Customer Reviews: Secrets of the Sommeliers: How to Think and Drink Like the World's Top Wine Professionals
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VINE VOICEon November 2, 2010
Let's start with the worst part of this book: the title. I had to hold my nose and buy it despite the horrible do it yourself, self improvement/self congratulatory vibe of that clumsy moniker. But don't let that keep you from buying this informative and entertaining book, whether you are in the wine trade, a serious amateur, or just a wanna be.

Ed Anderson's excellent photography is one of the draws. There are some really stunning portraits of Dominique Lafon, Jean-Marc Roulot, Freddy Mugnier, Etienne de Montille and others.

Another plus is the collection of biographical sketches of a number of high profile sommeliers -- Larry Stone, Rajat Parr, Daniel Johnnes, Kevin Zraly and others. It's always interesting to read how other people found their true calling.

But the most valuable part of the book is the common sense advice about buying wine, where to find it, and how to cellar and serve it; along with insights into the day to day joys, trials and tribulations of the folks who serve the stuff up in tony restaurants across the land. There are brief profiles of the great wine grapes and the best examples of each -- pinot noir, cabernet, merlot, cabernet franc, and so on. A discussion of the pros and cons of buying wine at auction, and how to find the best deals by avoiding the 'blue chip' names and vintages and using your wine knowledge to get value for money. A discussion of wine and food matching. How to pick your way through a restaurant wine list to find the hidden treasures to be found in just about every good list.

A number of reviewers here appear offended that the book strongly emphasizes the wines of Burgundy. If that bothers you, I suppose you should stay away. If that emphasis doesn't trouble you, or if it might even be a draw, as it is for me, then by all means pick up a copy.

It's a fun ride. Well worth reading. And apparently I'm not alone in that view - this just won a James Beard Foundation award for one of the best food and wine books of the year.
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on December 22, 2010
A great book
Some of the other reviewers completely missed the point of this book. Yes, there's a strong focus on Burgundy and on fine wine in general, but that's what sommeliers do. It's not meant to be a book to teach how you to buy Shiraz at the grocery store, but rather how to blind taste, pair and shop for classic wines. There's no snobbery here, just a love of the truest, purest wines, something I want to know about, and the authors here deliver the goods. In addition, there's stuff here that never gets address, such how to properly serve wine to make your dinner parties better, how to pair with different kinds of fish, and how to recognize different varieties in a blind tasting. I learned so much from this book.
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I have mixed feelings about this book. On one hand I respect the many of the folks mentioned in this book; on the other hand, Parr is portraying their 'clique' as a group of rock stars that have impeccable palates. The tone gets very cocky, though never really condescending.

I also looked into a few things. In the beginning of the book the authors (Mr. Parr being one of them - shame on him for using the third person!) speak of studying for the MS exams. Ironically Mr. Parr does not actually have an MS certification, though the tone and wording of this introduction suggest otherwise.

For a better and much more humble (and better written) book by a wine industry professional check these out:
Red, White, and Drunk All Over: A Wine-Soaked Journey from Grape to Glass
Reading between the Wines: With a New Preface

I expected secrets of the sommeliers to be either: a) good look into what makes a good sommelier, or b) a look into the experience of becoming a sommelier. I did expect some funny stories, maybe some humor... But what the book needs a dose of humility. First Parr discusses his own rise to becoming a sommelier (in 3rd person mind you...), then he has short bios on other wine industry professionals, but this comes as more of a 'shout out' to his friends who have worked towards their MS (Master Sommelier) certification.

The next section is a brief bio of grapes, but Parr gives three examples of each, the top two usually being unattainable for regular folks, the third, a value wine but often very obscure (and obviously chosen because I think Mr. Parr respects and enjoys the rarity). Actually the listings under riesling were the few that are more available (though Donnhoff sells out quickly at most retailers).

This isn't a book to really learn anything from. If anything it comes across as a self congratulation of sorts. Many of the stories discuss secretive midnight tastings and blind tastings where everyone is guessing region and vintage (it's tougher than it looks). I've hit up several of these types of tastings with other restaurant folks, and they're not that mysterious. Usually we would have a few open bottles from each of our restaurants, perhaps a few others. Nobody was bringing in $2000 bottles of DRC, I find it hard to really believe that's happening every day. And even if it is, it really comes across as rather boastful. When we ended up with Ridge Monte Bello, Chateau Margaux (from an average year), and Chateau Lafite-Rothschild we were tickled!

For wine education stick with the Sotheby's, Johnson's Atlas, and Robinson's Oxford. For entertainment, go with one of the aforementioned titles. Or read: An Ideal Wine: One Generation's Pursuit of Perfection - and Profit - in California. Parr's book interested me as a wine industry professional, but I think that he geared this towards the fawning crowd that hangs on celeb chef's and somm's every words. It's part of the Twitter following crowd that I think this would appeal to. Those either in awe of Parr's amazing talent, or those who are unfamiliar with the world of top flight Sommeliers. They will probably read this and either be turned off, or think that these guys are gods.
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on February 5, 2011
I am not sure why sommeliers get so excited about Rajat Parr. My wife thinks that this is a great read and chock full of knowledge. I am a lowly wine layman and find this book plodding, conceitful, and far too self-congratulatory. A couple of random points:

