A guide to wine for the complete amateurNow that the third Thursday of November has passed, heralding the arrival of Beaujolais Nouveau, some wine connoisseurs might be turning up their noses at the overpriced grape juice and the hype that surrounds it, but not Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher, a wine-loving couple who write the popular “Tastings” column for the Wall Street Journal every Friday. They aren’t know-it-all experts ― they simply believe wine should be fun, and they want you to have fun, too.
Last fall, they updated their primer on wine, now called “The Wall Street Journal Guide to Wine: New and Improved: How to Buy, Drink, and Enjoy Wine.” You won’t find any vintage charts or technical terms here. Instead, the authors use this scale: Yech, OK, Good, Very Good, Delicious and the rare Delicious! However, their descriptions of wines and champagnes can be a little out of reach. Even though they explain what they mean by “glassy” ― “a sharpness, like a pin-focused, clear, distilled taste that fills your mouth with distinct layers of flavor at the front and leaves a lingering depth of flavor at the back” ― it’s hard to imagine how that translates into taste. Still, it’s refreshing to see wine descriptions that are down-to-earth and don’t read like a textbook.
Each chapter covers a different kind of wine, mixing entertaining anecdotes with enthusiastic descriptions, and ends with recommendations in all price ranges. In the chapter on Beaujolais, the authors say they find the Nouveau a great excuse to throw a party every third Thursday of November, and some years the wine is actually pretty good, but it would be a shame if people thought that’s all there is to Beaujolais. The “real” Beaujolais is “one of the world’s greatest wine bargains.”
Gaiter and Brecher are picky about their wine, but they’re no snobs. They’re willing to try anything once, even the much-maligned White Zinfandel, and found something to like even in that tasting. They explore the entire range of budgets, from bargain wines from lesser-known wine-growing regions such as South Africa and Chile, to the first growths of Bordeaux. The writers also offer practical advice for wine novices, such as how to store wine (no cellars necessary; the bottom of a closet will do nicely), how to read vintages (they don’t matter as much as you think) and how to deal with leftover wine (pumps and half bottles).
The couple’s enthusiasm helps demystify wine, making it seem easily accessible, and you’ll find yourself wanting to rush out and buy a bottle of wine just for fun.
by Sei Chong