Andrea Immer's Wine Buying Guide for Everyone

224 pages; No photographs or sketches.  Paperback

Broadway Books, New York , May 14, 2002

Reviewed for Good Cooking by Denny Walker 12/02

This easy to read and understand handbook is a great starting point for those who, like myself, have limited experience in the purchasing of wines based on value and quality. Most people know what they like when they try it, but selecting from an extensive wine list full of unknown brands or off the shelf in a store is a sometimes daunting, and often, unrewarding prospect. Immer's Guide is a great first step in overcoming the initial ignorance anyone without experience has and is a good way to begin exploring finer wines and paying for the quality of the wine rather than the quality of the marketing.

The book is broken into easy to understand sections. The introduction and how to use the guide sections were informative and helpful. The breakdown of the ratings and how they were determined was concise and easy to follow. There is also a chapter written by guest experts that gives a simple introduction into how wine lists are formed and what drives the market. I didn't find the "Top Lists" that broke down most popular wines by taste and type particularly useful because I preferred to use the actual ratings section in choosing the wines purchased for this review. Also, near the back of the book, there are instructions on how to perform a casual wine tasting and advice as to how to characterize the wines tasted. A nice glossary accompanied this to provide the correct wine lingo in the descriptions. Several of the sections featured areas in which to take personal notes on the wines (every review has a blank line for a note) but I found the space to be impractical, mostly due to the shape of the book itself. Because it is long and narrow, the pages are difficult to keep spread apart to make notes. As well, the shape of the book and the fact that it was tough to keep open made it somewhat clumsy during my in-store use.

I used the book to buy some wines at a local, low price supermarket with a limited selection that was dominated by cheap jugs and wines that are basically below the horizon when quality is a concern. Prices ranged from $3-$5 for the least expensive, and most prolific, 750 ml bottles up to $25 for the most costly. There was a relatively wide variety in the midrange of $9 to $15 and I purchased two whites and two reds from this range based on information from the Guide. (In all there were 10 different brands that were in the guide on this market's shelves. In some cases several offerings from each winery were available.) My price range did not correlate with the book's system which gives one "$" for less than $12 and two "$$" for $12-$20, but I think most readers will find that prices range from state to state and city to city so the quotes in the book may be off somewhat. 

Here's what I purchased:

· Rosemount Diamond Label Cabernet/Merlot, Australia, 1.5L - $11.99

· Robert Mondavi Coastal Cabernet Sauvignon, California, 750 ml - $12.99

· Kendall-Jackson Vintner's Reserve Sauvignon Blanc, California, 750 ml - $9.99

· Hess Select Chardonnay, California, 750 ml - $10.99

These were bought with a desire for variety using Immer's Taste and Value ratings. The wines fit their descriptions from the rating section loosely at most. The Rosemount Cabernet/Merlot was "dark" and "juicy" as described, so dark and juicy that it gave me memories of Concord grapes. I thought its description as being a "fantastic value" was a bit too generous, especially when compared to the Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine's entry, "..expected…to be easily the coastal category's best. It is not.", is not backed up by any taste description. I found it to be significantly better than the Rosemount, although it scored well below on both the Taste and Value ratings. I don't discount the book's opinions but sometimes they seem subjective and it is necessary to keep in mind that the ultimate deciding factor is personal taste.

The Kendall-Jackson Sauvignon Blanc was bright and crisp with complex fruit undertones. I felt it deserved higher marks than it received, especially at the price I found it at. In fact, I've stocked up on this one since the tasting because of its popularity when I served it. The Hess Chardonnay scored high in Immer's Guide and I found the fruity taste in the description to be true, and overpowering. The flavor was clean and refreshing but had too much sweetness for my taste in chardonnay. It makes me wonder whether the Taste ratings in the book tend toward the sweeter wines because of the similar experience with the reds, but four bottles is by no means an ample survey.

All in all I found the book to be helpful and informative. It can give the basics for a person looking to begin the exploration of wine and buying quality bottles but I would not stand fast to the Taste ratings. I think it would be best to only read the taste description and decide on the Taste and Value ratings personally.

Good Cooking not only likes the content and recommendation in this book, but the format.  It's long and narrow and fits into a shirt pocket!  It's perfect to take along to the wine store for quick reference.