If California was a country, points out Stephen Brook, it would be the fourth largest wine producer in the world, after Italy, France and Spain. Consequently The Wines of California
is a hefty tome, taking nearly 700 pages to explore this vast quasi-nation. The very special qualities that characterise Californian wines, however, are summed up by Brook in a single word: Generosity. It is the near-perfect climate that ensures the reliability of the harvests and the "rich, full- bodied, fleshy, opulent" qualities that Brook so prizes and which he communicates with such enthusiasm to his readers. His dedication and profound knowledge of the region are apparent everywhere and the result is an invaluable companion to the buying and drinking of Californian wine. California is sometimes seen as a wine- producing monolith. This book offers a useful corrective, discussing production at a local level.
Divided into three main sections, The Wines of California covers first the main wine regions. The crucial matters of geography, geology, soil structure and climate are discussed and the individual American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) and their sub-appellations profiled. A lengthy and fascinating account of Grapes and Wines covers growing and wine-making methods, and (usefully, given the Californian obsession with varietal wines) the grape varieties planted, including California's own grape, the fabulous Zinfandel. Finally, the most substantial part of the book comprises a gazetteer of wineries with a short profile of each--not, as Stephen Brook remarks, likely to provide racy reading, but of great interest. There are few discussions of individual vintages, which, given the fact that Californian wines are made to be drunk young, would be of limited usefulness, but Brook is free with his opinions and his judgements on some of the makers are sharp. --Robin Davidson
About the Author
Stephen Brook is a leading writer on wine, gastronomy and travel, specialising in the wines of California and Bordeaux. His book Wines of California (Faber & Faber) won the Glenfiddich, Prix Lanson, and Veuve Clicquot awards for best wine book 2000. He has recently published Bordeaux: People, Power and Politics (Mitchell Beazley).
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