Dear Mr. Gold:
I’m not a wine person. It does a number on my stomach, especially if it’s empty. In most cases, I’ll take a cheap North American beer or respectable gin martini over a bottle of vino. But aside from a sore belly, wine is causing me another problem: when to capitalize the name of a grape. I’m going by the rule to capitalize it when it’s based on a geographical region and to lowercase it otherwise, but that information is not always easy to come by. The dictionary is only helpful sometimes, and the Internet is a thorny thicket of questionable information. Can you recommend a dependable reference guide to this quizzical copyeditor?
—Craig G., Los Feliz
Dear Mr. G.:
I’m not sure there is a perfect wine reference book. Hugh Johnson’s Modern Encyclopedia of Wine and Jancis Robinson’s Oxford Companion to Wine are pretty comprehensive, but shot through with Britishisms — they are less good on American wine than they might be. I used to love Frank Prial’s wine reference books, but they are outdated by now, and out of print in any case. I have never quite taken to Karen MacNeil’s Wine Bible, but she is a Californian, based in the Napa Valley, and she has a huge following. I admit a weird affection for The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Wine Basics, by Tara Q. Thomas, but I probably wouldn’t recommend it as a sole reference: That was never its intent. Which brings us, inevitably, to Robert M. Parker’s Wine Buyer’s Guide, which could use a fresh edition, but is encyclopedic on American and French wines and at least getting there on Italian wines (Vino Italiano, by Joseph Bastianich and David Lynch, is the go-to book on Italian vintages at the moment) and, more to the point, is begrudgingly considered the definitive guide by wine guys themselves. You may not agree with Parker’s assessments — I often don’t; he likes his wines big and fruity while I tend to like them rustic and a bit funky — but when you want to know whether malbec is the grape of Cahors or Cahors is the grape of malbec, he’s definitely still your guy.
Get the Squid Ink'd Newsletter
Sign up for our weekly food newsletter, which features top local food news and events, plus interviews with chefs and restaurant owners, dining tips and a link to our print review.