The New Sotheby's Wine Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition

By Tom Stevenson (Dorland Kindersley, $50).

Wine encyclopedias tend to follow the format set by Hugh Johnson with The World Atlas of Wine, originally published in 1970 and now (in collaboration with Jancis Robinson) in its fifth edition. They start with an introductory section providing information about the basics of wine, then continue with sections dealing with wine-producing regions around the world. The intro to Tom Stevenson's venerable wine guide (itself in its fourth edition) packs a lot of juice into a small space, and the body of the text is impressive in its detail, save for a few dorky photos of the author savoring and spitting. Stevenson concentrates on the basic information useful to wine consumers: The book is far less Euro-centric than Johnson's (or Oz Clarke's), devoting space to regions based on their commercial, not historical, importance. Even his favorite regions, Champagne and Alsace, are given only their appropriate airtime. Stevenson's treatment of lesser appellations producing value-priced red and white wines was enough to win me over. Plenty of guides cover "classic" wines—the ones that cost as much as or more than this book—but not many include information about the wines we drink on weeknights with pasta or burgers. Particularly useful is Stevenson's coverage of grape varieties and winemaking rules that apply in newer, less familiar appellations. There's little to fault about the new edition; it's well organized for quick and easy reference. The food recommendations are intriguing, though I take issue with Stevenson's suggestion of "iced water" as the proper match for Indian and Thai food, let alone cakes, puddings, and pastries. Also, the inclusion of Bulgarian reds, recommended as "budget choices" but unlikely to turn up in many U.S. wine shops, probably reflects the English origins of the book. What does any of it have to do with the celebrated London auction house Sotheby's? Nothing, as far as I can see. Fortunately, you need not place a bid to acquire a copy; the cover price represents a value even with the snobby name attached. Going once!

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