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Displaying items by tag: wine education

Monday, 06 January 2014 08:08

Nose, Legs, Body!


Nose Legs Body cover image Picmonkeyby Len Napolitano


Wineology Press 2013

ISBN 97-0-9893087-0-0

Soft cover 184 pages $14.99


It's a shame that their perceived lack of expertise keeps so many folks from enjoying wine. While it's true you can spend a lifetime in wine and not know everything about it, a basic grounding in the subject isn't all that hard to come by.

Nose, Legs, Body! is a great introduction to the subject. It provides a comfort level that will blunt the apprehension a novice may feel and take him in directions that will more quickly lead to happy experiences. The author has given a nod to three general categories of wine observation (nose, legs and body) and incorporates another body part in his subtitle, “know wine like the back of your hand,” a recurring definition to the summaries concluding each chapter of the book. The lessons are simple (without talking down to the reader) and convey a lot of information in an easy-reading style. People in the wine business may forget how many bits of knowledge they take for granted that may flummox newcomers (how many people have purchased a bottle of wine that is said to show aspects of berries, plums, cedar and even “cigar boxes” and wondered, “but I thought wine was made from grapes?”). Len Napolitano is a wine writer and wine educator and has been a fixture on TV's Fine Living Network. Like all good teachers, he respects his audience and would rather invite them to the party, than to intimidate them.

A quick read will do much to raise the confidence of fledgling wine fans and the glossary and appendices will be valuable for those questions that come up later.


--Reviewed by Dan Clarke

by Jim Laughren, CWE


Weapons of Mass Confusion, or We’re-So-Cool Intimidation? Offering little actionable information, arranged according to the whims of a newly-acquired sommelier or wine distributor, restaurant wine lists seldom do much to help the customer.

Yet this negative can be easily converted to a plus, enhancing your reputation as a sophisticated and knowledgeable diner, even with wine expertise two steps above none whatsoever.

You know the scene: a business dinner, with the boss, the head of sales and the folks from finance, and those oh-how-badly-we-want-them prospective clients. Though you’re not (yet) top dog at the table, you have been smart enough to mention wine once or twice when chatting with the fearless leader.

So when Mr. Big hands you the wine list and says “Why don’t you pick, Martinez?” your compadres don’t know whether to smirk—they sure don’t want the list, a.k.a. hot potato—or be impressed that you’ve been given the nod.

Either your stomach flips with the realization you’re about to be found out as a wine fraud, or, if you know the 5 keys, you grab the opportunity with gusto.

One: it’s business, so you do want to impress the clients.

Two: it’s business, so someone else, i.e., not you, is paying the tab.

Three: don’t get crazy. That $400 bottle may appeal to your inner BMOC, but this is no place to display your personal problems.

Four: it’s not about the “perfect” choice. Your wine selection won’t make or break the evening.

Five: the strategy is simple. Choose a distinctive wine at a higher than expected price point.

Some of these names look familiar, but.... Hey, can’t we all just have a beer? Steady, now. Don’t get flaky. Ask what people are eating. If most of your tablemates mention meat or something equally hearty, you’re set. It’s red. Don’t fool with varietals you’re not familiar with. If you don’t know a Brunello from a Barolo don’t pick either one. Forget the wines you’re unsure of and go straight to the Cabernet Sauvignons, preferably from California or Washington state.

Everyone (almost) who loves wine loves Cab. Washington and California versions feature good alcohol and lots of easy to appreciate fruit. Why pick something unknown when you can so easily zero in on a wine with near universal appeal?

Don’t know the producers? Who cares? Look at the prices. Pick something 25% or 30% above what you should probably spend. Close the list and tell the waiter your choice.

Should there be a preponderance of fish or lobster eaters in the group, ditch the Cabernet and look at the whites.

Sauvignon Blanc is wonderful, unless you don’t like green pepper and acid—and many don’t; Riesling can be stunning, but a rookie may not know if it’s sweet or dry; unknown whites can be too floral or minerally. Forget the fancy stuff and pick a top tier Chardonnay from Australia, Chile or South Africa. You’ll get a clean, not too oaky, not too sweet or dry, and not overly pricey wine that works well with almost any fish or fowl.

And there’s always Pinot Noir, a wine that pleases most everyone eating most anything, the standard mixed-menu fallback. Pinots can be pricey but pick from the top half of the price range and you’ll likely land a winner.

So, whether it’s meat, seafood or duck confit, three slightly too-expensive wines will fill your bill. Half the table won’t know, and the other half will be impressed with the quality of your choice and the confidence with which you made it.

Damn, you’re looking good. It’s my guess the Big Kahuna is going to hand off to you at every dinner. And if the very well wined-and-dined clients sign on the dotted line, those sales and finance folks are going to be wishing they too knew how to handle the hot potato. Building Social Currency 101.

laughren headshot Picmonkey


Editor's note: Jim Laughren, who has advised on "Mastering the Wine List,"  is author of A Beer Drinker's Guide to Knowing and Enjoying Fine Wine, which is reviewed in Taste California Travel's Book Section.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012 14:49

Zinfandel: A Reference Guide to Zinfandel

Zinfandel: A Reference Guide to Zinfandelby Cathleen Francisco

The Wine Appreciation Guild

315 pages, $


As a kid I often looked for a series of books in the local public library called "All About" books. They were good for the beginner introducing himself to a subject but were written with a scrupulous attention to the technicalities that gave texture and structure to the subject as well. This book works similarly. If not "All About" Zinfandel, then it is a very good step toward All About.

What does this book say about Zinfandel? Organized alphabetically by winery the author tells us the name of the winery, its history, ownership, winemaker and winemaking philosophy. She sets out vintage notes for the 1998 vintage as applicable to the winery and its wines.

The book lists for each wine discussed: appellation, composition, vinification and, if applicable, the vineyard. She sets out next, the alcohol percentage, residual sugar, brix at harvest, harvest date, bottling date and production data. The winemaker’s notes let the maker tell us what he wants us to know about the particular wine, well probably just some of it. Some winemakers are generous enough with their knowledge of their wines to include suggestions for food pairings.

As a courtesy to the winery and help to the reader, the author provides winery location, information about visiting it, website and telephone number and a list of the winery’s other wines.

Ms. Francisco writes a glossary. If you have heard a certain term and wondered what it might mean, whether the term is an artful one such as "bouquet" or technical and scientific like "carbonic maceration", the glossary is helpful. By doing this she provides help to getting at both the magic and science of winemaking.

As a further aid she discusses blending varieties in a separate section called A Guide. She names various blending grapes and describes them in terms of what winemakers think they may contribute to a zinfandel. She includes the places of origin or common use of these varieties so the reader can do more research about their attributes. Ms. Francisco gives us a good introduction to tasting wines featuring those grapes.

She also provides a guide to American Viticultural Areas or AVAs. She tells us the origin of the terms in Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms regulations and its legal definition. The author tells us a bit about each California AVA and what it means for the grapes grown there and the wines made from them. In addition, she describes the requirements for the use of certain terms such as "county", "vineyard" and "estate" on labels.

The author succeeds in giving a reference guide to zinfandel and much more useful information about wine.


--reviewed by Mike Petersen

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