If I had a nickel for every occasion I have been asked to suggest a wine primer book for friends who wish to learn a little more about wine, I’d have about 30 nickels or thereabouts. The problem with this particular ask is that I have never been able to recommend one that I have been truly happy with, and hence there are an awful lot of emails and voicemails that I don’t reply to…
How I wish that Katherine Cole’s Complete Wine Selector had been around before now, as it’s the perfect solution to this perennial question.
Despite its veritable ancient history, the world of wine is a fairly kinetic one, leading to many books on the subject, particularly introductory ones, becoming somewhat obsolete even before they reach their publishing date. In my mind this is in many cases due to the authors’ inabilities to keep up with nascent trends and the like. And herein lies the strength of Cole’s book.
Her finger appears to be firmly on the throbbing pulse of the industry, and so she shows no trepidation whatsoever whilst introducing the reader to the more obscure and esoteric, or indeed what, in her words, is currently “trending”. I also took great pleasure in her succinct explanation of the canning factory of worms that is natural wine.
This coffee table-styled guide is lavishly illustrated, making it a visually striking reminder of how often such books fail with their drab presentations of what is , in my mind at least, deliciously exciting subject matter.
The bulk of the book is taken up with Cole’s smart breakdown of wines into 10 styles (borrowed from a certain Mr. Johnson, of which we’ll hear a little more from later), from Crisp and Lean White, through Rich, Full Bodied Red, to Fortified. With each style she takes the reader through a sequence of five steps, from Introduction to Masterclass, that give a fairly decent overview of the type of wine in question. The inclusion of some less-than-traditional food pairing tips, along with anecdotal sidebars from Sommeliers the world over, certainly gives The Complete Wine Selector an edge that is usually missing from such books.
This wine style guide is then augmented by smaller sections on purchasing wine, serving wine, how wine is made, and finally an appendix of sorts, covering pairing, wine-producing counties, and a guide to grape varietals. She’s certainly done a fine job in condensing all of this down into 256 pages, that is for sure.
Reading through The Complete Wine Selector it quickly becomes apparent that Cole knows her Bierzos from her Bastardos, but the tone of her writing is perfectly pitched for the demographic who will gain the most from this book. While her language is carefully nuanced, informed, and correct, there is a genuine warmth, sincerity, and dare I say chuminess, in her words that makes the undeniably complex topic of wine seem so much more accessible for the reader.
As the mighty Hugh Johnson says in his foreword, and I’ll paraphrase here, with this book Katherine Cole has successfully blown many of the cobwebs from the dusty old world of wine.
If I were to find any fault in this compact tome, Cole’s second book, it would simply be that her Buying Guide reminds me of just how limited our wine selections are here in Ontario under the government monopoly that is the LCBO. *sigh*
I would thoroughly recommend The Complete Wine Selector to anyone wishing to learn about the basics of wine. As a thoroughly researched and delightfully presented primer I feel that it is simply second to none.
Edinburgh-born/Toronto-based Sommelier, consultant, writer, judge, and educator Jamie Drummond is the Director of Programs/Editor of Good Food Revolution… And he’ll certainly be buying this book for quite a few people.