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?
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—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 I used to love Frank Prial’s wine reference books, but they are outdated by now, and out of print in any case.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.