03 December 2010

Book Review: Opus Vino

I think every wine lover needs to have a couple of massive tomes in the house. A few old school, huge reference works that cover the world of wine. I store mine on top of my wine fridge, but others may choose to keep theirs with the cookbooks, or in the room where most of the wine tasting happens.

One such book, and a recommendation for a Christmas gift for the wine lover in your life, is Opus Vino. $50, 800 pages. Weighing in at 3.3 kg/7.2 lbs, it's a big 'un. This comes from Dorling Kindersley Publishing. I mention this because I've long been a fan of the DK books--clean design, great photographs, and the wide range of subjects are produced for all age levels. The specific intent of Opus Vino is not to go over grapes or regions in great detail, but to focus on representative producers within those regions. With each section you get a brief overview of the history and style, followed by dozens of paragraph-length profiles of producers.

The maps are spectacular. At right is shown the two page spread for Argentina. The left page shows the wine regions of Argentina, while the facing page goes into detail just on Mendoza.

The book also provides non-insulting coverage of emerging or lesser-known wine regions. And I'm not talking about something like Cahors in France, I'm saying that they have brief but informative chapters on Japan, Brazil, and Cuba, along with information about producers and individual wines. I actually found the information on Switzerland very helpful while tasting my first Swiss wines recently.

Now, some may ask, "In the age of the internet, why bother with a dead tree edition?" Here are my personal reasons:

1) Although I've gotten lost for hours clicking on links on Wikipedia and TV Tropes, I still find that I learn a lot by flipping through printed reference material. I've discovered that I love having dinner with this book, since it's big enough to lie flat and I can just open to a random section.

2) It exists as a snapshot in time. As you add wine books to your library over the years, this becomes a lot of fun. I have older books that suggest that "There's little chance this California novelty production will ever be seriously consumed or collected." Likewise you'll read about a producer, and then in a book 20 years later you'll read about the son taking over the winery--the son who was shown as a pimply faced youth in your older book. This is part of the reason why I collect Atlases. I can get up to the minute, highly accurate maps online, but if I want to see what the entire world looked like in 1985 versus 1955, I'm much better off with my big old books. Because of copyright considerations, not all of this information makes its way online in single, easy to read collections.

3) It's great for friends who are new to wine. There's a wealth of information online, but you need a certain knowledge level about the subject and a certain familiarity with half a dozen languages to work your way through it, not to mention the experience required to distinguish reviews from press releases from solid information. A pretty, well-constructed book is a much more friendly experience, whether as a loan or as a gift.

Note: This wine was received as a sample.


fredric koeppel said...

sounds like a book everyone interested in wine should have ... and i agree with your reasons for continuing our infatuation with the essential printed word.

Benito said...


I was surprised to see how comprehensive it is. Obviously the section on the wines of Belgium is small, but there's a good balance of Old World/New World.

There's some other features, like stars beside the names of "Rising Stars", so if you find yourself liking a certain region that could be useful for new and interesting bottles.


Nancy Bentley said...

Kinkead Ridge in Ohio was happy to be one of the two wineries mentioned from Ohio, and as a Rising Star. Our all vinifera vineyard was planted in 1999; we grew Pinot Noir in Oregon for over 10 years. That vineyard was sold to Tony Soter. Two of our wines have been rated in the Top 100 Exciting Wine Finds in the World by Tom Stevenson. We love this book.