By now, I assume that even casual readers of this column can deduce that I’m a beer guy; I’ve been drinking it, brewing it, studying it and enjoying the hell out of it for years. So by the time the beer selection at stores like Cottage Hill Package started getting a little overwhelming, I was able to navigate through the styles and breweries pretty well.
But wine? It’s always inundated my senses. So many grape varieties. So many growing regions. So many different wineries and vintages. It got to the point where I’d pick a bottle with a pretty label and a price that wouldn’t make me look cheap but also didn’t break the bank.
I needed to up my game, even if that simply meant familiarizing myself with the basics, and I found the answer in “Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine” by Madeline Puckette and Justin Hammack.
Two sentences in and I knew I’d discovered what I was looking for: “This book is for those of us who need simple guidance to get over the challenges of getting into wine. It contains practical knowledge that is immediately useful to help you find and enjoy great wine.”
If you like a book that shows more than it tells, this is the one for you. There’s no “history of wine” or profiles of famous vintners and wineries.
“Wine Folly” leaves those details to other resources and instead focuses on what differentiates one variety from another, in a well-designed, graphics-heavy method that is beautiful, easy to understand and, in turn, makes choosing a wine much less arduous.
It is a companion book to the popular website www.winefolly.com, and is divided into three main sections: Fundamentals, Styles of Wine and Wine Regions.
Fundamentals covers the basics, from a simple explanation of what wine is — how it’s made, where grapes are grown, the difference between blends and single varieties — to how to read a label, choose a glass, evaluate wine, pair it with food and more.
For a novice like myself, this section was a revelation, but I imagine much of it would be well-known to many wine aficionados.
Styles of Wine serves as an amazing resource for wine enthusiasts of all levels. Each two-page spread offers a graphical interpretation of a style that provides a general profile — intensity levels of fruit, body, dryness, acidity and alcohol — as well as a list of dominant flavors, other possible flavors, appropriate glassware, serving temperature, aging time, average price and more.
The section is exhaustive, covering more than 50 wine styles, and while you may not be an expert on Riesling by the end, you’ll have a firm grasp of how to serve it and what to expect from each sip.
The Wine Regions section breaks down the many places wine grapes are grown, complete with beautiful maps and a list of the top wines from each region in a country. Twelve distinct regions are covered in the section, with more in-depth looks at the larger wine-producing countries such as Italy, France and the United States.
The attention to detail is stunning, and the design makes “Wine Folly” one of the most approachable reference books I’ve ever read.
If, like me, you’re looking for a great starting point to learn about wine, you simply can’t go wrong with “Wine Folly.”
Dan Murphy is a Certified Cicerone®, the founding brewer at Fairhope Brewing Co. and until recently knew practically nothing about wine. Follow him on Instagram @Grand_Krewe and on Twitter @Beer_Man_Dan.