an insider’s guide to the wines you should seek out and buy now, before their extremely marketable stories hit the global audience and their availability dwindles even further.

You can trust, too, that Veseth knows what he’s talking about, as a prolific author on topics in wine and economics, editor of the blog The Wine Economist, and professor emeritus of international political economy at University of Puget Sound. And in most cases he’s actually visited the places he features in the book.

On a critical note, I think he devotes too much time to America, and the final chapters feel a bit rushed. Also, at the end he deploys a bit of deus ex machina to fill the remaining slots in his imagined 80-bottle case of wine. I would rather have seen him insert another chapter, another visit to a unique wine region, to fill that case.

To sum Around the World in Eighty Wines in one sentence: it’s a concise guidebook, as educational as it is entertaining, to some of wine’s most curious and iconic expressions.

My Recommendation
If you’re interested in expanding your horizons beyond the traditional New and Old World, Veseth will accommodate you with a glimpse at what else is out there. He’s written a wonderful preface to global wine, but you’ll need to grab another resource if you want to go deeper.

Book Review: The New Wine Rules, by Jon Bonné

Posted by | Posted in Book Reviews | Posted on 12-01-2017

The New Wine Rules - CoverIn naming his book The New Wine Rules, Jon Bonné has essentially asserted the authority of his own line in the sand. But hey, someone has to do it. Because in a world of 24-hour opinion sharing, sometimes we need to hit the pause button, collect ourselves, and establish basic guidance for those who, amidst so much noise and so little objectivity, are just trying to enjoy a bottle of wine.

We need, in Bonné’s words, a “framework for embracing this weird, wonderful wine world that we get to live in.”

There’s something for everyone in Bonné’s book, which consists of 89 rules. But it will be especially helpful for beginner wine folks in need of a confidence boost—the two words I think best capture the sentiment of the book. From the five essential wine tools you should own, to the basics of malolactic fermentation, to starting a wine collection for under $300, you’ll get practical information, concisely presented.

Bonné has an impressive resume: senior contributing editor at Punch, author of The New California Wine, wine consultant for JetBlue Airways, and former wine editor and chief wine critic at the San Francisco Chronicle. But he won’t overwhelm you with knowledge. Each rule is pared down for quick consumption and broad understanding.

I particularly enjoy Bonné’s aggressive attempts to wrest wine from a past marked by pretentiousness and exclusivity—“Screw that. Fear was the guiding principle of the past. We’re officially done. Wine is too great a thing to be limited by fear”—and a present drowning in an abundance of choices—“Endless fretting takes place over this simple question: what do I drink with what I eat? … In any case, stop worrying. There is no single perfect pairing. Drink what you like. … We’ll all get out of this alive.”

The New Wine Rules is a sharp book. It’s small (roughly 5”x7”) with a stitched binding and full of crisp, colorful diagrams and pictogram-like illustrations.

My Recommendation
As Bonné says, “Certainly the world doesn’t need another ‘drink this, not that’ book.” I think he’s succeeded in giving us something else: an expert’s compilation of practical advice for the average drinker who wants to talk intelligently with friends and make semi-educated choices for Friday nights and special occasions. It’s an ideal read heading into holiday party season. On that note, I’ll leave you with Rules 81 and 82: “Don’t be the guest who brings the cheap stuff” and “Don’t assume your bottle will get opened.”

Book Review: Drink Progressively, by Hadley and TJ Douglas

Posted by | Posted in Book Reviews | Posted on 11-13-2017

Drink Progressively CoverIt’s difficult to put a new spin on wine, but TJ and Hadley Douglas have done it with Drink Progressively, a gorgeously printed volume capturing the rhyme and reason of their award-winning wine shop, the Urban Grape, in Boston’s South End.

I met with TJ on a recent trip to Boston. Over a few glasses of Pinot, picked right off one of the store’s wall-to-wall racks, he got down to telling me about his Progressive Scale, a 0-10 ranking for white and red wines that enables average and seasoned drinkers alike to make informed buying decisions.

