A taste of wine knowledge, like a taste of wine, creates the desire for more. People who don't know the names of their senators can rattle off all the major wine-producing villages of the Me'doc.
So why all the interest in fine details? Love of wine lore is probably akin to love of other trivia. The symptoms begin in youth with baseball cards and movie magazines. My father-in-law can still rattle off the entire starting lineup of the 1959 Chicago White Sox. I have a neighbor who can recite the names of all the Academy Award winning films from day one.
This hunger for information is stimulated by the vast profusion of wines. Consumers who have acquired a taste for this pleasurable beverage wish to avoid the pain of a poor choice, especially in public.
To feed this hunger, there are wine columnists, wine publications and a spate of books. It seems that anyone with a corkscrew and a typewriter is a wine book author nowadays. Following are the names of the best available, any of which would make fine holiday gifts.
"Alexis Bespaloff's New Signet Book of Wine" by Alexis Bespaloff, 1985, Signet, 352 pages, $4.50 paperback: This is the best all-around introduction to wine currently in print, with sections on reading wine labels, how wine is made, wine tasting, creating wine, serving wine, a pronunciation guide, as well as chapters on the major wine regions of the world. An easy and enjoyable read.
"Alexis Lichine's Guide to the Wines and Vineyards of France" by Alexis Lichine, 1986, Knopf, 544 pages, $25 hardcover, $14.95 paperback: Reviews of hundreds of wines, and restaurants and hotels, region by region. Good black-and-white maps too. I always take a copy with me to France.
"Alexis Lichine's New Encyclopedia of Wines and Spirits," fourth edition, 1985, Knopf, 733 pages, $40 hardcover: The best reference material on my shelf. Despite an occasional omission, Lichine's effort is unequalled in depth and completeness. Topics are listed alphabetically, so it is probably not the kind of book you would normally sit down with in an easy chair after dinner and read from front to back.
"Bordeaux and Its Wines" by Claude Feret, 13th edition, 1986, Editions Feret et Fils, 1,867 pages, $120 hardcover: The staggering amount of detailed information on more than 7,000 individual Bordeaux properties that this book presents is far too voluminous for the casual aficionado, but for those who wish to study France's largest wine producing appellation contro~le'e region in detail, it is essential. Available from Wines of France, P.O. Box 1003, Mountainside, N.J. 07092; telephone 201-654-6173.
"Bordeaux: The Definitive Guide for the Wines Produced Since 1961" by Robert M. Parker Jr., 1985, Simon and Schuster, 542 pages, $21.95 hardcover: A collection of the colorful opinions of one of the world's most influential tasters, mostly excerpted from his popular newsletter "The Wine Advocate." An excellent buyer's guide to 291 chateaux and 24 vintages with ratings of each wine.
"Grossman's Guide to Wines, Beers and Spirits," seventh edition, by Harriet Lembeck, 1983, Scribner, 638 pages, $31.95 hardcover: Here is a thorough reference text on just about anything alcoholic from Budweiser to Benedictine to Beychevelle, including multiple appendices, vintage notes, listings of famous vineyards and wineries, history and romance. The sections on bar operation, wine list making, beverage service, merchandising and wine laws make this a good primer for restaurant personnel and retail people.
"How and Why To Build a Wine Cellar" by Richard M. Gold, 1986, Sandhill Publishing, 272 pages, $19.95 paperback: Simply produced on a word-processor, it is full of good advice on how to build a place to store your wines.
"Liquid Assets" by William Sokolin, Macmillan, $22.50 hardcover: Sokolin is a well-known New York wine merchant, and he shares with us the inside trade secrets of investing in wine for profit. The book's valuable information is only slightly obscured by Sokolin's unabashed self-promotion.
"Pocket Guide to the Wines of Bordeaux" by David Peppercorn, 1986, Simon and Schuster, 144 pages, $7.95 leatherette: This remarkable little checkbook-size book is chock full of useful information including thumbnail sketches of most of the important producers. It is the best in a series of Simon and Schuster "Pocket Guides" including an annual on the wines of the world by Hugh Johnson, and books on the wines of California, Italy, Burgundy, Germany and Spain.
"The Complete Guide to Wine Tasting and Wine Cellars" by Michael Broadbent, 1984, Simon and Schuster, 272 pages, $12.95 hardcover: An excellent introduction to the myriad of sensory experiences -- smell, taste and visual -- as well as the most complete dictionary of descriptive tasting terminology (and jargon) ever published. Includes color photographs that show the color changes wines undergo with age.
