Wine Appreciation through Education
email newsletter: december 2008

In This Issue



  • A Wine Book for Christmas
  • Environmental Impact of that Quick Trip
  • Billy Munnelly's Latest
  • Spezzatino Helps Feed the Hungry
  • My New Book has Arrived!
  • Ontario Grape Bail-out 

Helping to Build a Wine Knowledge Library *

A visit to the wine book or wine magazine section of a bookstore can be just as bewildering as the local wine shop. It sometimes seems like a new wine book appears every week, and magazines and newsletters abound. And at this time of year, it’s even worse, with wine books popping up like chia pets and miracle silver cleaner. So here’s a quick guide to choosing some useful literature for your favourite wine fan’s book library.

Reference Books

It's a good idea to lay in a couple of general purpose wine books covering all the basics in detail. Usually large, possibly expensive, these books discuss the history of wine and the mechanics of winemaking. They will also delve into the major wine regions, classification systems, and the characteristics of the wines. Reference books tend to be good value because the information won’t soon go out of date.

Wine "Encyclopaedias"

Basically comprehensive shopping lists, these books attempt to include every wine imaginable, along with some coverage of regions and wineries. For the collector or globe-trotter, they can be a good investment (See “Billy” below). Keep in mind, though, that vintages come and go, and these books can become obsolete rather quickly.


Usually nicely and amply illustrated, wine travel books can range from hands-on visitors manuals to serious reference works. They may cover a country, a region or a subregion and, like the general reference work, give details of the area’s history, geography and culture, and detailed listings of what to see and where to taste. The wine listings are usually very up-to-date, and will often include vintage charts and contact information: just the thing for the oenophile on the move.

Wine Magazines

Today's wine magazine is truly a cross-cultural work. Most feature dozens or even hundreds of wine reviews from all around the globe and at every level of the market. They are also life-style magazines, and regularly include articles on food, travel, entertaining, and even music. There is a wine magazine for everyone, as many cater to a particular demographic. Wine Spectator, for example, seems just the thing for the upwardly-mobile as well as the already-arrived, whereas Wine X is clearly targeting the under-35 crowd. Although the wines tend to be international, the reviews are timely and draw from a number of writers. Subscriptions are usually a good investment. In Canada we have some top-notch wine journals, including Wine Access, Vines, Tidings, and a number of food and wine journals as well.

Wine Newsletters

This is no doubt the most eclectic stratum of wine literature. Wine newsletters range from simple good advice to standard-bearers. Robert M. Parker Jr.'s Wine Advocate , for example, is credited with making the 100-point scale the de facto standard, and has even been accused of forcing the wine industry to cater to his and his reviewers tastes. And newsletters aren't just for the hardcore wine fan. A newsletter author in your vicinity will give you insight into the wines that are available, and may get that information into your hands before the bottles get into the stores, and the subscription price can be a bargain when the publication consistently steers you toward wines you’ll enjoy.  Check out the Wine Writers’ Circle of Canada member pages for a writer in your area, and also check out Michael, Vaughan’s Vintage Assessments.

*  Excerpted from “The Oenophile Next Door”

Double Your Pleasure; Halve Your Environmental Impact

I have a "3 errand rule" when using my car: I don't take it out of the driveway unless I'm going to accomplish at least three tasks.  A recent study done in Nova Scotia has demonstrated the real cost of a single-item trip,  at least when it comes to wine. It seems that a quick trip to pick up a bottle actually doubles the carbon footprint of that bottle of wine!   (You can find the original article at Wines & Vines website.)

At this time of year I also think twice about even going to the local booze barn, as line-ups can be ridiculous. Instead, I'll load up on a few bottles at a time in conjunction with other errands. It lowers the environmental impact, saves my nerves, and ensures that I have a good stock of wine for this or any other season.

A Bigger, Bolder Billy

I have to confess that any review I do of Billy Munnelly's work is bound to be slanted. When I first became too interested in wine, Billy was one of the first writers I discovered who didn't take it all so seriously. On top of that, Billy is a bit of a gadfly, highly sociable, and always on the lookout for something interesting. And he fills his writings with his many observations and reflections.

Billy’s wine reviews are always unique, with equal measures of philosophy, poetry, humour, and sound technical knowledge. He abandoned his highly popular newsletter a couple of years ago and now spends his time with newspaper and magazine writing. Thankfully, he has continued to produce his annual wine round-up, which offers an amazing array of value wines from the LCBO General List, Vintages Essentials, Canadian Wineries,  and wine importers.

Billy's approach to wine is very much like my own. He doesn't quietly accept popular wisdom when it comes to wine, and prefers to discover wine in his own way. The result is his "six pack" approach that focuses on wine moods. Like my own "Wine Trios", Billy’s styles encompass three white and three red groups. (Sparkling wines are included within the style groups.)

