Wine, Words and Wisdom

Wine, Words and Wisdom

If you haven’t bought your special bottles for Christmas gifts you may be too late, as LCBO shelves will be emptying fast this week. Plan B? Nip into your local bookstore for a wine book.

The number one suggestion this year is the Sixth Edition of Hugh Johnson’s World Atlas of Wine (Mitchell Beazley, $59) from the doyen of British wine writing, who has now teamed up with doyenne Jancis Robinson. The Atlas has been updated, fattened and broadened to reflect our planet’s burgeoning global wine waistline. And yes, Canada’s tiny wine industry is still treated sparsely but amiably as befits our presence beyond our borders. And yes, the maps are still the best in the business. Most impressive, however, is the quality, intelligence and colour of writing that grasps the world’s regions not just in geographic terms, but the role that each region plays in the global jigsaw. It’s not only a great browse; it’s a great read and a necessary one for anyone who wants to be tuned in to wine. It’s the product of experience and unflagging enthusiasm.

A new book called This Food, That Wine (McArthur & Company, $29.95) is full of enthusiasm, if less depth. Titled for the Food Network show of the same name, it is co-authored by Stacey Metulynsky and Angie McCrae, an Ontario sommelier-chef team, who, by their youth, simply cannot yet have the experience of Johnson and Robinson. Produced by media food mogul Chris Knight, this graphically appealing book is a spin-off of the TV show and has a sense of style over substance. After having lunch with sommelier Stacy Metulynsky in her hometown of Ottawa, though, it became obvious that she is dead serious—enthralled actually—with food and wine, and has a keen sense about what works, even if she doesn’t always explain the “why” in depth. The book is full of recipes individually matched with wine suggestions, all well laid out. Her overviews of the world’s wine styles, grapes and regions may be gleaned from sources other than her own experience but I predict that ten years hence her own insights will play a much more significant role in her work.

Speaking of Ottawa, there is another, more experienced, woman tackling the matching of food and wine—this time on the Internet. Natalie Maclean has garnered many wine writing awards for her magazine articles, as well as for last year’s book called Red, White, and Drunk All Over: A Wine Soaked Journey From Grape to Glass (Anchor Canada, $22.00) and her much hit-upon Web site, Nat Decants. Recently, she has launched the Wine and Food Matcher, a tool that takes users from the dish they are preparing through likely wine style/regional matches and directly into her database of tasting notes on specific wines released at Vintages and the LCBO. It’s a word-matching search engine, so it has predictable pitfalls (like pulling up red shiraz/viognier blends when searching only for viognier white), but, overall, its wide-reaching food and wine parameters, and its ability to zero in on wines that are on-shelf, make it a useful tool for wining and dining in Ontario.

Finally, if you have many idle, contemplative moments over the holidays to delve deeply into the whys and wherefores of taste, you might want to consider Questions of Taste: The Philosophy of Wine (Oxford University Press, $34.95) a compendium of essays edited by Barry C. Smith, who is Deputy Director of the Institute of Philosophy at the University of London. As far as I have I read, the book is as ponderous as it sounds. Certainly there are thought provoking nuggets, but like truffles they are often buried deep in humid verbiage.