Island resident George Taber gives "A Toast to Bargain Wines"In his latest book, Taber makes a convincing case for those $10-and-under bottles
Where do you belong from oenophile to initiate on the spectrum of wine drinkers?
Doesn’t matter. If you enjoy wine, you surely will enjoy George Taber’s new book, “A Toast to Bargain Wines: How innovators, iconoclasts, and winemaking revolutionaries are changing the way the world drinks.”
And don’t lend it to anyone; you may not get it back. In any case, your copy of George’s book soon will be so well-thumbed and dog-eared, it will no longer be in lending shape. (I’ll be referring to the author by his first name. After all, he’s a Block Islander. This familiarity should not by any means take away from his reputation as a highly regarded wine expert whose book “Judgment of Paris” is recognized as seminal among books about wine.)
For George Taber, $10 or less for a bottle of wine is a bargain. That’s for a good — no, make that very good — bottle of wine. He makes the case that expensive wines do not necessarily taste better than inexpensive wines, that price does not guarantee quality, undercutting the conventional wisdom associated with expensive wines.
In his easy, fluid style, George explains why assertions about wine-food pairings are arguable; why many, if not most, so-called wine “experts” do not merit the title; why these experts arrive at inconsistent, contradictory conclusions at wine tastings; and why, therefore, we should be suspicious of the “Gold Medal” claims and high scores associated with various expensive wines. In his first paragraph of Chapter One, he quotes a man working in the wine trade in London who in 1820 was convinced that “in wine-tasting and wine-talk there is an enormous amount of humbug.” George agrees and convinces us in his book that, nearly two centuries later, the same is true.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of George’s book is his delightful descriptions of people, their circumstances and their importance to the wine industry as it moves toward the making of good inexpensive wines. My favorite person — one might say character — is Tim Hanni. This man’s odyssey through the vines and vagaries of the wine trade is simply fascinating. Hanni is a recovering alcoholic and in describing Tim’s deciding to quit drinking, George says, “Being one of the world’s top wine experts but also an alcoholic results in a complex personality.” Indeed, this guy is fun to read about.
Hanni is central to an especially informative chapter, “Unraveling the Mysteries of Taste,” which includes Hanni’s test to determine the types of wines you would be most likely to enjoy, by placing you in one of four types: sweet, hypersensitive, sensitive or tolerant.
I’m sensitive, suggesting that I would prefer merlots and pinot noirs (actually, the test puts me on the cusp of hypersensitive/sensitive, meaning I might also try an occasional rioja from Spain). My wife, Virginia, is tolerant, thus having a preference for red cabernets and Italian barolos. Our tastes do confirm the test; those are the kinds of wines we like. Hanni and George would tell me that when Virginia extols a bold red cabernet, I might give it a try, but I’m probably going to stick with my merlot, a bit fruitier and lighter.
If you’d like to discover your type and the wines you ordinarily would enjoy, the book directs you to the website www.yumyuk.com. Then, next time you’re choosing from a restaurant wine list, you might try a glass of pinot noir (even with your fish!) instead of sharing that bottle of zinfandel with your tolerant friends.
The last section of the book is “Guides to Best Buys,” an excellent compendium in which George introduces as a list of “bargain wines and two splurge wines for 34 of the most popular wine varieties, then 10 value brands from 12 regions around the world, and, finally, my 10 favorite box wines.” Supporting these lists are succinct descriptions of each wine, many of which led me to try new wines. I have a number of favorite red wines already, but George’s description prompted me to try the Camenere, a Chilean red that’s now on my list (and has made the list of my oenophile son-in-law, to whom I gifted a bottle).
But box wines? Seriously?
Well, yes. After all, the book is “A Toast to Bargain Wines.” George persuades us to consider this particular bargain in the chapter “Thinking Outside the Bottle.” Noting that Franzia box wines are the world’s most popular wines, he explains the advantage of being able to draw one glass at a time from a container that prevents oxidation and he advises that: “Consumers looking for the least expensive wine should consider box wines. They can get both value and good wine, which is why premium boxes are now the fastest-growing segment of the wine business.”
“Compelling” and “engaging” are words often used, perhaps overused, in book reviews. However, in the case of “A Toast to Bargain Wines,” they are appropriate and should even be in boldface type. This is an enjoyable, interesting and informative book and, yes, it is compelling and engaging. At the end of his introduction, George notes that “good $10 bottles are available from all over the world. Critics and consultants, who recommend what wines people should drink, rarely talk or write about them. It’s the greatest story that’s never been told.”
Now, thanks to George Taber, you can read all about it.