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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fresh Look at the World of Wine, 13 Jan 2011
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Hugh de Lacy (Cambridge, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Wine Myths and Reality (Hardcover)
Most wine books published these days are written by people working in the wine trade or journalists specialising in wine. This book harks back to the early days of wine writing in that it is written by an `interested amateur'. However the use of the term amateur does not imply that the content is in any way amateurish; the author Benjamin Lewin is a distinguished academic in the bioscience field and is one of a small number of individuals not working in the wine trade who have become Masters of Wine - one of the world's toughest professional qualifications. With this (probably unique) combination of a strong science background and deep expertise in wine unconnected with the trade, Lewin has written a fascinating book covering the whole topic of wine that is quite unlike anything published previously.

The structure of the book is fairly conventional with a brief historical section followed by sections on viticulture and wine making methods that take up the first third of the book. A section on trends and developments in the international wine trade is then followed by selective commentaries on the state of wines in the principal wine growing countries, occupying the remainder of the book.

What is unusual about the book is Lewin's very searching approach to the subject: he looks at all aspects of the wine business with an objective and often critical eye and is not afraid to condemn dubious practices or plain superstition. Notable is a section on the fashionable practice of biodynamic viticulture that schedules activities to the phases of the moon and includes practices that seem more akin to rituals than agriculture; Lewin, while acknowledging the high quality of many wines coming from biodynamic vineyards expresses a view that the success of the wines is likely based on the good organic viticulture practices that are part of the biodynamic movement rather than the more esoteric practices. Similarly a very interesting article on terroir and the extent to which it influences the taste of wines is also sceptical about the more extreme claims made for it and also points out (with several examples) the extent to which vineyard owners have themselves modified aspects of the terroir of vineyards in order to improve the local conditions for optimum viticulture.

The book is clearly based on very extensive research (with sources detailed in a long list of notes at the end of the book); this research presents interesting historical information on the origin of practices like chaptalisation but also reveals some dubious modern practices that will not be familiar to many wine drinkers - for example the addition of concentrated red grape extract to many Californian wines to improve their colour and the use of reverse osmosis devices in France to increase or decrease the alcohol content of wines. A chapter entitled `Fraud and Scandal' is an interesting account of the adulteration of wines from Roman times to the 20th century and stories of more recent fraudulent practices up to the 1980s (perhaps the libel laws inhibited Lewin from telling us what is going on today).

The lengthy survey of the world's different wines regions is full of interesting statistics, well illustrated with many coloured diagrams and maps (as is the book throughout). It particularly focuses on the different `appellation' systems and how they influence the wine and how it is made and traded. Extensive space is devoted to the classic French areas of Bordeaux and Burgundy.

This is a heavy book (both metaphorically and literally) and, packed with information as it is, could easily have been a heavy read. However Lewin has a very engaging writing style, light and anecdotal with flashes of humour that keeps the reader's attention.

I can strongly recommend this book to anyone with a serious interest in wine
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book., 13 Sep 2011
This review is from: Wine Myths and Reality (Hardcover)
Even someone with a passing interest in wine (and a focus on drinking it) will find this book fascinating. The science is there but without being at all heavy handed. It is full of insights into how winemakers go about their business. The £6 bottle receives as much attention as the Chateau Margaux.
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Wine Myths and Reality
Wine Myths and Reality by Benjamin Lewin (Hardcover - 16 May 2013)
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