I love, love, love this book. Now that I have gotten that off my chest, let me tell you why it deserves to be purchased, studied, underlined and used as a guide to your next foray into a well stocked wine store.
Don't be put off by the breezy title and very readable text. This book is packed with not just information about the world of wine, but the author's deep and appreciative knowledge of wine. Using her ongoing conversation with Rolling Stone movie critic Peter Travers as a ruse, Teague treats her readers to a mind expanding and encyclopedic approach to the subject that goes far beyond naming the six Basic Grapes and how to recognize and pair a balanced wine with food.
What I loved most about this book was the fact that the author took me on a fascinating tour of every place in the world where wine is produced, and explained in detail why that region is important, how the wines are (or are not) organized for the consumer, and what makes them distinctive. But this is not just a geography lesson; this is the meat of the book and this is what will enable the reader to make informed purchases at the wine store. Amazingly, Teague manages to convey this information in just the right amount of detail, in a highly readable and simple (but not over simple), way.
The first of these chapters covers France, beginning with a lesson on the Bordeaux classification system of wines and how to navigate it wisely today. Here were the names of famous wine producing chateaux I recognize, but for the first time in my life Teague puts those names in a context I can begin to understand. She describes the differences between the left vs. the right bank of the Gironde estuary, their chateaux wine styles, the first through fifth growth classes of wines and what it means. She then goes on to describe the other major regions (Burgundy, Cote D'Or, Alsace, the Loire Valley, the Rhone Valley, Champagne), with notes on specific producers of wines she recommends in each area.
The section on France alone is well worth the price of the book. But Teague goes on to describe the complex and fascinating wine making environments of other Old World Wines of Italy, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Austria and Hungary. The next section of the book treats the New World Wine regions: Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Chile, New York State, Oregon and Washington State, and California. Throughout, she gives her readers the inside scoop on where to look for good value wines at affordable prices.
But Teague's book is not simply a superb world tour of winemaking (and it is that). She begins with brief but vital chapters that address such questions as "What makes a wine great?" and "How to Taste Wine". Instead of distracting the reader with a laundry list of scent and taste descriptors to search for in a glass of wine, Teague puts even the act of tasting into a context of the total experience, and how to maximize that experience. There is real wisdom here.
There are little bonuses of information I can use throughout the book. For instance, Lettie Teague informs us how the shape and color of the bottle gives important clues about the type of wine it holds. Is the bottle neck wide, or narrow and sloped? Is the glass clear or deeply opaque? I will never look at a wine bottle the same way again, and now can read it's clues at a glance as I wend my way through a store.
I love wine, but I confess that walking into a wine store has, in the past, filled me with a sense of being overwhelmed and intimidated by the bottles on offer. Now, after reading Teague's book, I feel excited and curious. I can hardly wait to make my next visit to a well stocked wine store. I feel ready to begin to explore the world of wine in a completely new way, with a sense of context and anxious to discover that elusive sense of "terroir" in a wine I keep hearing about. Now, instead of thinking merely "red or white, and which grape variety will complement my menu plan?" I will think "Which region of the world do I want to taste, and which apellation is likely to please my palate as well as my budget?" I plan to use Teague's book as a guide for my exploration.
At the end of Teague's book, there is a multiple choice quiz for her friend Peter (and the reader) to test what we have learned. Through the test, the author winks at us but also indicates the enormous amount of ground covered in the book. And although I was not always charmed by the use of Peter as a learning companion, his metaphors from the movie business as an art form to help me understand what Lettie was saying was useful and at times entertaining.
My one suggestion to improve the book would be the inclusion of maps.
Highly recommended. Buy it here.