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There Is a Bumper Crop of Good Books for Wine Collectors to Harvest

December 17, 1989|DAN BERGER | TIMES WINE WRITER

Sometime soon my library of wine books will exceed in size and weight my collection of wine. The latest wave of literary efforts about uvas frumenti is a tsunami of vinous verbiage.

As a certified wine loony with more than 300 cases of wine to my name (not to mention the name of my next of kin), the growth of my bookshelves in recent weeks indicates as much interest in gabbing about wine as in consuming it.

Wine has always provoked lots of people to put quill to parchment and fingers to keyboard, from Horace to Hemingway and the Bible to Buchwald. Wine books abound, with so much already said about this subject that each new publishing season sparks in me a skeptic's caution along with a wine lover's curiosity.

In the past, much of the wine literature was a rehash, featuring listings of Cru Beaujolais, the 1855 Classification and a lot of retelling of myths that are apocryphal but which sound good.

Much as I'd like to decry all the new writings about wine as repetitious, a lot of the new stuff is very good, ostensibly because there are more and more intelligent and witty people contributing to the literature.

I recently lavished high praise on Hugh Johnson's new book "Vintage" (Simon & Schuster, $39.95), the book of the year for wine buffs.

Here are a few other books on wine that are worth considering for yourself or for a dedicated collector. All are recommended.

Red Wine With Fish by David Rosengarten and Joshua Wesson (Simon & Schuster: $19.95, 298 pages) .

News and social commentary magazines are having a field day with the Conventional Wisdom (CW, as Newsweek abbreviates it), and the authors of this groundbreaking book open their text with a charming excursion into the CW, with examples of wines that work with various foods and wines that don't.

Barbara Ensrud's 1984 book "Wine With Food" righted some of the wrongs about wine/food pairings. Rosengarten and Wesson, with a sense of joy and wit, leap headlong into the subject with a multilayer approach.

They note that some wines complement the dish they are served with, others offer a contrast, and that choosing a wine to go with a particular main ingredient in a dish is impossible unless all the ingredients in a recipe are known.

So recipes are included, along with a periodic quiz (to see if you're paying attention) and a concluding 50-page summary of the wines of the world categorized by style and type, by expected flavors and aromas and even vintage recommendations.

This is an energetic and original work written with verve that is worth being in the library of every wine lover who eats now and then.

The Story of Champagne by Nicholas Faith (Facts on File: $21.95, 246 pages) .

Faith first came to my attention with a superb narrative history book on the Bordeaux region called "The Winemasters" (Harper & Row, 1978), in which the socio-political elements of the region were woven almost National Enquirer-like with the wine and the scandals that have been carefully soft-pedaled throughout the centuries.

In this new work, Faith uses a less gossipy style, but with the tone of a romanticist and the precision of a historian he captures the flavor of the Champagne region and discusses the relationships between the people who are its headliners.

There are no in-depth tasting notes (Tom Stevenson's book "Champagne" is better in this regard). Also, there is only a brief discussion of the production techniques that help make the Serena Sutcliffe book, also called simply "Champagne," so worthwhile.

In Faith's compact, readable effort, the true wine lover will find a lot to savor.

Making Sense of Wine by Matt Kramer (William Morrow: $16.95, 207 pages).

The wine writer for the Oregonian in Portland explores some new ground in this book, which is essentially a series of essays on various subjects strung together under the concept that they are wine-related. And much of what Kramer says is interesting and worth chewing on, even if some of it is not particularly new and a few of his "facts" are still on-going debates.

I did, though, agree with a number of his conclusions, such as the importance of place in the consistency of a wine, and one line impressed me:

"Now, numerous wine critics contend that the 'who' of wine making is more important than the 'where' of wine growing," which is followed by a backhand slap at Christian Moueix for putting his picture on the label of the expensive Dominus red wine.

A minor criticism of the Kramer book: Some it clearly was written for the dedicated enophile, other parts for the novice. Thus there are portions of it that will bore the true wine lover, and other parts that appear to be so arcane that the novice will wonder what's what.

Overall, though, I enjoyed the tone of this work, even if a few of the references are a bit of a stretch (in spots he compares wine to boxers, to music and even to Greek myth). It is recommended for those who have gone past the primer stage and own a budding cellar.

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