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Book Review: A Year of Wine by Tyler Coleman

year_of_wine_cover.jpgReview by Brooke Cheshier.

When I first slipped into A Year of Wine: Perfect Pairings, Great Buys, and What to Sip for Each Season, I worried it would be too formulaic. I am drawn toward in-depth histories (anything by the Kladstrups), poetic memoirs (Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher's Love by the Glass springs to mind), and basically any book that feeds me my wine knowledge indirectly, though story, instead of through instruction. Since I evidently don't like to know I'm receiving an education, I wasn't sure how I was going to feel about what was basically a one-year manual for wine drinking. I thought that Tyler Colman, aka Dr. Vino, was going to tell me exactly what to drink. In what months. And for what occasion.

What I found as I turned through the pages - and the seasons - was a wine drinking guide, full of suggestions (many specific) to amplify any and every wine drinking situation. Colman covers his bases and somehow manages to provide structure for a book (Winter/Spring/Summer/Fall. Jan. - Dec.) that falls far short of formulaic. He provides the reader with everything from a basic overview of a year in the vineyard to applicable tips for stretching your dollar while expanding your experience of wine. He introduces readers to some of the industry's most trusted importers, like Louis/Dressner and Kermit Lynch. He teaches serious collectors how to spot frauds. He supplies a definition for biodynamic winemaking that goes beyond "skull and bones" farming. He even provides all those writers tired of penning the word "terroir" over and over again with a new term for "sense of place;" it's "pangkarra," and the indigenous people of Australia have been using it for thousands of years.

An academic for the layman, Colman opens up the seasons of not just winemaking but of wine drinking. And he does it with an approachable warmth that is in many ways very different from - but just as honest as - the wry-yet-journalistic voice he uses on his website. Confession: I've always thought of Colman as the wine world's Stephen Colbert, and in A Year of Wine, he still gives rise to that comedic voice on occasion, for instance, when in February he states, "Rose Champagne: It's Not Just For Heart-shaped Jacuzzis Anymore." More often, however, he softens the saracastic edge; his voice rings with sincerity.

Colman organizes his seasons of wine in a way that's both practical and whimsical. His drinking gets serious in the Winter, when the cold weather demands the comfort of aged Riesling, hazelnut and brioche Champagnes, fine Burgundies, mysterious Barolos and thought-provoking Cabernets (Note: quality for Colman does not require a hefty price tag). His Spring wines are contemplative, with floral Chenin Blancs from Savennierres and bright, melony Muscadet transitioning him into Summer, when his wine suggestions become downright playful. Soave, Vinho Verde, Lambrusco all make their way to the picnic table. The book culminates in the Fall with complex white Bordeaux, spicy Gewurztraminer and bold Rhone reds decorating the harvest table.

As Colman takes readers from month to month, most - though not all - of the wines he introduces or suggests are surprisingly easy to find. Even Clos La Coutale, a Malbec from a small family producer in France's Cahors, can be purchased online for about $13. I spent some time looking for many of the wines, from several of the importers Colman highlights, as well as trying out several of the suggested pairings (off-dry Riesling with turkey; Loire reds with fatty pork rillettes). While most everything I tried was an out-of-the-ballpark success, my one wish for this book is that it offered more food and wine pairings. Perhaps he'll come up with a sequel?

A Year of Wine presents readers with affordable wine suggestions from some of the world's least explored wine regions, and Coleman puts the priority not on points but on when, where and with whom you're sharing your wine experience. That alone should inspire the everyday wine drinker to find his/her own copy of A Year of Wine.

Tyler Coleman, A Year of Wine: Perfect Pairings, Great Buys, and What to Sip for Each Season, Simon Spotlight Entertainment 2008, $18.72, (Hardcover).

Brooke Cheshier spends most weekends watching SEC Football and stealing blackberries from the neighbor's yard. When she's not staring blankly at the computer (she is working on her first book; progress is slow), Brooke moonlights as a freelance/marketing copywriter in Napa Valley and is the Wine Correspondent for G -The Magazine of Greenville. Her sole occupation for the latter is to make heavenly matches between southern eats and the world of drinks. She has also joined her first bowling league. Brooke can be found at odd hours blogging on http://www.theaficionada.com.

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Required Reading for Wine Lovers

The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson Wine Grapes The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson to cork or not to cork by George Taber reading between the vines by Terry Theise adventures on the wine route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud