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Sunday Serendipity
Book Review: The Ultimate Wine Companion

By Stephen Eliot

Kevin Zraly has very likely been responsible for educating as many people in the ways of wine as any person in America. His seminal work The Windows on the World Complete Wine Course, first published in 1985 and updated last year, is the world’s best-selling wine book and remains as good a fundamental primer of the topic as can be found. New to the shelves, his new and noteworthy volume The Ultimate Wine Companion carries the rather ambitious subtitle of The Complete Guide to Understanding Wine by the World’s Foremost Wine Authorities. While neither it nor any work could be so complete as to make all others irrelevant, it is an irrepressibly readable collection of articles from many of the more important wine-writers that have ever picked up a pen…or turned on a computer. The book is divided into six parts covering topics ranging from tasting, to wine-making, to food and wine pairing, and, much to my delight, allows nearly as much space to covering New World wines as it does those of Europe.

Since my barely remembered university days, I have been a bit skeptical about edited collections of the writings of others, and felt that such works were all too often easy ways to get your name on a hard cover. In this case, however, I must admit to both admiration and appreciation for Kevin’s insightful and ever relevant eye. Contributions range from the “old masters” to the new voices of the Twenty-First Century. Some of the pieces are from a distant past, but they still ring amazingly true. I was recently chatting about the book with a younger, very smart, professional colleague of mine and was nearly stuck dumb when I was asked who Frank Schoonmaker, Alexis Lichine and Alexis Bespaloff were, the writings of whom are included. I can recall wearing out a copy of Schoonmaker’s Encyclopedia of Wine and a couple of Bespaloff’s Signet Book of Wine way back when. I am a bit of a historian at heart and believe that the past always informs the future, and I am pleased to see their names put forward again. Truth is timeless. Zraly’s further picks of the bunch include such significant names such as Robert Parker Jr., Jancis Robinson and Hugh Johnson, and there are plenty of contemporary voices as well, with Evan Goldstein, Kermit Lynch and Joseph Bastianich but a few of those getting attention.

I cannot claim to agree with every viewpoint and conclusion of the more than forty articles contained therein, but there is real food for thought to be found on most every page, and more than a few show the craft of fine writing. In some ways, the book is as much about writing, about the clear explication and thought and unbridled passion for the subject as it about the subject itself, and I cannot imagine that any who would call themselves devotees of the topic will find it other than a sheer joy to read.

The Ultimate Wine Companion: The Complete Guide to Understanding Wine By The World’s Foremost Wine Authorities. Edited by Kevin Zraly $24.95
Sterling Epicure, New York, 2010.

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