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Book Review: Daniel Johnnes’s Top 200 Wines by Daniel Johnnes with Michael Stephenson

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Imagine yourself at a fine, upscale restaurant with a client or date you want to impress. As the host, you graciously accept the wine list … but then your gaze begins to blur as you skim across dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of unfamiliar wines. Whatever happened to the basic Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon? And also, what prices! How much better can a $600 dollar wine be than a $60 wine?

Ordering a more expensive wine, you’ll learn in this remarkable book, will not necessarily make your meal more enjoyable. In fact, many expensive wines are not yet ready to drink, so you would be doing yourself and your guest a disservice by ordering them. In virtually every way possible, this 377-page book is a dynamic resource when it comes to understanding the characteristics of wine and how to find and order delicious, well-made, value-priced wines at restaurants and at home.

Why read this book, you might wonder, instead of the hundreds of other books on the market?

Many reasons, but perhaps the most persuasive is that Daniel Johnnes is a top sommelier who served at the best restaurants in Manhattan (and now Las Vegas) and is also an importer of wines. As such, he has keen “insider information” into the world of wine and how you, the consumer, may get the best value at restaurants and wine shops.

Johnnes’s excellent desktop resource begins with a brief description of the characteristics of various types of grapes as well as wine-making techniques. Next, you’ll learn a bit about the wine-making process and insider trade secrets that will help you figure out if a wine is priced because of “hype” or because it really is exceptional and rare. Following this, Johnnes gives you a valuable lesson in how important glassware and temperature are with regard to enhancing your enjoyment of wine.

With this foundation, get comfortable, because Johnnes now takes you on a tour of the world’s finest growing areas, highlighting regions and even specific wineries where you can still find exceptional value.

Professionals like myself who have completed many wine-related diploma courses, will appreciate this book for its focus on specific regions and vineyards, including the “rising stars” of specific appellations. This aspect of the book comes in very handy if, for example, you are being questioned by a Master of Wine for an exam and he or she asks you to recommend a wine to pair with a specific dish, and then asks you to name a specific winery.

A key strength of this book is the way Johnnes expertly offers pairing notes for wine varietals and even specific wines from top wineries. This element of the book helps the burgeoning wine connoisseur mentally “taste” the richly-described but yet untasted wine with a familiar, everyday dish. Below is an example of how Johnnes describes Bruno Giacosca Dolcetto D’Alba “Faletto” 1999, to be paired with the appropriate pairing for grilled salmon:

Bruno Giacosa is one of the grand names of Piedmont. He is best known for his Barbaresco. Dolcetto is an early drinking grape variety, and this one is a perfect example of the purple, simple joy a wine can deliver. All pretenses are left behind. The wine is gushing with blackberry anise aromas. On the palate it is lush with medium body and ripe fruit flavors.

So, what is the best way to use this book? Turn it into your personalized wine course, reading about the wines of various countries region by region until you become the go-to expert about wine at work or among friends. Sneak a peek before entertaining guests at fancy restaurants so you can speak intelligently about the wine you do order. Win friends and impress strangers with your seeming magical ability to perfectly match wine to whatever is ordered.

And be sure to look scout out several new celebrity-chef restaurants in New York, Las Vegas, and Miami where the much in demand Daniel Johnnes has designed the wine list.

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