Book Review: Oz Clarke’s “Let Me Tell You About Wine”

The venerable – unavoidable, even – Oz Clarke continues to grind out book after book, and this almost-coffee-table-sized tome is designed to make wine accessible to even the most rank novice.

If you know nothing, you’ll probably get sucked in by the pictures of strawberries and chocolate, part of Clarke’s goal to get you thinking about the character of a wine instead of just whether it is “good” or “bad.” I especially enjoyed the book’s “wine wheels,” which put the spectrum of reds and whites each on their own circle, with a range of broad flavors around the circumference and intensity representing the distance from the center. While I doubt many readers will ever wonder where Bulgarian Chardonnay is plotted (light, between “oaky” and “oaky and fruity,” by the by), it’s a helpful way to start thinking about how various styles of wine are made.

But so much of this book is targeted at those oblivious about wine that it’s hard to really savor its lessons. There are sections about how to use a corkscrew, how to order a bottle of wine, and of course lengthy treatises on how wine is made. The book really starts to falter though in its discussion of winemaking regions: The United States is dispatched in 10 pages, one of which is devoted to the wines of Texas. Clarke then gives specific wine recommendations for each region: His list of 30 California wines to try include a hodgepodge ranging from supermarket swill (two Ravenswood bottlings) to cult wines most readers of this book will never encounter (Thackrey, Viader).

All along the way there is a surfeit of photographs of Oz mugging for the camera, glass in hand, and many, many, many stock art selections of grape vines and picnic tables overflowing with full wine glasses. Sure, if you are completely oblivious and need guidance on what wine to pair with “chilli con carne,” well, Clarke will get you there eventually (an Italian red, he would advise), though even that is a bit of a challenge due to the book’s odd organization. All the better for it to sit on the coffee table instead of in the library, I suppose.

C+ / $14 / [BUY IT HERE]

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