HUGE JOHNSON'S POCKET ENCYCLOPEDIA OF WINE. (Simon & Schuster, $3.95). At last the ideal no-nonsense wine guide, as speedily helpful to the laziest swilling nincompoop as to the pro who may have forgotten the best years for an Aglianico Del Vulture.
First, it's about the size of a pocket diary - yet wholly legible - and costs less than most of them. Second, it wastes no words. As its distinguished author says, it's an exercise in crowding angels on a pinhead, so there's no room for prose. Third, it's superbly organized and cross-referenced.
To look up a wine and discover all you need know about it short of tasting it is a matter of moments. If the first bottle that comes to hand is French, look up France. It's a Bordeaux, so look under Bordeaux, where wines are listed by their chateau of origin. This one says "du Tertre, 1970." Under "du Tertre" you find the abbreviation "Ar-Mar. R." The Bordeaux may says that this means Arsac-Margaux, a part of Haut-Medoc, which will be useful in looking up the recent vintages of the Medoc area to see what sort of year 1970 was. "It sound splendid.) The R. means "red." Two stars follow, meaning "above average," and they are in a box, which means it's a good buy. Then follows: "66, 70, and 75." These are the better recent vintages still available, but only the boldface '66 is ready to drink. This sign language is followed by a few words: "Underestimated fifth-growth isolated S. of Margaux. Thoroughly well-made claret matures admirably." So you can be pleased, and look forward to drinking the bottle some day.
Other countries are handled a little differently: but all, from Australia to Bulgaria to California, are clearly organized, and each has a section explaining what terms on the label mean. It would be well to read an introductory section on grape types in some idle moment, since these are what establish the character and quality of a wine. There is a appetizing list of about 100 dishes with companionable wines - e.g., with antipasto, a 2-star white Soave or light red Valpolicella; with foie gras, a 3-or 4-star white (Sauternes, vintage champagne, Gewurtztraminer); with Christmas pudding, sweet champagne or Asti Spumanti.