Get the Skinny on Wine

by Cynthia Sin-Yi Cheng
April 30, 2009

Heard it Through the Grapevine Book Jacket

Heard it Through the Grapevine
By Matt Skinner
Mitchell Beazley, 2009

The biggest problem with books on wine is that sometimes wine specialists make wine even more complicated and confusing or boring for the reader than necessary. People buy wine books out of curiosity and a sincere desire to learn a few things about a subject that’s already enjoyable with or without the supplementary reading. Come on, we can all enjoy wine without knowing a thing about what we’re drinking. So it’s a challenge to find a book that has solid information yet also imparts a sense of the fun and joie de vivre that wine already has on its own.

Matt Skinner’s newest book succeeds in several ways:

1. Visual
For me, visuals are key and they are also the best way to understand and remember a concept. For example, bottle sizes are illustrated with an image of all bottles from half (375 ml) to Nebuchadnezzar (15 L) lined up in a row from smallest to biggest. Even if you’ve never heard of a Nebuchadnezzar, now you have an impression of it. Every topic has an accompanying visual.

2. Simplified But Not Dumbed Down
Skinner aims to keep each topic to a page. Just enough basic information without getting too hung up on details. It’s digestible and effective for the wine novice.

3. Fun and Engaging
The author suggests some original pairings, such as champagne and fish and chips, dry rosé and mozzarella, and Pedro Ximénez and ice cream. He offers tips on how to order wines in restaurants, as well as how to buy them online and at auction, leading readers to explore the wine world in many contexts.

This is just a primer to get you hooked, and then you can go on to more serious reference tomes or books on specific wine regions. Of course, with any book, there are flaws. For example, the page on corks has photos of several cork styles, which I think is very helpful. However, I wouldn’t have used a champagne cork to represent the standard cork. This could have been another cork example, and Skinner could have had a little blurb about how these corks are made differently from the standard cork for still wine. The content isn’t wildly original, but the way it’s organized is smart and user-friendly. A good gift for anyone interested in wine but too intimidated to pursue it.

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