You may or may not believe me when I tell you that I don't know a lot about wine. I know what I like, of course, and I do a reasonably decent job at identifying what it is I'm smelling and tasting in a glass. But appellations? Vintages? Tannins? Nope, I couldn't tell you much about those. Which is absurd because I've read a lot on the subject of wine. Unfortunately, none of those technical terms ever sticks in my brain and so I go on, blissfully ignorant, enjoying what I'm sipping regardless.
With that in mind, I really love the books of Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg. I met them back in 2008 and I've been a fan of both them and their books ever since. WHAT TO DRINK WITH WHAT YOU EAT
is one of my favorite books; I'm going to go out on a limb and say I use it more than any other food- or wine-related book on my shelves. It makes sense, of course, seeing as I drink wine with every dinner (and sometimes with lunch), and I consult this book nearly every time. I also highly recommend THE FLAVOR BIBLE
. I don't use it as much since I don't regularly go off-recipe when making a meal, but it's a brilliant resource when you're cooking off-the-cuff, trying to make something happen from random ingredients in your fridge. Ultimately, both books are useful, smart, and reliable; I couldn't do without them.
So I was ecstatic to get Page and Dornenburg's most recent book THE FOOD LOVER'S GUIDE TO WINE
, which appears to have a lofty goal: marry the concept of WTDWWYE and THE FLAVOR BIBLE to make one major reference tome for food and wine pairing. FOOD LOVER'S GUIDE, more than the previous two reference books, attempts to educate the reader. So, while it serves up information in a bullet-pointed style that is easy to read, it still wants the reader to gain knowledge and confidence in drinking and enjoying wine. First and foremost, Page and Dornenburg want to demystify wine and stress that drinking it is a subjective experience, free from judgement and wrong answers. I particularly loved this quote from Mark Twain to start the 2nd chapter: "There are no standards of taste in wine ... [One's] own taste is the standard, and a majority vote cannot decide for him or in any slightest degree affect the supremacy of his own standard." The aim of this book is not to tell the reader what's good and what's bad but, rather, to help the reader understand what it is they're drinking so that they might better enjoy it (or, if not, then understand why they're not enjoying it).
One of the things that I love about this book is the historical timeline. Yes, Page and Dornenburg actually try to tackle that beast: the history of wine in the United States. I found out all kinds of trivia, such as the fun fact that Thomas Jefferson reportedly bought more than 20,000 bottles of wine while in office. The timeline helps give some context to how far we've come in the United States, particularly when you find out that there were more than 2,500 commercial wineries before Prohibition and, after it finally ended, only about 150 wineries remained. As of 2010, there are more than 6,000 wineries in the U.S.
There are also some helpful graphs and tables. In particular, Page and Dornenburg include a large list of how to choose wines by flavors, which is extremely helpful for someone very new to wine. For example, if you love apples, then perhaps you should try Chardonnay (especially unoaked), ice cider, Pinot Blanc, Riesling, or Vouvray. Being a strawberry gal myself, I see that Beaujolais, Pinot Noir, rosé, and Tempranillo are the suggested wines (and, sure enough, those wines feature heavily in my own wine refrigerator). I love that tools like this give the reader language and context with which to describe and enjoy wine, especially if you're talking to the salesperson at your local wine shop or the sommelier in a restaurant.
Yet another plus to FOOD LOVER'S GUIDE is the extensive list of wines. There are wines here that you can't find in WTDWWYE, such as Carmenère. Another feature is that each wine has "Comparables" listed. This is where I'll use both of these books as a cross-reference. For instance, let's say that you've looked up brussels sprouts in WTDWWYE (which actually happened to me the other night). The only wine that is listed there is Sauvignon Blanc. Of course, it just happened to be the rare time when I didn't have a Sauvignon Blanc stocked in my fridge. So I went to FOOD LOVER'S GUIDE and looked up Sauvignon Blanc. The comparables listed are white Bordeaux, Fumé Blanc, Graves, Pouilly-Fumé, and Sancerre. Guess who just happened to have a white Bordeaux! Yep, me, and it went very well with the brussels sprouts. Don't worry if you don't know any of the wines I just listed - FOOD LOVER'S GUIDE helps you decipher all that.
Last but not least, a major bonus - especially for newbies - is that each wine listed also includes a pronunciation key! I recently discovered the Bastianich Friulano
and had no idea how to pronounce Friulano...but no more (it's free-oo-LAH-noh). Now I can feel like less of a jerk when I ask for it at Eataly!
All that said, if you're going to pick a single wine book to buy from Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg, then I would recommend WHAT TO DRINK WITH WHAT YOU EAT
. That's the one that you can rush to look at while you're in the midst of making dinner; the best thing about it is that you can look it up by food and that's what makes it completely invaluable to the home cook and wine drinker. But don't get me wrong - you'll still want THE FOOD LOVER'S GUIDE TO WINE
because it does provide more in-depth information and the cross-reference possibilities are huge. And THE FOOD LOVER'S GUIDE TO WINE provides more educational opportunities. Really, the two books go hand-in-hand.
In fact, I feel so strongly that both books are essential to the home cook that I'm hosting my very first giveaway on Pinot and Prose!!! I'm giving away THE FOOD LOVER'S GUIDE TO WINE along with WHAT TO DRINK WITH WHAT YOU EAT to one lucky reader! Here are the rules:
- Write a comment telling me about a wine you love, or a wine you'd like to try, or a food & wine pairing you enjoy. Heck, just comment anything about wine.
- Then, if you haven't already, go to my Facebook fan page and "like" me. (Oh, heaven's, I feel desperate asking you to "like" me...)
- And consider yourself entered!
Only one entry per person and no family members, please. I'm going to open it up to my international readers so feel free to enter if you live across the pond. Enter by 11:59 p.m. EST on Monday, November 7th and I'll announce the winner on Tuesday, November 8th.
Note: I just have to share this inscription that Karen and Andrew wrote in my copy of WTDWWYE back in 2008: "To Laura & Adam - From one compatible pair to another, with our delicious wishes, Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg." Don't you love that?