Tom Stevenson, a prolific wine writer and respected authority on the subject (including The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia!), is known for tomes whose pages are mostly flipped by those training to be wine experts. But he’s taken a different tack with his latest book – ‘Buy The Right Wine Every Time‘ (Released on March 4th, 2014).
He’s written this book for those new to wine. I wish I’d had access to such a book when I was a newbie, some 35 years ago. It appeals to anyone who needs some wine competency but doesn’t have the time or inclination to pursue it as a hobby. I don’t know such people, but I hear they exist in large numbers and that some of them are actually quite pleasant to be around.
Tom doesn’t waste any ink introducing the conceit for his book. In just a few pages he introduces his reader to the book’s intent and organization. Then he dives in. The first 25 pages show his top recommendations by ~30 types of wine, using a simple ranking and 1, 2 or 3 dollar-sign indicator for rough pricing guidance. His top tier ($$$) indicates a cost above $25 (retail price, not restaurant), which may seem a rather low ceiling to fine wine buffs, but in reality such wines make up less than 4% of wine sold in the U.S.
Tom’s quick ranking-by-type then yields to the bulk of the book, which describes each wine in greater detail (and with extremely helpful label images – no mean feat when writing about hundreds of wines). Though the book will be a handy guide for those browsing through a wine shop, it’s just a bit too big and bulky to bring into a restaurant setting (unless available for mobile e-readers, which I don’t see anywhere – just yet).
Be sure not to miss the back section of the book, wherein Tom provides his ’20 most useful wine tips’. He’s not kidding, these are useful tips. If you’re new to wine, learn these 20 tips and you’ll know more about wine than most people ever will. (Cautionary note: Don’t be too eager to show off your new-found skills. The world of wine is a never-ending warren of curiosity, with new questions that arise at every turn. A single lifetime is insufficient to learn all the twists and turns. And believe me, if you have a healthy dose of insatiable curiosity, you’ll find Tom’s 20 tips as nothing more than a good start. Good on ya!)
As for the hundreds of wines in the book, they tend to be global brands – those that are easiest to find in your local store. Which makes sense for guide book – what use would it be if you could never find the wines it describes? However, I’ve chosen a different wine life. To me, the most amazing and enjoyable part of the mondo vino is the small producer who’s ignored the siren call of ‘biggering’ production in favor of crafting a wine that makes a unique statement. Wine as art vs wine as widget. Such wines have little mass appeal and instead develop cult-like followings among a small but devout niche of wine lovers. If you worship at that alter, this book will not scratch your itch.
But then, that was not its intent. And in fairness, it provides a useful launch pad for those who think they may become interested in such endeavors. I recommend it for what it is – a useful guide for those new to wine and for those seeking some quick competency without investing much time or money to get there.