For whites, it starts with the 1Ws. These are oakless, steel-fermented whites with lip-smacking acidity (“lemonade,” says TJ), like Alvarinho from Portugal. It ends with the 10Ws, which see full oak and ML, like the butteriest of California Chardonnays. For reds, 1Rs have bright acidity and low tannins, like Trousseau from the Jura, and 10Rs are jammy with tons of new oak aging, like Syrah from Walla Walla.

The scale moves from light to heavy—or skim to whole milk, as TJ puts it, paying homage to Zraly’s Windows on the World, the book that launched a thousand wine careers.

It’s all meant to minimize the stress of wine selection. For those of us who hate relying on the name-tagged folks walking the aisles at Total Wine, the Urban Grape is a sanctuary. The wines are grouped by their similarities, from light to heavy, and not by region or varietal. It makes everything easy, fun, and actually encourages experimentation, which is one of TJ and Hadley’s ultimate goals.

The scale helps with food pairing too. As the subtitle (A Bold New Way to Pair Wine with Food) suggests, the book is filled with recipes. Each chapter contains a summary of a progressive category (2W, 7W, 6R, etc.), regions where the wines can be found, an example bottle, and two recipes, one from the Douglases and one from award-winning chef Gabriel Frasca. TJ and Hadley’s recipes come right from their family table, simple yet lovingly crafted amidst the hustle and bustle of raising two children. Gabriel’s, on the other hand, are fancier and require a bit more time and effort, but from the pictures they appear well worth it.

The Urban Grape is a labor of love, and that shines through in Drink Progressively. TJ and Hadley’s relationship was forged around wine—special bottles shared, tasting trips to famous regions. TJ provides the vision and content, based on his years of experience in food and wine, and Hadley brings it to life in writing. And because I’m such an appreciator of killer descriptions, I have to call out Hadley’s equating tannin to “a dragging sensation like corduroy pants on a velvet couch.” Nice!

If you’re fortunate enough to live within a reasonable distance of the Urban Grape, visit! If you’re not, Drink Progressively is the next best thing and a truly helpful guide for everyday drinking and pairing.

My Recommendation
Drink Progressively isn’t just a reshuffling of existing information, like many wine “How To” books out there. It’s unique, it’s something special, and it’s an important step, in line with so many others of late, toward making wine more accessible. If you’re interested in experimenting beyond your standard drinking wine, or concerned with learning how to match your meals with a perfect bottle, this book should be on your kitchen shelf—it’s on mine!

Book Review: Italian Wine Unplugged – Grape by Grape

Posted by | Posted in Book Reviews | Posted on 09-10-2017

gI_152111_Book e Tablet fullWhen I began studying wine as an overzealous 22-year-old, I bought a copy of “Italian Wine for Dummies.” It’s actually a good overview of Italian wines, and I sometimes reference it when I forget grape names or legal blending requirements.

But for serious students of wine, and those in the trade who work closely with Italian wines, “Italian Wine Unplugged: Grape by Grape” has everything you could possibly need.

Italian wines, grapes and laws are a labyrinth for wine-loving mortals (like myself), and this book is a master key. It’s written by Stevie Kim, director of the massive trade event Vinitaly, and a lineup of other Italian wine pros. The beta version is now available in e-book for $10, and they’ve set a December 2017 date for the launch of the paperback version.

Basically, this is an encyclopedia of Italian wine grapes (more than 430 of them), which is broken into three sections. The “Must-Know Grapes” section will challenge most serious Italian wine fans. Sure Nebbiolo and Sangiovese are in there, but don’t forget Ciliegiolo and Schioppettino. “Lesser-Known Grapes” gets even more in-depth, with grape names that could cause any Italian wine student to scratch their head — Susumaniello, Tazzelenghe, Uva Rara. Read the rest of this entry »