I’m frequently asked to recommend the best book on wine. While that is a hard question to answer, especially since the world of wine is so vast and complex, there is one book that I usually recommend. It is Culinary Institute of America’s book, Exploring Wine.
Exploring Wine isn’t a small book with close to 800 pages, but it is an invaluable reference and a good, deep introduction to the world of wine. Exploring Wine is authored by Steven Kolpan, Brian H. Smith, and Michael A. Weiss, who are all leading wine instructors at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). In fact, when I taught wine and spirits classes at another culinary school, Exploring Wine is the textbook that we used. It is that valuable of a resource, and while CIA was a competitor school, there simply isn’t a better text out to introduce the wine fundamentals and to relate a deep understanding in, say, Portuguese wines.
Exploring Wine is divided into five sections, with some handy appendices on things like how to read a wine label and conversion tables. Part one deals with the fundamentals of grapes. How to grow grapes, how to make wine, and how to taste wine are all covered in an easy-to-understand but thorough manner.
Part two delves into the wines of the New World. California receives its own chapter, while the rest of the United States, Canada, and Mexico get their own chapter. Exploring Wine also covers wines from South America in its own chapter. One of the few disappointments in this book is the short shrift given to the wines of Mexico. While largely undiscovered, the wines of Mexico do deserve more than a one-page mention. The Mexican wine industry does have potential to grow and become a small player in the international wine world.
Part three covers the wines of the Old World in three chapters. The first is solely devoted to France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal, the next to Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, and the last to Eastern European countries, Eastern Mediterranean countries, and Asia. While no book can do all the wine regions of the world justice, Exploring Wine does a great job of emphasizing the importance of understanding the differences between the old and new worlds.
Part four covers wine, food, and health with helpful tips on how to pair wine and food (most sommeliers pair with the sauces, not the protein of a meal), as well as a thought-provoking discussion about wine and its effect on health.
Finally, part five covers service and storage, more of a concern for wine professionals than an issue for most casual wine drinkers.
Overall, Exploring Wine is usually the first book that I reference when I need to look something up about wine or want to learn more about a particular varietal or region. If you want to study and understand wine, there is probably no better place to start than Exploring Wine.