Monday, April 27, 2009

Wine Literature

When people ask me "how do you know so much about wine?" I never know how to respond to the question. I have been very fortunate to acquire my knowledge from a number of sources. My first and most important was my year long stint in California. I had an affinity for the beach so I spent a lot of time traveling to the coast to go surfing on the weekends. Low on funds and of age I found that I could drink my way to the beach. Spending most of my time in the Central Coast (Paso Robles, Monterey County, Carmel) I was able to see first hand the wine making process. It also gave me insight to this amazing culture that I am now a part of.

When I relocated back to St. Cloud in May of 2005 to open the Veranda at Pioneer Place on Fifth I was taken under the wing of a local expert, Jeff Anderson. Jeff was an amazingly intelligent man when it came to wine, and he was able to teach me some of the basics about wine, but I was always lost trying to memorize terms and regions. Then I connected with another local expert Keith Stanhill. Keith grew up in California and was well read in all areas of wine. He was able to show me how much fun wine was while passing on a message that made sense.

After learning all I could from talking with those two, as much as I possibly could, I started reading trade magazines. The first subscription I bought was to the infamous Wine Spectator. This magazine is absolutely the industry standard, whether you care for it or not. It is a common place for us to come and find relief from all of the different wines that are destined to confuse us. The Spectator came up with a universal rating system and through tasting I was able to taste along with them, identifying what they deemed "quality wines". Since those days my palate and interests have changed but they are still a magnificent base for the consumer, novice and connoisseur alike.

I later subscribed to Decanter Magazine, a great industry magazine for people looking for some dynamite wines. I like Decanter for the unique wines that they seek and rate. Of course there is the ever famous Wine Advocate published by the great Robert Parker. I like Parker because I have found that he is able to taste a lot of wines that I may not have access to or the funds to purchase and I can sift through his rating system creating my own. For example if he gives the rating of 95 points to wine, I am destined not to like it. It will be big, full bodied, alcoholic and rugged (not all bad things). But I come to enjoy the well balanced finesse of some of his lower rated wines. If he gives a wine a lower rating of say 88 points I know it is still good quality, but has less of the giant characteristics he and quite frankly America has come to love.

Then comes my favorite wine magazine, Gourmet Traveller:Wine (that's right, two l's on Traveller), voted the world's best drink magazine, by who I don't know, but in the same breath I do not care. This magazine is written and published in Australia. It takes an in depth look at Australia, New Zealand and sometimes South Africa and France. The best part about this magazine is that it does not even acknowledge the United States. In the publication if they ever even mention America, which is rare, they usually find a way to poke at the American palate and degrade our wine styles. I am not saying I agree with, please don't misunderstand me, what I am saying is it is great to get a different perspective on the world of wine. Of all the wine producing regions in the world I would argue that Australia's over production of bulk wines has flooded the market and cause domestic producers to find a new angle, because the Jug wine market is cornered. Again do not assume that I do not care for Aussie wines either, to me there is nothing better than a Clare Valley Riesling on a hot day. Or maybe a Coonawarra Cab with my steak dinner. Or maybe a spicy McLaren Vale Shiraz to spice up my Thai dish (HOT!).

After reading more and more trade magazines I decided to jump in and get a bona fide wine book. But when I went to Barnes and Noble to pick one up I was overwhelmed by the number of titles available. How was I to know what I wanted to learn? So here are a few hints to help you with what you are looking for. The Oxford Companion by Jancis Robinson is a great reference for people looking for all of the facts including the history dating back to the settlement of that particular region. Great book to read at night if you are having trouble falling asleep. We use it in our Sommelier Degree Program as a great reference tool. Jancis Robinson and Hugh Johnson have created a book entitled the World Atlas of Wine. This book has great maps and when you are sitting down and enjoying a bottle it is fun to look through and see exactly where the winery or vineyard is in that particular sub region. Her text is perfect for an intro book, not too much information, and she has a great section about varietals.

I stay away from Joanna Simon, although people, especially novices, seem to like her. She is intelligent, I just have a tough time reading her books. However her book Wine and Food is unmatched in the industry. I really like Andrea Immer's Great Wine Made Simple, it was one of the first books I ever read about wine. She does a great job of providing practical applications and helping the reader create tasting groups, themes, and refining their palate.

The last book I will talk about is Karen McNeil's Wine Bible. This is a great reference tool as well as a good read. She writes like she speaks and she is easy to understand. I really enjoy her book and while not all of the information is perfect, it is really good. And no wine book for that matter will ever be perfect. With the ever changing wine laws and Spain's inability to stick with the same rules for more than a week, there is never an up to date book. However these books and magazines are some great insight in to wonderful world of wine. So there, that is how I learned so much about wine!

Nicholas Barth
Cru Wine Specialists
Wine Director

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