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Great Wine Made Simple: Straight Talk from a Master Sommelier Hardcover – September 27, 2005
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About one-third of the way through Andrea Immer's Great Wine Made Simple, the author recounts an anecdote that could serve as the book's theme--alligator, rabbit, and squab were all introduced to her the same way: "Tastes like chicken." And as demonstrated by Immer, who went from debentures to de Rothschild when she quit Morgan Stanley to eventually oversee the 50,000-bottle cellar at Manhattan's famed Windows on the World, the leap from pigeon to Pichon-Lalande is analogous: teaching novice wine drinkers what to expect is what her book, aptly subtitled "Straight Talk from a Master Sommelier", is all about.
With emphasis on her "Big Six" varietals--Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon--this "Immer-sion" class of tastings lets amateur sippers differentiate the typical qualities of each, while illustrating wine terms such as dry, crisp, oaky, and tannic. Practical advice abounds; one chapter devotes itself to finding useful info on a wine label while avoiding "Stupid Label Tricks," those bits of puffery or unfamiliar flavors (how many have actually tasted lychee or red currant?) that can be confusing the average buyer. And her "Flavor Map" concept--dividing the wine world into three climate zones--eschews memorization in favor of some rudimentary geography.
Throughout, her pronunciation guides are accurate and personable ("If you're pronouncing 'Riesling' right you have to smile."); and she provides a great postgraduate curriculum of buying strategies, including the pros and cons of wine shops versus your nearest Costco; and a consumer advisory about restaurant's "award-winning wine lists." --Tony Mason --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
“Andrea Immer makes wine education simple and fun. One of America’s bestsommeliers has written one of the year’s best wine books!”—Robert G. Mondavi
“Without doubt the finest introduction to wine tasting and food and wine pairing I have read. This book is an excellent addition to the libraries of both professionals and aficionados.”—Frederick Dame, M.S., president, Court of Master Sommeliers
“Well organized, succinct, clear, and precise are the adjectives that best describe this Cartesian book on wines. Great Wine Made Simple will educate you without boring you and will lead you joyfully and expertly through the intricate world of the master sommelier.”—Claudine Pépin and Jacques Pépin
Top customer reviews
1. By the time you get through the first few chapters and do the exercises, you'll know more useful things about wine than the vast majority of people.
2. What you'll know, you will be able to remember. The lessons learned in the book are simple and the tastings make them tangible.
3. This book removes the pretention from wine and simplifies the subject dramatically without reducing meaning. It starts from common red and white grapes - then what some common attributes of wines produced from those grapes are (oaky, tannic, etc.) It proceeds with explaining how climate effects grapes, and proceeds into Old World/New World distinctions, aged wines, and unusual wines.
When first learning about wine, I started with the "Dummies" book but wasn't pleased - I found it didn't make any attempt to provide a framework for understanding. It started with "France", and then proceeded to "Bordeaux" and "Burgundy", pointing out every village and Xth Growth estate. And then went country by country, with bits of knowledge here and there. I finished the book feeling like I knew less than when I started. This book was much simpler but provided much greater knowledge.
For a while, anyway, you can keep costs under control following the tastings in this book. Still, figure that bottle cost will be upwards of $1000-1500 to get through all the tastings, if that's your objective.
There are dozens of wine grapes, but Robinson reduces this complexity by emphasizing the "Big Six." These are three white grapes (riesling, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay) and three red grapes (pinot noir, merlot/cabernet sauvignon, syrah or shiraz) that provide most of the world's quality wines. Each group of three is listed in ascending order of body style, i.e., light, medium, or full. She clarifies these styles by comparing their weight, richness, and thickness in the mouth to skim milk, whole milk, and cream. Robinson then lays out tasting sequences with easily available wines that show the distinctive quality and body of each grape. You quickly get an idea of the world's primary wine styles.
In the succeeding chapters on taste, Robinson recommends that you taste wines side by side in carefully chosen pairs that will highlight key tastes. This method is far superior to tasting one wine at a sitting. Wines can generate a seemingly infinite number of tastes and here Robinson simplifies things by concentrating on pairs of wine that exemplify the major style terms of dry, crisp, oaky, tannic, buttery, grassy, spicy, floral, and Old World vs. New World.
In another great innovation, Robinson introduces flavor maps of the wine world combining where grapes are grown with climates. The maps are a bit hard to read at first, but well worth the effort, because they help you predict what a wine will taste like once you know where it's from. For example, white grapes grown in cool climates may produce light bodied wines with apple or pear flavors while white grapes grown in warm climates may produce full bodied wines with pineapple or mango flavors. I found the flavor maps to be the most valuable part of the book, because they help you organize the world's wines into a system that explains why they taste the way they do.
The remainder of the book is more conventional in its approach, with surveys of French, Italian, American regions and so on followed by such topics as shopping for wine, wine and food, and wine gear. In these sections, Robinson continues to communicate key information about wine without oversimplifying.
I think Great Wine Made Simple does make a few missteps. A major omission is that only the briefest mention is made of serving temperatures. She does note that whites tend to be served too cold and reds too warm. Robinson's 2008 Wine Buying Guide for Everyone, which I also highly recommend, does a satisfactory job explaining how to serve various types of wine; but I like Andrew Oldman's general rule that white wines should be chilled for several hours and then removed 15 minutes before serving while reds should be refrigerated for 15 minutes before serving. Robinson could have said more about how to analyze the finish of a wine. Here I like the approach of her mentor, Kevin Zraly at Windows of the World in New York City, who describes what you should expect at fifteen second intervals in the minute or so after you have swallowed the wine.
Robinson occasionally criticizes other wine writers for being too technical. In part she does this because she feels that beginners will lose interest when confronted with overly technical prose, but this assumes that readers don't know how to select a basic introduction to wine as opposed to a more advanced book. Robinson's ideas easily stand on their own and are not strengthened by disparagement of those who write at a more detailed level or use specialized wine terminology.
To end, my criticisms are minor compared to Robinson's substantial achievement. She has assembled an impressive apparatus for appreciating wine. My wine knowledge increased by several orders of magnitude after having read her book, and I know I will be returning to it for years to come.