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Book Review

by Sharon Kapnick

California Wine for Dummies
by Ed McCarthy and Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Published by Wiley Publishing Inc., $16.99

Dummies books, of course, arent really for dummies. Theyre for people smart enough and humble enough to seek out books written by experts that concisely present all the must-know information. Certainly, thats the case with California Wine for Dummies.

Like actors who are perfectly cast, the husband-and-wife team of Ed McCarthy and Mary Ewing-Mulligan are the ideal pair to write the Dummies wine books. (This is their seventh one.) Ewing-Mulligan, the first female MW (Master of Wine) in the US, is president of the International Wine Center in New York City and US director of the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET). Both are born educators — theyre officially Certified Wine Educators — with many years of teaching experience between them. They know how to organize a book and bring clarity to a subject, what to include and what to omit. And, most important, they know their subject backwards and forwards — as well as sideways and upside-down.

California Wine for Dummies is especially good at presenting the nuts and bolts: the regions (including the American Viticultural Areas [AVAs]) and what theyre known for, the varietals, the six star grapes (Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel), the up-and-coming grapes and the supporting cast. Blends, ross, sparkling and dessert wines are also featured. Pairing and Sharing California Wines presents vital information on food-and-wine matching, vintages, aging and collecting. Sidebars include subjects like advice for travelers, glassware, serving temperatures, producers that deserve special attention, how to taste wine like the experts do, etc. The authors dont always agree about everything and occasionally offer his and hers opinions.

California, of course, produces a wide gamut of wines, from the plebeian to the divine, with prices ranging from $2 to $750. The authors guide you to the most reliable producers at all price levels. Although its not always easy to find delicious, inexpensive California wines, their Top Value recommendations feature some lovely wines that cost less than $12 or $15. Other categories include Moderately Priced (usually less than $20), Moderate-Plus (usually $50-$100) and occasionally Luxury (over $100) wines.

Bottom Line: Since, as the authors write, almost 70% of all the wine consumed in the US is California wine, this book fills what was a surprising void in the Dummies line-up. California Wine for Dummies is a must-buy for those seriously interested in wine. Much of it merits studying — even memorizing!

© 2009 Sharon Kapnick for



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