A newly published book titled How To Become A Wine Connoisseur in 60 Minutes or Less has a somewhat audacious title, but is a practical and engaging work.
In the introduction, author Alain Merheje explains that you can read his book in about an hour and come away with a relatively solid grasp of the essentials of appreciating wine.
This is a concise yet solid guide, approachable and uncomplicated and in no way shallow. The author—born in Syria to a Lebanese father and French mother—now lives in Cyprus. What few wine drinkers realize is that Syria and Lebanon have harbored healthy wine production acres for millennia. Wine was produced in Syria after the Romans invaded in the first century before the Christian era. The author, from such a cultural background within this ancient wine producing region, comes across as an informed, modest and convivial character.
Merheje presents facts not as bullet points or graphs, but through lucid and logical prose. The book is a quick read peppered with sidebars that add personality.
Whether you are a novice or aficionado, the text includes engaging facts. For example:
- ‘Varietal’ is a type of wine made predominantly from one grape, as opposed to a blend made from two or more grapes. In the U.S. that one grape has to form a minimum of 75% of the wine (for vitis vinifera vines), whereas in the EU it must maintain a minimum of 85% of that juice.
- China is one of the top 10 wine producing nations in world, and the “most notable native grape variety used in winemaking in China is the red Vitis Quinquangularis Rehd.”
- In pronouncing Cabernet Franc—remember that both the t and final c are silent.
- Stomping grapes with bare feet is illegal in the USA.
- The chemicals that most commonly cause headaches from wine are histamine and tyramine—not sulfur dioxide.
- Serving wine? The author suggests you start by serving ladies first—moving clockwise from oldest to the youngest; next—serve the men.
- If you must store red and white wines at the same temperature, the ideal temperature is 55 degrees Fahrenheit (13 degrees Celsius).
- Bouquet is the ‘total sum of the impressions left by wine inside your nose.’ ‘Flavor’ is bouquet and taste combined.
- To improve your ability to discern the subtleties of wine, begin by identifying two or three flavors at first, then increase that number as your skill improves.
- There are ‘literally hundreds of aromas’ in a single glass of wine.
This hour-long read provides an entertaining grasp of the fundamentals of wine, although the author emphasizes that the three keys to understanding wine subtleties through tasting are, ‘practice, practice, practice.’
Merheje occasionally injects his own opinion. In his chapter on flawed wine, he writes: “I even forgive those who add ice cubes to their wine, which sadly seems to be a growing fad.”
In his chapter on pairing food and wine, Merheje suggests choosing wines first, then deciding on a meal around that selection. He also writes:
“Finally, all rules are meant to be broken. There are people, such as my wife, who drink mostly red wine whatever the food, others only white, others still only beer. As for me, I sweeten my tea in any manner I please.”
This quick and engaging overview includes chapters that range from planting and harvesting vines (be begins with a story about being at a party), to the four stages of making wine (“Fermentation: This is when what was once an innocent molecule of sugar turns into naughty but nice alcohol”), to the anatomy of a wine bottle and how to read a label.
For any wine enthusiast, consider this rapid read as one to include in your library.