What is the difference between an Amancenista and a Manzanilla sherry? How large was the 1859 grands crus classification in Bordeaux?
If the answers to these questions do not spring rapidly to mind, André Dominé’s book Wine is the place to look them up. This book is a comprehensive overview of the world’s wine regions and what they produce. It’s certain to resolve those annoying doubts that spring up as you gaze at a bottle on the shelf and wonder if you should pull out the plastic.
Overview is perhaps the key word in regard to this book. It is more a work of reference than something you will want to read—the style is strictly encyclopedic. The book is illustrated in much the same style, with copious photos, diagrams, and charts wherever deemed necessary. It is also carefully indexed, so it is not hard to find what you are looking for.
Nonetheless, Wine gives all the basics that you need to know when choosing between a Pauillac and a Pomerol or if you are confronted with an amazing wine from Cyprus that you’ve never heard of and want to understand how it’s made.
Mr. Dominé covers all the essentials: Grape varieties, differences in soil from region to region, regional style, etc. all are dealt with in the necessary detail.
As is always true of this kind of book, the more you know about a given wine region, the less you will be satisfied with Mr. Dominé’s capsule descriptions. For example, some Italian wines from Sicily have become world-class in recent years, but Mr. Dominé does not mention them. The book is extremely traditional, and touches on all the surest producers; however, if you don’t know those in a given region, you can be sure to find them here.
For example, if you’ve always wondered why Chateau Pétrus is one of the three most expensive wines in the world, Mr. Dominé has a succinct but entirely accurate explanation: “The speciality of Pétrus is its terroir; the soils of the plateau consist primarily of loam, with ferrous layers in the subsoil. The loam gives the wines their sumptuous round fullness, which always prevails over the noticeable tannins, while the iron is purportedly responsible for the truffle aromas that develop as the wine ages.”
Now, if terms like tannin and aroma are strange to you, you’ll find a good, equally succinct explanation of them in Mr. Dominé’s book. Or, if you’re trying to explain to your wife why you laid out a fortune for a bottle of Pomerol, this book will give you a handy justification (I have already made use of it twice!).
Even a really experienced amateur of wine will be grateful to have this book handy on the shelf, ready to resolve questions about areas of wine drinking that have not yet been experienced. Pick up one and tuck it away. Sooner or later you’ll need it.
The companion book to Wine, The Ultimate Bar Book, is a bit of a misnomer, at least as far as we Americans are concerned. Say “bar,” in the U.S., and one thinks of gin, vodka, rum, whiskey, and various cocktails. Mr. Dominé’s bar book goes well beyond this, to discuss Italian grappa and Spanish brandy, and lots of more exotic drinks that one doesn’t find normally in a bar on Madison Avenue.
Mr. Dominé does give succinct descriptions of gin, vodka, etc., and they are welcome. This writer likes Tanqueray, for example, but had no idea really of what made it a special gin. Here’s why: “The juniper berries are hand-picked in September in Tuscany. The coriander comes from the Crimea, and the angelica root from Saxony. . . . a very tactile spirit—anyone who likes their martini extra-dry should try Tanqueray.” This left me both shaken and stirred.
You’ve probably tried Tanqueray, but you may never have tasted a marc de Borgogne, for example, which is distilled from what’s left over after you make wine out of grapes. A classic product of France, great marc is aged in new wood casks for eight years, and then in used casks for two years. It takes on a coppery color, but gives off a complex nose and a balanced round taste in the mouth.
On the other hand, I’ve never tried Hpnotiq, a blend of vodka, cognac, and exotic fruit juices that, the book tells me, is a big success with yuppies. Now I’ve got some stocked away to pull out and impress the appropriate people who, inevitably, will appear at a party.
That’s the kind of thing you can learn from this book. It, too, is copiously illustrated, and written in the encyclopedic style—which is easy to read but not very entertaining.
The subject area that receives especially detailed attention is whiskey. The book traces the history of the drink then explains the growing and production, with careful attention paid to the factors that differentiate taste. There is as much attention paid to American Bourbon as there is to single-malt Scotch. Whiskey fanciers will find this long chapter in the book well worth reading. The rest of us can tuck it away on the shelf, and when those bottles come in at Christmas, we can amaze our friends with our detailed understanding of smoked versus unsmoked peat content, or sources of water—and all that.