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Summer Books for the Wine Lover

July 20, 1989|DAN BERGER | Times Wine Writer

Before sitting on that suitcase and clicking it shut for the last time, traveling wine lovers may want to toss in reading material devoted to passing the time entertainingly, and two new wine books do just that joyously.

One I can recommend without hesitation is "Thinking About Wine," subtitled, "Insights for the Enthusiast," by Elin McCoy and John Frederick Walker ($18.95, Simon & Schuster).

The book has a marvelously casual approach, as well as sensible organization that permits you to read sections of it in bare minutes, and other sections may take half an hour. Divided into seven general topics, the book actually has five dozen minichapters on literally dozens of subjects ranging from aeration of wine to general thoughts about California wines and even what to do when you go to a dinner party at a home that always serves crackling rose.

The authors, wine editors for Food and Wine magazine, write engagingly and without pretense, show their sense of fun when appropriate and debunk enough myths for the book to have another subtitle: Fun reading and certainly worth taking on vacation.

Foodies will absolutely flip over "Jancis Robinson's Food and Wine Adventures," ($17.95, David & Charles), not least because of the (intentionally) supercilious tone.

I have dined with Tony and Jancis Robinson and know them to be delightfully unpompous folk. She is the British Master of Wine whose BBC "Wine Programme" is respected in England.

Creativity, Excitement

So the fact that she talks here about how to match taramosalata (mullet roe paste) and Zinfandel, red wine with fish, Vin Santo and biscotti belies the fact that what's up here is creativity and excitement in dining.

Few of the food-wine combinations listed are traditional, and many of the 27 small chapters (crammed into less than 90 pages, illustrated, no less) seem as if they would have received an A+ had they been graded by the late Prof. George Saintsbury, after whose "Notes on a Cellar-Book," considered the classic wine-food work of all time, this appears to be patterned.

Except where Saintsbury was a pedantic writer, Robinson is bel canto and the result is a pure joy of sensual delights.

Another book worth seeking out for the truly dedicated wine-nut is "From Vines to Wines," subtitled, "The Complete Guide to Growing Grapes and Making Your Own Wine" by Jeff Cox, ($10.95, Garden Way Publishing).

To be sure, this is a somewhat technical book, but if you have ever considered making wine at home, either from grapes you grow, grapes you buy, or from grape juice concentrate, this book will give you every step of the process, with diagrams, charts and drawings.

If you're planning to visit the wine country of the Pacific Northwest, two new books are out, "Northwest Wine Country," by Ronald and Glenda Holden ($12.95, Holden Pacific) and "American Wines of the Northwest," by Corbet Clark ($19.95, William Morrow & Co.). The Holden book is the better of the two, but probably not as easily obtained.

Both books rank the wines of Oregon, Washington and Idaho, but the Holdens, longtime residents of Seattle, include label reproductions and directions on how to visit each property. They even rate the quality of the visit.

'Parker Guide'

Another recent wine book release is "Parker's Wine Buyer's Guide," by Robert M. Parker Jr. ($25.95 hardcover; $15.95 paperback, Simon & Schuster). It's hard to recommend this book because of what I feel are some major inconsistencies in its premise.

Parker is a former attorney and probably the most influential wine evaluator today through his privately published publication, the Wine Advocate.

In this massive book (900-plus pages), Parker essentially reviews wines, rating them on a 100-point scale. I have problems with numbering systems, so won't discuss this aspect of the book except to note that Parker typically likes a style of wine I find too ponderous.

However, I feel Parker's ratings of some wines may be based, to a degree, on expectations. Some wineries seem to get very favorable treatment (for what I consider to be eccentric styles), and other wineries are treated poorly even though the wines have received wide plaudits in other forums.

My main criticism with this book, however, is with the research on the California wines. It appears sloppy, and errors pop up frequently. A few examples:

--Much material is out of date. (For example, Cassayre-Forni is listed as a good producer. The winery has been out of business for six years.)

--Some statements are made that are simply wrong. (For example, Soda Rock Winery is listed as "a new winery." It was founded in 1880.)

--There are some holes in the text. (Schramsberg Vineyards and John Culbertson Winery, two of California's top sparkling wine producers, are not rated at all.)

--Many vintages evaluated are long since off the shelf and unavailable, which in a buyer's guide is little help.

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