I wish I had come up with the phrase “fierce freshness“. But I have to give credit to Katherine Cole, author of the new book, Complete Wine Selector. (I first heard about her latest book when she was a guest on my podcast.) This alliterative duo is deployed in the first section of book, which concerns crisp, lean whites. Rather than organizing each chapter by a country, Katherine does so by the style of the wine. I know as a retail wine guy, the questions I often get are not those of the “bring me something from the Loire Valley” variety (though it would melt my heart if more people did) but rather, “I want a rich red/refreshing white.”
“Fierce freshness” cannot just be applied to racy white wines, but also to Complete Wine Selector as a whole. It’s not dour and serious; Katherine’s words and tone exhibit a sense of humor, pleasure, whimsy, and–dare I say–FUN. From fonts to Diane von Fürstenberg, lovesick cowboy poets to bossa nova, and alligator wines commingling with whale sharks, there’s an evident personality emanating from the page.
The template of each wine section goes like this:
- You’ll Enjoy These Wines If…
- What the Experts Say
- Names to Look For
- Take One Wine
- Choices Made Simple
- Master Class
I want to focus on the “Take One Wine” section. Katherine chooses a representative for each chapter and dives in deep with a breakdown of the label and the wine. What I like about the section is that she doesn’t choose super-esoteric wines. Many of her picks, like the Burgans Albariño (a fiercely fresh, crisp, lean Spanish white wine), are actually widely distributed and possible to find in a (gasp!) grocery store. Katherine’s pick for sparkling wine best represents this ethos: Francis Coppola Sofia Blanc de Blancs. There’s no disparaging those who like this popular wine, and if it “…isn’t the wine of every oenophile’s dreams, they don’t have to drink it.” Immediately following this declaration are some very trenchant comments about marketing wine towards women:
The fact is, the majority of wine purchasers are women, and yet the consumer market is awash with off-the-mark, sub-par brands targeting female audiences with clumsy ad campaigns. Tasteful and restrained by contrast, Sofia makes many female consumers very, very happy.
Sofia also makes this 41 year-old consumer dude very, very happy. Especially in cans with a straw; a fantastic wine for road trips.
Speaking of fantastic, the “Choices Made Simple” sections contain “Best on a Budget” wine recommendations, where I ran into many old friends. My eight favorite, in no particular order:
- Inama Soave (Crisp, Lean Whites) [I love all their wines.]
- Domaine du Tariquet Classic (CLW) [Go Gascony for cheap, fun whites.]
- Alois Lageder Muller-Thurgau (Lively, Aromatic Whites) [This M-T from Northern Italy rocks.]
- Peñalolen Sauvignon Blanc (LAW) [Hard to go wrong with any Chilean Sauv Blanc.]
- Crios de Susana Balbo Torrontes (Rich, Full-Bodied Whites) [I disagree that Torrontes is a RFW. More of a LAW.]
- Commanderie de la Bargemone (Rosé) [Comes in a 3L box, too. Which will make your fridge love you.]
- Allegrini Palazzo della Torre (Firm, Medium-Bodied Reds) [Kind of like a baby Amarone.]
- Vietti Tre Vigne Dolcetto (FMR) [The Barbera is smokin’, too.]
There are also picks from experts starting off this section, who are all sommeliers. And you’ll find more somms quoted in “What The Experts Say”. Sidebar: Where are the retail wine pros? Do they need to learn more fancy necktie knots to get some love?
I dug the Master Class section, which goes over, for example, what makes a wine hot, flabby, or have “minerality”. Katherine also addresses current trends, topics, and controversies revolving around a certain style of wine and/or its production.
I found the section on buying wine a bit superfluous, mainly because there’s plenty of specific wine-buying info in each chapter on wine styles. Also, when talking about doing internet research concerning wine, I was surprised there was no mention of using Twitter or Facebook to find out more or seek a recommendation. And though this is a wildly self-serving statement, blogs are a pretty decent source as well.
The Tools of the Trade section has good advice on starting out with glassware: get one all-purpose wine glass and one flute for bubbly. Then you can get geeky as you save up money. I also heartily concur with the excellence and cheapness of the double-hinged waiter’s wine key, though the accompanying photo shows a single-hinged one. And when it comes to decanters, start with trying to find an old vase at Goodwill.
Overall, Complete Wine Selector is a book that’s, well, full of goodwill. A fantastic resource for the regular, enthusiastic wine drinker who wants to spread their wine wings and, if not soar, at least cruise to destinations unknown. And it’s written with that audience in mind. Easy to navigate and full of personality, I can imagine a copy becoming dog-eared due to frequent use, comfortable and comforting like an old pair of jeans that make you look and feel great.