A brief intro explains the approach of the book, followed by a helpful Q & A section. Next come reviews of more than 300 wines, in the six style groups: Fresh White; Everyday Nice White; Rich White; Lively Red; Rustic Red; and Rich Red.  The Sweet Wine section deals with wines ranging from off-dry to dessert wines, as well as sweeter sparkling wines.

The book finishes off with tips on buying, touring, and how best to incorporate wine into your lifestyle. In all, it's a lot of good information and useful advice for under $20 and sure to be appreciated by the wine fan on your list.

Billy's Best Bottles for 2009, 19th edition
McArthur & Company, Toronto ON
ISBN: 987-1-55278-747-2
$19.95, 178 pages


My Next "Best Cellar"

It's been a rather long and somewhat torturous route, but my long-awaited Winegrape Primer has finally arrived. The Primer began as a set of file cards that I put together as a quick reference to wine grapes, wine styles, background, and food matches. Getting as much info as possible onto a 3 x 5 card was a bit of a trick, but I always say that less is more. When the stack of cards became too cumbersome, I committed to expanding the scope and made it into a book. The result is thumbnail references for nearly 300 grapes and wines. I gave a preview copy to a friend who asked for another one just a few days later, so she and her husband could each keep one in the car! I'll be doing a formal book launch in February, but in the meantime the book is available from me for an introductory price of just $10/copy (regularly $12.95).

Subscribe to a Good Cause

I had the honour recently of being the feature article in the second issue of Spezzatino, an email food magazine with a difference. Each issue focuses on a specific food item and the articles will be about that item and how it’s used. The first issue dealt with tomatoes and the second issue was all about grapes, which is how I fit into the picture.

This e-magazine is the work of a number of big hearted and generous foodies. It is a non-profit initiative and all subscription proceeds go to fund the Healthy Food Bank. A subscription is only $60/year or $5.99/month and, in keeping with the season, gift subscriptions are being offered at $29.99 for 6 volumes of Spezzatino (one approximately every two months).

Buy local -- unless you happen to be a large Ontario winery

For the past couple of years, there has been a world wine glut. In Ontario we've had a tough time with two killer winters in a row, but the vineyards rebounded in '07 and growers looked for a robust harvest in 2008. Meanwhile, headlines were still talking of a wine glut throughout the globe. Enter the Ontario grape marketing board, aka the Wine Council of Ontario. Grape growers stood their ground asking for the same price they got two years ago. The WCO also stood their ground. No deal could be reached so the issue went to arbitration. Meanwhile, grapes were ripening, and ripe grapes don’t wait for bureaucrats. The final blow was when the major wineries -- those that are allowed to import finished wine for pennies and sell it as Cellared in Canada product -- flatly refuse to buy the Ontario grapes. Now, the growers have been selling to Ontario wineries for years as the larger ones are unable to grow all the grapes they need (indeed, some of them don't even own vineyards), so when the buyers folded up their tents and went home, it meant that thousands of tons of wine grapes were left rotting on the vine ... instant glut!

Rather than have a lot of Ontario’s 600+ farming families apply for bankruptcy, the Ontario government decided to "buy" the unwanted grapes -- $4 Million worth. But they have also laid down the law, and the grape and wine industries have until the end of Feb 2009 to come up with some sort of workable plan, presumably one where everyone benefits. If they fail to solve their own problems, then the government will do it for them. That must be some motivator.

A modest proposal
I have my own plan for solving current and future problems with the Ontario wine industry: Subsidize growers to not grow grapes. Big wineries don't want 'em; the Government doesn't want 'em; the LCBO doesn't want ‘em; the majority of the wine-buying public don't seem to want 'em; and small wineries can't afford ‘em. So why don’t we take, oh let’s see, about .3% of the Ontario government’s annual tax -- excuse me, "premium" -- and just pay these losers to stay on the farm, maybe grow a few wine grapes for personal use, and let the big boys do what they do best: churn out oceans of imported plonk to fill up the Ontario section of LCBO stores. It would also be a lot easier for the government because they wouldn’t have to keep looking for new ways to hurt the industry ... just a thought.

From "The Frugal Oenophile's Lexicon of Wine Tasting Terms"


Looking for Weekly Wine Recommendations?

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Inspirational Quote

I can't use liquor as a crutch because a crutch helps me walk. Liquor severely screws up the way I walk. It ain't like a crutch; it's like a step I didn't see - Mitch Hedberg

All material is Copyright 2008 by Richard Best - The Frugal Oenophile.
Reproduction by any means must be accompanied by proper attribution.