1) His summary dismissal of Rioja is offensive. There are plenty of lousy riojas but many amazing wines as well with low alcohol and good acids.
2) His inclusion of "All-Time Favorites" wines is absurd. 1870 Laffite? 1947 Cheval Blanc? I'll make sure to pick up a bottle or two next time I have a hundred thousand dollars laying around.
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on October 2, 2011
This book was a joy to read. I am a wine novice yet I am eager to learn about wines and the culture of wine. The book is well written, engaging, and highly educational without being the least bit pretentious. Raj Parr is considered by many a celebrity sommelier, and his reputation is well earned. He is leading the way for a new group of young sommeliers and wine lovers with methods to better approach and appreciate wines. Reading the book helped me better select wines, find great values, and have a strategy when I see a wine list or go into a wine store. I can now pick a great wine and have a better experience. The book provides a solution for moving beyond Robert Parker scores and gives you the information to be your own person and understand what you like, not what scores tell you that you should like. I have read many wine books and this is clearly the best. I continue to use it as my primary reference guide. It is full of fabulous photographs and is a beautiful book worthy of being left on the coffee table. I highly recommend it.
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on December 21, 2010
Many of the wine books out there are either straight buying guides, which can be useful but make for dull reading; or they are doorstop-style reference books that are valuable for experts but generally TMI for everyone else. Parr's book gives consumers loads of great info on buying and appreciating wines, layered with an in-depth behind the scenes look into the world of fine wine services, from the perspective of someone who has total access. His personal story is fascinating, as are the portraits of some of the top sommeliers from around the country. It's a great read for aspiring professionals and pretty much anyone who has an interest in the wine world.
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on February 4, 2014
Rajat Parr is ... unique. I've had enough people I trust enjoy his Sandhi wines (haven't tried yet myself) to believe he actually does know a bit about wine. He definitely has an ego, though. I think the main reason he chose to have a writing partner on this book was so someone else could be amazed at how awesome he is.

The good stuff, the wine recommendations, is very good. The interesting stuff is interesting, as long as you can tolerate bowing down to Parr's greatness every few pages. Makes you realize how good a writer Bourdain actually is. Writing about yourself in a way that doesn't come across as self-obsessed is hard. I hope that Parr can figure it out for his next book, as I'm sure he does have a lot of knowledge to share.
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on September 24, 2015
First, the good: This book is entertaining and a quick read. There is some very good information here, but you must understand that most of it is based on Parr's opinions (many of which are Burgundy-centric).

The problem with this book is the extreme bias that actually takes away from the book in a major way. First, a little background. In the wine world, there is a Burgundy vs. Bordeaux debate. It's actually a little silly, because both regions make fantastic wines. Parr (who writes the book in the 3rd person) is obviously on the side of Burgundy. Unfortunately, this bias and personal taste led him to omit and unfairly criticize Bordeaux (and California Napa as well). But the worst foul is that he is blatantly wrong on many points.

First of all, he devotes almost no attention whatsoever to Bordeaux, certainly one of the most important wine regions in the world. It's a shame that someone who is new to wine would read this book and draw conclusions on this amazing wine region based on missing and misleading information. These are the major issues:

1) In the 'Wine List' section to discuss the wine regions, 1/2 of a page is devoted to Bordeaux (compared to 22 pages for Burgundy). He explains that he doesn't really pay much attention to Bordeaux, but wait, six of his 'top ten' wines are from Bordeaux. These include 1870 Lafite, 1921 Petrus, and 1847 d'Yquem. This comes off as more bragging about his own tasting experiences more than justifying his appreciation for Bordeaux.
2) He states 'I do not buy new vintages' of Bordeaux. I guess he doesn't realize that the last 10-15 years in Bordeaux has been the best run in the history of the region. This is bad advice to give others.
3) Worst of all is his statement that 'Bordeaux is less appealing than almost anywhere else' for visiting. False statement #1: 'You are never taken to a vineyard.' Wrong; I have been taken to more vineyards in Bordeaux than you could imagine (from unclassified to first growths), and I'm not nearly as 'important' as Parr. False statement #2: 'The interaction is with businesspeople and technical winemakers.' Wrong again; I have met many winemakers throughout Bordeaux, and again, I'm not as important as Parr. I'm guessing that when Parr visited Bordeaux, they didn't roll out the red carpet for him, which obviously upset him.

I don't want this review to sound like I am slamming his book; again, this is a worthy read. However, in this current version, I would never recommend such a biased account to anyone who is new to wine. If he ever decides to update this with a new edition, he needs to seriously consider adding more Bordeaux and California content.
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on February 17, 2014
Well written coverage of all essentials to kick start a foray into serious wine buying and selling. The parts on blind tasting are impressive but I cannot imagine ever nailing a premium label right down to the nearest village. Not farfetched but it must have required zillions of tastings. I can appreciate the book as some of the obscure names are already known. I would recommend to someone who already has basic wine appreciation. Switzerland was not covered, why?
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on July 7, 2015
Wellwritten, but absolutely an elitist book.
You should read it, and keep it in the library, to establish an upper baseline for wine quality and knowledge..

Dont fool yourself into thinking that you will be drinking anything from the wineries mentioned in this book - if you where able to do that, you would have your own sommelier on standby ;)

But if you strive to find bottles having just 10% of the quality of the wines named, you will be a happy little drinker anyway :)
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