By Geoff Kalish, MD
With all the wine books and cookbooks out there – even with the marked decline in new titles over the past few years – how unique or helpful are new market entries? And how do they compare with the classics in the field? These are the questions I asked myself a while ago and set out to answer by scouring the shelves of bookshops in Westchester and Manhattan.
For the serious oenophile
My only regret about Evan Dawson’s critically acclaimed “Summer in a Glass: The Coming of Age of Winemaking in the Finger Lakes” (Sterling Epicure, $15) is that it wasn’t published before I visited the Keuka and Cayuga Lakes wine areas two years ago. Told in a surprisingly easy reading style for such a well-researched book, it would have provided me then with great insight into the wines and winemakers of the region. And while probably too detailed for novices, this book makes earlier attempts by others writing on the same subject seem boring and/or amateurish.
Narrowly focused, “The Vineyard at the End of the World: Maverick Winemakers and the Rebirth of Malbec,” by Ian Mount (Norton, $27) is not for those seeking to find the latest, greatest bottle of any wine. In fact, unlike many other books that focus on a particular wine varietal, there are no specific recommendations here. On the other hand, the author provides a comprehensive documentary of the geographical, financial, social and political happenings over the past 400 years in Argentina that allowed for the emergence of Malbec as the country’s standard-bearing brand. Some, like me, will find the story fascinating. Others looking for wine-buying advice, however, may not make it through the first chapter.
For the wine-challenged
If you think there’s nothing new under the sun in wine primers, then check out “The Drops of the Gods, Volume I” (Vertical, $15) by sister and brother Yuko and Shin Kibayashi, written under the pen name Tadashi Agi. A megahit in Japan, China and Korea for the past decade, but only translated into English this past year or so, this book is the first in a series, written in comic book style, that primarily follows the exploration of the world of wine by its hero, Shizuku Kanzaki, who has rebelled against his famous wine-critic father. While the premise sounds off the wall, it’s far more instructional and fun than anything that’s been published since “Wine for Dummies,” and far more readable than the Alexis Bespaloff’s classic, “Signet Book of Wine.” It even offers good tips for the wine-knowledgeable reader on issues like decanting and deciphering a label. Difficult to come by in Westchester and Connecticut, it’s available at specialty bookshops in Manhattan like Kitchen Arts and Letters at 1435 Lexington Ave. (at 94th Street.)
For the home chef
In a world in which everything seems more complex and convoluted, Michael Ruhlman’s “Ruhlman’s Twenty: 20 Techniques, 100 Recipes, A Cook’s Manifesto” (Chronicle, $40) and “Ina Garten’s Foolproof: Recipes you can trust” (Clarkson Potter, $35) stand out for clarity and simplicity. Author of two excellent books about his experiences at The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, Ruhlman makes “Twenty” a must for serious home chefs – essentially distilling successful cooking into 20 reliable, reproducible, basic techniques – clearly explained in text and demonstrated in more than 300 photographs.
Also a far cry from the classic volumes by Escoffier and Julia Child, the latest in the “Barefoot Contessa” series by Ina Garten not only provides easy to follow recipes but explains in text and photos what the dish should look like when served and how to avoid pitfalls in its preparation. Also included are suggestions for timing considerations when incorporating a dish into a meal – an important element missed in most other cookbooks.
For a no-nonsense approach
Already a best-seller at the Village Bookstore in Pleasantville, “How To Love Wine: A Memoir and Manifesto” (Morrow, $25), by New York Times critic Eric Asimov, provides a common-sense approach to enjoying any vintage. Asimov tells his well-written tale through a series of personal experiences as a kid growing up in the 1960s and ’70s who knew little about wine. His basic premise is that the anxiety brought on by blind tastings and being able to accurately describe the olfactory and gustatory sensations of wine have little to do with its enjoyment, which he feels is accomplished by opening a bottle and drinking its contents. Not a unique concept but still, it’s quite a departure from all the books, magazines and newsletters reporting on blind tastings with numerical ratings and frequently incomprehensible, somewhat silly descriptions of wine.