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Page Two of Reviews

A Year of Wine: Perfect Pairings, Great Buys, and What to Sip for Each Season, Tyler Colman (Simon Spotlight Entertainment, $24)

It’s been a busy year for Colman, with his second book arriving just months after his first. In A Year of Wine, a collection of essays with hundreds of wine recommendations, he focuses on “the wine and the moment.” “Context is wildly underrated,” he writes, “when it comes to enjoying wine.” For Colman, context means “where we are, whom we’re with, what time of year it is, what we are eating, when ... we are drinking [wine], and even how we are drinking it.”

While there are routinely oodles of wine articles about what-to-drink-when, there aren’t many wine books — if any — organized around seasons. This organization allows Colman to discuss wines for Passover, Easter, picnics, Columbus Day — yes, Columbus Day —Thanksgiving, holiday gift giving, etc. Also included are 12 wine tourism destinations, short interviews with some of the country's best sommeliers, and numerous useful sidebars: “How to Chill a Wine Bottle in Five Minutes,” “How to Tell If It’s Sulfur That Gives You Headaches.”

The book is laced with Colman’s sense of humor and charm. “How to Open a Champagne Bottle,” for example, gives directions for those who “want to look like an aggressive moron,” those who “want to look like a sommelier” and those who “want to look like a Ninja sommelier” (i.e., open a bottle with a saber or machete). Colman discusses the schlepfaktor in transporting wine during your travels. In “How to Not OD on Whites and Rosés During the First Few Weeks of Summer,” he recommends versatile, too-often-overlooked Loire reds.

BOTTOM LINE: Colman gently eases you toward some wines you may not have tried and encourages you to drink — and think — different. I recommend that you jump around in the book, starting with what interests you most and following up with everything in between. There’s fun to be had and plenty to be learned.


To Cork or Not To Cork: Tradition, Romance, Science, and the Battle for the Wine Bottle, George M. Taber (Scribner, $26)

The fiercest battle raging in the wine world today is that being waged over the best closures for bottles. George Taber’s well-researched book examines the different seals currently in fashion and the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Among the topics Taber covers are national preferences, scientific discovery, winemaking, marketing, the history of the cork industry and how its denial of problems exacerbated them, and colorful characters like Bonny Doon Vineyard’s Randall Grahm, who famously held a mock funeral for the cork in 2002.

But traditions die hard. For almost four centuries, just about every bottle of wine was closed with a cork, more for lack of alternatives than because they’re an ideal seal. Their failure rate is high, estimated by some to be up to 10%. The biggest problem with them is “cork taint,” caused by the chemical compound trichloranisole (TCA), which imparts an odor like that of wet newspapers or moldy cardboard to the wine.

Considering the unusually high failure rate of corks, the age of closure experimentation is long overdue. At last it’s arrived in full force. Starting in the 1970s, natural corks began to get serious competition from screw caps, plastic corks, glass stoppers, crown caps, the Zork (a plastic stopper with a pull tab that pops like a cork) and others. The race is on to find which will be most successful.

Since 20 billion closures are required annually, this is big business — a $4 billion a year business, and changes are bound to stir up controversy. All sides receive careful, fair consideration in To Cork or Not To Cork.

BOTTOM LINE: Taber concludes, rightly, that there will be multiple wine closures. While no closure is perfect, Taber’s book comes pretty close.


I’ll Drink to That: Beaujolais and the French Peasant Who Made it the World’s Most Popular Wine, Rudolph Chelminski (Gotham Books, $27.50)

Beaujolais has certainly had its ups and downs. In 1395 Philip the Bold, duke of Burgundy, outlawed Gamay, the grape Beaujolais is made from; from 1874 to 1876, phylloxera devastated the Gamay vines in Beaujolais. But in the second half of the 20 th century, one man almost singlehandedly turned Beaujolais into one of the world’s better known wines, with more than 70 million bottles sold annually. That man is vigneron turned superstar negoçiant Georges Duboeuf.

Chelminski’s book is the story of the region — its wines, its people, its history, its geography — and how Beaujolais achieved worldwide respect. It’s also the story of marketing whiz Georges Duboeuf, who transformed his family’s business from a small family affair into an operation that makes more than $100 million annually. Written by a man who considers himself a friend of Duboeuf’s, I’ll Drink to That is not the most objective account, but it’s always an interesting one.

It highlights what makes Duboeuf special: Born into a wine-growing family, he got his start in the business at age six, when he cranked the manual crusher in the family vineyards. In 1951, at age 18, he biked with two bottles of his family’s Pouilly-Fuissé to Paul Blanc’s famous restaurant, Le Capon. Blanc placed an order on the spot for these white wines and inquired about reds. Chelminski writes: “[Duboeuf’s] idea of selling restaurants exceptional wine in bottles, directly from selected producers, rather than relying on the traditional practice of selling whole barrels to bistros, was an inspired anticipation of the changing trends of the modern world.” The young winemaker Georges Duboeuf was on his way to radically changing the wine business.

Duboeuf has other important qualities. He gets along famously with chefs. He tracks down some of the best wine from the best winemakers. His marketing skills are impressive: he practically turned the arrival of Beaujolais Nouveau into an international holiday around the world. Duboeuf’s tasting abilities — he’s known to have distinguished 11 different vineyards within one cru — are great. And he’s a hard worker, frequently found in the office at 5 a.m. All this combines to make Duboeuf, aka the King of Beaujolais, a masterly impresario who today is the No. 1 exporter of French wines to the US.

BOTTOM LINE: This entertaining, well-written, informative book is an homage to the beautiful Beaujolais region and its wines and the man who made them popular.

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©2008 Sharon Kapnick for


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