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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Make Spirits Bright With These 5 Cocktail, Wine-Themed Books

By Fred Tasker, Tribune News Service (TNS)

Every year about this time I write a column of mini-reviews of wine and spirits books as suggestions for holiday giving. I’ve come across some good ones this year. So let’s get right to it.

Wines of South America: The Essential Guide by Evan Goldstein (University of California Press, 2014, $30 hardcover). Sure, we know that Chile and Argentina make fine, often inexpensive wines. But have you ever sipped a Colombian riesling, a Paraguayan grenache or a Bolivian muscat? They all trace back to the Spanish conquistadores, who brought the grapes not for the natives, but to embolden their armor-bearing troops who were subjugating them. Goldstein, master sommelier and wine author, takes us through 10 winemaking South American countries with interesting statistics and colorful descriptions. I learned things I hadn’t known; I believe you will too.

Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book 2016 (Mitchell Beazley Publishing, $16.99 hardcover). Slim enough for your shirt pocket, the 39th edition since 1977 gives descriptions, tasting notes and vintage ratings for 6,000 wines. Regions include America, Europe, Russia, China and others. Johnson is the iconic wine author whose classic “The World Atlas of Wine” (now co-authored by wine maven Jancis Robinson) is in its seventh printing. A true classic, though you might want a magnifying glass.

Gin: The Manual by Dave Broom (Mitchell Beazley Publishing, 2015, $19.99 hardcover). Why do gins differ so? Gin is alcohol flavored by a bewildering variety of “botanicals,” including juniper berries, coriander, angelica, orris root, citrus, licorice root, almond, aniseed, cardamom, cubeb berries, ginger and at least nine other substances. Spirits author Broom tasted 120 of them by themselves, then in classic drinks like gin-and-tonic, negroni, martini and such. And lived to write a compelling, nicely illustrated book about it. You can win a thousand bar bets after reading it.

Vermouth: The Revival of the Spirit that Created America’s Cocktail Culture by Adam Ford (The Countryman Press, 2015, $24.95). If gin is trending these days, it’s followed closely by vermouth, a red or white wine flavored with aromatic herbs and used in cocktails. Author Ford, founder of Atsby New York Vermouth, has helped put vermouth in every trendy bar these days. He details its fall and rise in America and tells how to make such classics as the Dry Martini, the Manhattan and the Hanky Panky.

Experimental Cocktail Club: Paris, London & New York by Romee de Goriainoff, Pierre-Charles Cros, Olivier Bon and Xavier Padovani (Mitchell Beazley Publishing, 2015, $29.99): In 2006, three childhood friends teamed to open a trendy New York bar in Paris called the Experimental Cocktail Club. They hit it big and now have bars in Paris, London, New York and Ibiza, plus a new partner, Padovani. Here they present 85 of their cocktail recipes such as the Mezcal Mule, a blend of lime juice, cucumber slices, mescal, ginger beer, passion fruit puree and agave syrup stirred with ice and a piece of candied ginger. I think that covers all the food groups.

(Fred Tasker has retired from the Miami Herald but is still writing about wine. He can be reached at

©2015 Tribune Content Agency, LLC. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Photo: Arnaud 25 via Wikimedia Commons


Do More Expensive Wines Taste Better? Readers Share Blind Tasting Results

By Fred Tasker, Tribune News Service (TNS)

Could you tell a $40 wine from a $10 one in a blind tasting? This is the challenge I threw out to readers in a recent wine column.

I listed several high-price, low-price wine pairings and asked fans to set up experiments to see if they could tell the difference.

Sid Kaskey, a good sport from South Miami, Fla., took me up on it and invited six friends to a tasting to try it. The wine glasses were numbered, and tasters didn’t know what they were sipping _ or the prices.

Sid reports: “The test was a bit sloppy. It was, to use a word, chaos. And we all were eating as well so I am sure that may have been a factor in the results.

“That said, it was an honest and sincere effort to test the ability of a small group to taste differences in differently priced wines. I am happy with the results.”

Here’s how it came out:

Chardonnay: Four tasters preferred the 2013 Robert Mondavi Central Coast chard at $7.47, one preferred the 2013 Arrowood Sonoma County at $19.99 and two results were thrown out due to errors. (Note: The prices listed are what the tasters paid, and may not reflect the prices in all stores.)

Cabernet sauvignon: Four preferred the 2013 Charles Shaw cab at $2.99 and three preferred the 2013 Carnivor California at $10.99.

Rieslings: Five preferred the 2013 Kendall-Jackson “Vintner’s Reserve” at $9.99 and two preferred the 2013 Bonny Doon at $17.99.

What did it prove?

“Not a darn thing,” Kaskey says. “Could it be my friends are all wine philistines? (You’ll pay for that, Sid.)” Still, he says he learned this lesson: “Cost is not always an indication of the pleasure you get from a wine. Experiment with all wines, not just the expensive ones.”

He went on: “I am VERY CURIOUS. Did you get emails from others?”

Sure did, Sid. Reader Ayal Joshua and a couple of friends compared the $42 Grgich Hills Estate Merlot to the $10 Dark Horse Merlot.

His result: “Overall consensus was that the Grgich was by far the tastier wine…although one person could not say which of them was the more expensive one.

“Only thing is that I could not find the 2011 Grgich Hills Estate Merlot so I did it with the 2008 vintage, which may have made a big difference.”

I think the lesson there is that it’s very difficult to set up precise experiments like these.

Reader Kristina Tinkler of Aventura, Fla., created her own experiment. She tried the 2012 Frei Brothers Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley at $24.99. “I absolutely loved it.” But she went on: “I do not believe price matters. One of my favorite everyday cabernet sauvignons is the Grand Estates Columbia Crest. I buy this at Publix when it is on sale for $7.99.”

She concludes: “Wine is a personal preference. There are tasty wines out there under $10.”

Reader Barry Bayon sees it this way: “Is there a lot of difference in a $10 and a $50 bottle of wine? I would hope so, or why bother? Will the average drinker taste it? Probably not. Is it worth it to the average drinker to pay $50 for a bottle of wine? No.”

Reader David Shaw of Arroyo Grande, Calif., suggests other ways to discover our own palates:

1. Visit wineries for “vertical library” tastings, trying the same wine from several vintages, to see the effects of aging.

2. Try the winery’s top wine, but also its less-expensive version of the same wine. See if the price difference is worth it.

3. Visit the winery at harvest time and try the just-pressed juice before it’s fermented into wine. Later try the wine made from that juice.

His philosophy: “The very best wine is the one each of us really likes.”

For me, these enthusiastic but thoroughly unscientific experiments support what I’ve gleaned from 50 years of tasting wine. You like what you like. Taste is very personal. Even professional critics disagree with each other.

If you enjoy wine, go to the trouble of discovering your own palate. Taste as many wines as you can. Try every new wine you come across. Keep an open mind. Take notes. Develop a sense of what you like _ and don’t like. Use wine critics, wine writers only as very general guides. Don’t take them (us) too seriously.

A reader once told me: “I always read your column. When I see what you recommend, I know what NOT to buy.”

I’m happy to be so useful.

(Fred Tasker has retired from the Miami Herald but is still writing about wine. He can be reached at

(c)2015 Tribune Content Agency, LLC. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Robert Neff via Flickr