by Dean Tudor
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Click here for Dean Tudor’s Holiday Book List Part 3: Stocking Stuffers
On to the wine annuals. The two leaders are Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book 2011 (Mitchell Beazley, 2010, 320 pages, $17.99 CAD hard bound) and…
Oz Clarke’s Pocket Wine Guide 2011 (Sterling Epicure, 2010, 352 pages, $17.95 CAD hardbound). Both are guides to wines from all around the world, not just to the “best” wines. Similarities: Johnson claims more than 6000 wines are listed, while Clarke says more than 7000, but then recommends 4000 producers. News, vintage charts and data, glossaries, best value wines, and what to drink now are in both books. The major differences: Johnson has been at it longer – this is his 34th edition — and has more respect from erudite readers for his exactitude and scholarliness. His book is arranged by region; Clarke’s book is in dictionary, A – Z form (about 1600 main entries). It is really six of one, or half a dozen of another which one to use. Johnson’s entry for Canada is 1.2 pages (big deal). Oz has only one paragraph apiece on Inniskillin, Okanagan (recommending just red wines), and Niagara (recommending just icewines). Both books have notes on the 2009 vintage, along with a closer look at the 2008. It is fun to look at both books and find out where they diverge. As a sidelight, Johnson and Oz are moving into food: there is a 16 page section on food and wine matching in the former, while Oz has 6 pages. Johnson also has a listing of his personal 200 fave wines. Both books could profit from online accessibility or a CD-ROM production.
Other wine annuals – mostly paperbacks – deal with “recommended” wines, not all of the wines in the world. They can afford the space for more in-depth tasting notes (TNs) of what they actually do cover (usually just wines available in their local marketplace).
The Wine Trials 2011 (Fearless Critic, 2010, 288 pages, $18.95 CAD soft covers) is by Robin Goldstein, with Alexis Nerschkowitsch. Both have food and wine credentials, in addition to authoring restaurant review books and travel books. They have been assisted by named contributing writers and 500 named blind tasters. The object of the book is to come up with hidden wine values. The cover proclaims brown-bag blind tastings for wine values under $15. That’s $15 US, of course, and does not allow for discounts and sales so prevalent in the US marketplace. It is possible that a top rated US wine at $20, going on sale for under $15, could be well over $30 in Ontario. Most of the wines sold in Ontario are under $25 – the trick is to find the best ones. This book could give some guidance. They list 175 wines (up from 150 last year) under $15 US that outscored $50 to $150 bottles, using hundreds of blind tasters who filled in a simple form. The authors have lots of material justifying their choices, and there are copious notes for each of the 175 wines, filling a page apiece. Only about half the wines are available in Ontario, and many are not value priced because of the LCBO mark-up policy and lack of sales/discounts. The book just whets your appetite for a privatized company to sell wine in Ontario.
The 500 Best-Value Wines in the LCBO 2011 (Whitecap, 2010, 250 pages, $19.95 CAD paper back) takes a more determined run at the wines at the LCBO. This fourth edition, by Rod Phillips (wine writer for the Ottawa Citizen), has wines arranged by wine colour and then by region/country with price and CSPC number. Each value wine gets a rating (the basic is three stars out of five), and there is an indication of food pairings. A good guidebook, but I’m afraid most people will just look through it for the 5 star selections and leave it at that. Turnover in Ontario is enormous because this update claims over 160 new wines for a book that deals with just 500. Coverage is limited to LCBO General Purchase wines and LCBO Vintages Essentials, the wines that are available (if only by special order) in every LCBO store.
Billy’s Best Bottles Wines for 2011 (McArthur & Company, 2010, 240 pages, $19.95 CAD soft covers) by Billy Munnelly is back for another round (21st ed), creating more emphasis on wine and food pairing, party planning, and some social manners. There’s some info about country trends and frequently-asked questions about wine. Plus data on Ontario winery tours. His whole concept of wine is organized by Mood, with sections on wine colour and style/weight, and the wines are usually those available at the LCBO. Most should be available across the country. He has over 200 best international wine buys, with most under $20 and many under $12. And there is a wine index at the back where wines are listed by region. Check out www.billysbestbottles.com.
Dean Tudor is a Ryerson University Journalism Professor Emeritus, The Treasurer of The Wine Writers’ Circle of Canada and creator of Canada’s award-winning wine satire site at fauxvoixvincuisine.blogspot.com. Visit Dean’s websites at deantudor.com and gothicepicures.blogspot.com. His motto: “Look it up and you’ll remember it; screw it up and you’ll never forget it.”