Thursday, October 28, 2010

My Favorite Wine Book: Windows on the World Complete Wine Course: 25th Anniversary Edition

Let's face it wine is not an easy topic.  When I started educating myself on wines, everyone drank Chardonnay.  Now the big white is Pinot Grigio.  It is easy to latch onto a trend and drink what everyone else is drinking because in all honesty, it can be quite reliable. My philosophy is take a risk because you are missing out on some of the truly fabulous wines out there if you don't.  I was really not a wine drinker when I started learning about wines but I have to admit it was a job requirement.  I never worried much about pretenses (and still don't), I just knew what I liked.  At the time, I was in Texas and the restaurant I worked at was interested in introducing and educating its clientele on the local Texas wines.  Come to think of it, this was probably my first introduction to buying local.  Texas produces some pretty darn good wines but they are hard to find outside of the state.

I live in the state of Pennsylvania now and they do have wineries around here but they can't really compete with the west coast wines or, in my opinion, Texas wines. There are a couple of OK wines.   Pennsylvania just doesn't have the right growing conditions and usually produce fruity, sweet wines that I am just not that fond of.  PA also has some archaic liquor laws so generally you can't have wine shipped into the state. This was a difficult concept to swallow when I was standing in the middle of Napa Valley surrounded by incredible wines that I could only buy there or would be difficult to find in the keystone state.
This is a wall of champagne bottles that is going through its second fermentation.  These bottles will eventually go through the process of remuage which is turning the bottles a quarter turn to collect the sediment from the spent yeast. This process at Schramsberg is still actually done by hand and prepares the bottles for the riddling process.  These two processes are responsible for the clear champagnes that we drink today.
 As in this bottle.  Cool, huh?!  This is before the riddle process which is when the sediment is trapped in the neck of the bottle and eventually disposed of before the final corking.

Wine tastings can be a great way to learn what you like and about the different qualities of wines.  I am always up for a wine tasting.  Last year, I went with a good friend to Napa Valley and we had a wine tasting blast.  She is now a serious wine lover.  I am thrilled that I have a drinking buddy that actually cares what the wine taste like!  I had a lot of fun because I was familiar with many of wines that has vineyards there. There are a lot of vineyards in Napa Valley and it is a test of wills to go to as many as you can. I mean really, how many wine tastings can you go to in a day before your taste buds are numb and you are starting to get tipsy (falling down drunk is a possibility, that is if you are not careful).    That is just not for me, so we took our time and tried to do four or five vineyards a day and we would share a tasting (a recommendation at one of the vineyards by a  wine representative, Thank you!).  At each vineyard, there are usually 4 to 5 wines to try, starting with the sweeter whites and ending with the most robust red.
This table is set for a wine tasting at Schramsberg Vineyards which is mostly known for their sparkling wines but have some lovely reds.  This was a very fun wine tasting and it didn't hurt that I enjoyed all the wines they served. Schramsberg has served their sparkling wine, which I like to call champagne regardless of wine etiquette and location of their vineyard, at prestigious Presidential state dinners.  

This was a barrel tasting at one of the wine tours we went on.  It was a new experience for me.  It was not grape juice but not quite wine either.  I could actually tell it needed more time before it should be drunk, but was well on its way.  It was fun and I was thrilled to get to do this.  We were actually underground, basically in a cave.  No refrigeration needed!

The tool she is using is a wine pipette, also called a "wine thief", that extracts some of the wine from the top of the barrel for tasting.

The first thing I did when I got home was to buy a new edition of Windows of the World: Complete Wine Course.  An earlier edition (much earlier) of this book was recommended many years ago and was the very first book that I bought for wine information. I really needed to actually sound like I knew what I was talking about when customers wanted help making wine choices. What better way to do this than to actually have experience and some basic knowledge.  It was very rewarding for me when they enjoyed the selection that I helped them with.  My first Windows of the World book was a thin, blue hardback packed with great information and now it is a large hardback packed with lots more information, pictures and diagrams. Who doesn't like pictures?  They help break up the monotony of all those words and each picture is worth a thousand words, right?!  But let's be honest here, there is a vast amount of info out there on wines and you probably need a couple of lifetimes learning it, so a good basic, well organized wine book is a great start and may be as far as you need to go.
Coffee table book?

An example of a page.  I love how he skips the verbose writings like some 
wine books and gets right to the point.  

This book also has some tips on wine pairings with different foods.  For example, did you know that fruity, sweeter wines go really well with spicy foods.  I took a bottle of Rioja which was a nice, fruity red to a Thai restaurant and it was a great match (this was a BYOB restaurant, a concept which I love).  So if you are like me, you probably just want a good foundation of wine knowledge and the capability to order a enjoyable glass or bottle of wine(and maybe even impress your friends.  I have found that friends who think you may know something about wines will start to refer to you.  This could be to your advantage or not!).  The right wine paired with the right foods can make the wine better and improve the meal.  This book is easy to read which is a real plus for a reference book.  Check it out at your nearest bookstore or library and see if you don't agree with me.  I love this book and use it regularly to review and educate myself on many wine questions I may have. 
This is a very old wine vine that has just barely started to sprout around mid-March.

Disclaimer:  I will only recommend books that I use, truly love and find valuable in my life.  I totally encourage anyone who is interested in a book that I recommend to check it out at the library or borrow from a friend first.  I have many cookbooks, along with many fiction and special interest books, and acquiring more books is something I have become careful about.  And besides who doesn't love the library and sharing books with friends.  Mostly I just want to share what I consider a great find!

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