If your knowledge about wine can be best-described as “red or white,” then the Windows on the World Complete Wine Course is the ideal reference to assist you in broadening your horizons and delving into the wonderful world of wine.
The well-crafted volume begins with a basic explanation of the characteristics of wine that will likely play a role in your decision-making process. The starting point relates to color, and author and wine connoisseur Kevin Zraly provides the eight most common choices for white wine (ranging from pale yellow-granne to gold to yellow-brown to brown) and the six most common selections for red (from purple to ruby to red-brown). From there he provides an education about smell, listing a mere fifty of the most common descriptive terms used, such as astringent, corky, delicate, oxidized, stalky, and yeasty. In the event this is not enough information, you can be assured there are plenty of others, because the author notes that when he teaches a basic wine course, he offers his students a more comprehensive list with over five hundred entries.
After this introduction, Zraly explores white grapes of the world which are the ingredients for the majority of white wines from France, California, The Pacific Northwest, New York and Germany. Not surprisingly, this is followed by a comparable discussion of the red grapes of the world and the most prevalent red wines of Burgundy, The Rhone Valley, Bordeaux, California, Italy, Spain, Australia, Chile and Argentina. These parallel discussions touch on numerous topics ranging from the reasons wine from a particular area are popular, what makes the harvesting of the grapes in certain areas unique, what makes certain wines distinguishable from those produced in other areas, how to assess the quality of a particular wines, and how to decipher the information on certain labels.
There is also a brief discussion relating to champagne, sherry and port, each of which, I readily admit, I never knew were even classified as wines. The author explains that these selections are grouped together because, despite the diversity in taste and occasions for which people tend to imbibe them, consumers tend to select all three based primarily on reputation and the reliability of the shipper. I found the explanation of how to open champagne correctly incredibly useful, since my goal has always been limited to removing the cork quickly and pouring the treat into an appropriate flute.
While you may not call upon the majority of the book’s information on a regular basis, there is a noticeable presence of practical information. Aside from matching certain wines with certain types of food, there is advice relating to restaurants ranging from the author’s pet peeves (improper glassware, over-chilled white wine, and red wine served warm, to name a few,) as well as wine etiquette such as what to do with the cork once the bottle is opened (nothing!), when to send wine back (when you think something is wrong with it), and when to tip a sommelier (depends upon the service). For those who want to select the perfect bottle, there is also an award-winning wine list to assist you in your endeavor.
So, if the next time you order a glass of Chardonnay you decide you want to impress even the most highly-educated dinner companion, then you should grab this book and you will be well on your way. Cheers!