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on 16 November 2007
Andrew Jefford is a brilliant wine writer and in this latest work, he offers his take on the 'welcome to wine' kind of book.
Because it's Jefford, it's somewhat more than a 'here are the basics'. So I would say it's ideal for the person who's got some clue as to what differences might be: i.e. already knows that Burgundy hosts the pinot noir graple, but probably couldn't tell you that the Northern Rhone grapes are different from the southern Rhone.
I, for one, found it excellent.
He starts with a basic definition of wine in six words: "the fermented juice of fresh grapes" and then goes into three processes towards flavour: grapes (e.g. describing the characteristics both of classics like merlot and of minor grapes like cinsault); places (e.g. how would a chardonnay from Burgundy be different from a chardonnay from Chile or Australia); and finally winemakers: what processes can you do to influence things e.g. the easy bits - bottling etc. - and the more complex bits- malolactic fermentation etc..
Then he links different things across 'wine styles' e.g. valpolicella is made in Italy from the corvino grape and others, whilst beaujolais is made in France from the gamay grape, but both are 'light' red wines. Whereas, Crozes Hermitage and Burgundy and Montepulciano d'Abruzzo are all 'medium' red wines. And then Barolo, Ribera Del duero and McClaren Vale Shiraz are all 'full' red wines.
This bit's very helpful for thinking through what you might want at or before a meal and for thinking what you want to buy in the supermarket or wherever.
And the book is full of gorgeous turns of phrase that genuinely illuminate what he's describing. For example, on a general level: "White wine implies a special moment...: Red wine, on my drinking map, surrounds white as the ocean surrounds islands. Red wine is always first choice; red wine, in the end, IS wine. It's what I like to drink every day, what I like to drink on Sundays, and what I like to drink on Christmas Day, too."
He's got this gift so that you just get what he's talking about.
Or for a more minor example: "A bright, brash Australian white can taste superb for the first half-dozen mouthfuls, then may become a monotonous, crashing bore as you struggle to finish the rest of the bottle."

It's not a detailed work, so it doesn't have the florid prose passages that illuminate his "The New France" for example, but it does very well what it attempts to do.
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