The Wall Street Journal Guide to Wine - New and Improved (How to Buy, Drink, and Enjoy Wine) by Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher

345 pages; Black and white, No photographs, a few sketches. Hardcover
Broadway Books, New York 2002
Reviewed by Dayna Spector for Good Cooking, Inc., 12/02

Can a complete wine novice find some help? I enjoy good wine, but admittedly, I don't know much about it. I'm a foodie, not a winey! I buy the same wines, from the same winemaker, never giving in to the adventure of trying something new. Let's face it; if you don't know a lot about wine, it's very intimidating to walk into a wine shop. I have a bottle of something or other that's been in my fridge for almost a year. A wine merchant recommended it, so I bought it. I have no idea what it is.

I set out to get a little help in this big, wide world of wines when I picked up this book. Written by the husband and wife team who write the weekly "Tastings" column in the Wall Street Journal, and authors of the book "Love by the Glass: Tasting Notes from a Marriage", this 322 page guide to buying, drinking and enjoying wine is broken up into 5 sections, covering White, Red, Sparkling, Dessert Wines and a "This and That" section, covering such things as Zinfandel, Ros , Bargain Wines, Kosher Wines, as well as some unusual American wines.
I was intrigued immediately just by reading the Table of Contents. With such sub-headings as "How to Open Champagne Without Killing Anybody", "Do Vintages Matter? Sure. But Should You Care?", and one that particularly spoke to me, "How to Remember That Wine You Liked, with the Green Label". I was excited to find out how, exactly, I would go about doing that.

More of a how to buy than a what to buy, this book is like a self-help book for the grape-challenged. Although it's probably too elementary for an expert wine drinker, I found it perfect for the novice-intermediate person who just wants to learn more and have more confidence when it comes to wine. What I found was a book filled with helpful, easy to understand information about different types of wines and how to purchase and drink them. It's not a list of wines to buy, but instead, it's filled with no-nonsense, practical and fun information about how to enjoy wine, void of any pretense or snooty recommendations. I actually enjoyed reading this book. These authors are people whose livelihood is encompassed with everything there is to know about wine, but the emphasis here is all about enjoying wine, not agonizing over it.

The book offers practical advice on how to choose wine in a restaurant, how to select a good wine merchant, whether to chill a wine (or not) as well as how to choose a wine to bring to a dinner party or give as a gift. It's written with humor and personal experiences that warm and draw the reader in, making the reader feel that it's okay to make a mistake; after all, finding out what you don't like is just as important as figuring out what you do like. It's all part of the experience of enjoying wine.

The real test of this book was yet to come. Does the information really work? I set out to find this out by choosing a wine I'd never tried before, using the book and my personal experiences with wine as a guide. I like white wine more than red, so with that in mind, I selected a bottle of Albola 2001 Pinot Grigio. I based my purchase on the advice about choosing a Pinot Grigio. It was Italian, from the region of Friuli, and a young vintage. I found the wine to be light, refreshing, crisp and fruity. Just what I like. My knowledge and experience was on the way towards expansion.

I still don't understand certain adjectives that are associated with tasting wine (what exactly does "flabby" taste like, anyway?), but I do have a better understanding of choosing a wine and more confidence in my own taste for wine. I learned that it's okay that I don't like Cabernet Sauvignon. This doesn't mean I'm hopeless, it just means it doesn't fit my personal taste and that's perfectly okay. In fact, my favorite passage from this book says it all, "The bottom line: There are many wine experts out there. But there is no one - no one - who is more of an expert on your tastes than you. A good wine is a wine that tastes good to you." Eureka! I just might open that bottle of something or other in my fridge for the fun of it.

Good Cooking recommends this book for anyone! The recommendations are solid, the descriptions of the tastes are valid and to the point. Just look below at the information found on page 293 in reference to non-vintage champagne. The only point Good Cooking disagrees with is the recommended food pairingsGood Cooking feels that Champagne goes with everything and that it isn't just for special occasions!

Food pairings: Dishes with cream sauces and mushrooms. Sushi and grilled foods of all kinds.

Heidsieck & Co. Monopole Blue Top Brut. $27.99. VERY GOOD/DELICIOUS. Best of tasting (tie). Absolutely gorgeous. Austere, chalky, and classy. Plenty of lemon and yeast and a real hint of age, which gives It'some bearing.

Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve. $21.99. VERY GOOD/DELICIOUS. Best of tasting (tie). Lemony fruit, yeasty taste. A bigger, more approachable style than Heidsieck & Co., but just as classy. This is the real thing-and it tastes quite expensive.

Piper-Heidsieck Brut. $24.99. VERY GOOD. Best value. Yeast and nuttiness on the nose, like a classy, expensive Champagne. Cream, nuts, and yeast combine into a big mouthful of bubbly. Big taste, for those who prefer a bigger-style sparkler.

Laurent-Perrier Brut L.P $29.99. VERY GOOD. On the lighter side. Lovely and flowery, like a big bouquet of very fresh roses.

Lanson Black Label Brut. $18.99. VERY GOOD. A very complex wine, with plenty going on in the glass: nuts, yeast, and flowers. This got better as it was open, making it all the more interesting. A lot of wine for the price.

A. Charbaut et Fils Brut. $19.99. GOOD/VERY GOOD. Much simpler than those above, without much taste of soil, chalk, or yeast, but so clean and crisp that it made us smile.