"The Fireside Book of Wine" by Alexis Bespaloff, 1984, Simon and Schuster, 445 pages, $9.95 hardcover: An enchanting anthology of verse, short stories, songs, anecdotes, fables, wit, wisdom and fun from the works of James Joyce, Art Buchwald, Benjamin Franklin, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Jefferson, Lord Byron, Colette, Henry James, Baudelaire, Anton Chekov, A.J. Liebling, Evelyn Waugh and more. Wonderful fireside or bedside reading.
"The Professional Wine Reference" by Frank E. Johnson, 1983, Harper & Row, 401 pages, $9.95 leatherette: A paperback-sized, handy-dandy argument-ender.
"The Wine Spectator Wine Maps," The Wine Spectator, M. Shanken Communications, 88 pages, $4.95 paperback: Essential for visitors to California's wine country.
"The Wines of America" by Leon Adams, third edition, 1985, McGraw Hill, 608 pages, $22.95 hardcover: Adams is the closest thing winedom has to a storyteller, and no one is better qualified for telling the story of American wines. He helped write America's wine label laws after Prohibition; he founded the Wine Institute; and he has been an untiring champion, observer and critic of wine. His book takes readers from the tiny farm wineries in Arkansas to giant Gallo, the world's largest winery.
"The Wines of Bordeaux" by Edmund Penning Rowsell, fifth edition, 1985, The Wine Appreciation Guild, 606 pages, $12.95 paperback: The definitive tome on the vineyards and wineries of Bordeaux, the world's most important wine region. Extraordinary detail and expertise are contained within.
"The World Atlas of Wine" by Hugh Johnson, third edition, 1985, Simon and Schuster, 320 pages, $40 hardcover: A classic atlas, loaded with color maps of all the important wine regions of the world. Each map is accompanied by a short but thorough introduction to the region and its wines, and reproductions of the labels of some of the best local wines. The introductory chapters are as good a summary introduction to wine as any.
"Vino, The Wines & Winemakers of Italy," by Burton Anderson, 1980, Atlantic-Little, Brown & Co., 568 pages, $24.95 hardcover: The definitive book on the underrated wines of Italy.
"Wine" by Hugh Johnson, 1987, Simon and Schuster, 260 pages, $10.95 paperback: The definitive introduction to wine, loaded with fact and fancy. Johnson is perhaps the best wordsmith writing about wine.
"Wines, Their Sensory Evaluation" by Maynard A. Amerine & Edward B. Roessler, 1983, W.H. Freeman and Co., 230 pages, $23.95 hardcover: The first half of this book describes why wines taste as they do, and goes a long way toward dispelling wine myths with scientific fact. The second half is a compilation of statistical methods used to analyze the results of tasting panels. This part is over the head of anyone like myself who has difficulty balancing a checkbook, even with a calculator. But the first half and the glossary alone are worth the price of admission.
Although many of the best books on wine are published by major publishers, others are published abroad or by small publishers. Fortunately there is a company that specializes in wine books and stocks most of these books as well as hundreds of others: The Wine Appreciation Guild, 155 Connecticut St., San Francisco, Calif. 94107 (or call 415-864-1202).
Wine Find Mirassou 1986 Chardonnay, Monterey County, California: Mirassou is a fine, old, family winery in the San Jose area just south of San Francisco that has pioneered grape growing in Monterey. It has always made better whites than reds, but this 1986 entry may be its best yet. In the American Wine Competition, the 1987 won a gold medal and scored 94 out of 100 points, placing it in a tie for eighth place in a field of 288 chardonnays from 14 states. Here's how the judges described it: "fresh apple, grapefruit, and melon qualities, mingle in a medium-bodied wine with a light oak and spicy nuances. Clean, stylish and tasty."
Serving: This wine is light and crisp enough to mate well with light white meats, especially fatty birds, or seafood in butter sauces.
Price: Suggested retail of about $8.99 per bottle. Actual price may vary significantly. Wholesale supplier is International Distributors, 301-725-7818. Wholesale suppliers cannot sell direct to consumers, but your wine merchant can buy from wholesalers.
1987 by Craig Goldwyn, International Wine Review magazine