Thursday, April 19, 2007

Educating Peter

by Lettie Teague

It's not every day that you see a book review on this blog. In fact, I have a whole separate blog specifically for the purpose of keeping track of what I read. But this book is different. This is a book designed to educate the masses in a completely new way.

The subtitle of this book is "How I taught a famous movie critic the difference between Cabernet and Merlot." OR "How anybody can become and (almost) instant wine expert."

In the interest of full disclosure, I will start out with saying that I was approached by the publishing company with this book. Would I like to check it out? I thought about it and decided that I am always interested in learning about wine, but wine books are so daunting, so perhaps this is the book for me. I said I was interested and I did receive the book in short time, and I wasted no time getting into it.

Educating Peter started as a very easy book to read. We were introduced to the subject Peter the movie critic, and found out right away that he was not a wine expert by any means. He knew very little about tasting, and knew almost nothing about different varieties. This was promising. We were given a list of basic terms to know, and were invited along with Peter on his adventure around the wine world. I enjoyed the banter between Peter and Lettie and was looking forward to seeing Peter's transformation. The journey around the world began with one of the most important countries in wine-making, France. I have to admit though, the chapter on France was a little daunting to me. I read it twice, because there is a lot of information within its pages. The designation system of France is still confusing to me, but I am sure with some time, I will grasp the concept of Chateaux and Grand Cru Estates. France got the most attention in this book as they discussed all the many regions in France- including the well-known Bordeaux and Burgundy regions.

After France, they made trek through Europe, discussing wines from Italy, Spain, Germany, Portugal, Austria, and Hungary before making their way to The New World. The New World countries included Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Chile before settling into the United States and the many productive regions here. While discussing the U.S. winemakers, Peter and Lettie actually went on a trip to Napa to explore that region and demystify the wines there. They also discussed The Finger Lakes in New York, Washington State, and Oregon. I will admit that a bit of me was rather pleased to learn that one of my favorite wines that we've discovered- Chateau Ste. Michelle was listed in this book as a great producer.

It really was amazing to watch Peter's transformation unfold on the pages of this book. And he really did! At the beginning he knew nothing- by the end, he was bidding on a case of wine at an auction, and ordering wine to pair with food while out to dinner. He had countless conversations with winemakers and purveyors, and by the end of the book, you had a real sense that he knew what he was talking about. This book provided an excellent education on the wine industry for me in such a fun and new manner. I will say that at times the information got to be too much at one time, and I would set the book down, but then I would pick it right back up and forge ahead. My only complaint with this book was the timing for me to read it. I really wanted to head to the wine store several times to learn exactly what Peter was learning. I wanted to taste some wine. And while I have a few bottles on hand, it just wouldn't have been the same.

This book isn't quite a textbook, and it isn't quite a story. It's an expert blend of both. In fact, I fully intend to use this book until its tattered to learn all about wine and the difference between grapes, regions, and vintages. By following Peter's example, I suspect that I can use this book to learn more about wine than what I already know- and that's not much. I can imagine how much fun it would be to open a bottle of wine for company and explain how this was a good vintage for this producer and discuss the nose or finish with my guests. I can imagine how Peter felt- volatizing his esters for the first time.

Educating Peter is an excellent book. It really is. If you have any interest in learning some of the basics about wine- this is your book. It's so much more than a basic textbook or informational book. This is entertaining at the same time. And I highly suggest you purchase your own copy, because if you have any interest in wine, your book will look like mine in no time, and will be full of notations and highlighter marks.


Mimi said...

I'd read about this book a while back and it sounded intriguing.

I do want to learn more. So far, my bible has been the Wall Street Journal guide by Dorothy and John somethingorother. I'll check this out!

Erika said...

Mimi, I thought about you when I read this book. There is a lot of information about the French wines and the classifications and such.