The first few wine books I bought when I started wanting to know more about wine were not much help. They had a lot of wine speak I didn’t understand, and they were, honestly, a bit boring. I was looking for something that would not only help me understand wine better but also help me figure out which wines I should try. Fortunately, I found my way to Oldman’s Guide to Outsmarting Wine by Mark Oldman. There’s nothing boring about this book! Oldman’s Guide taught me wine basics, but more importantly, it got me excited about trying new wines. The book is packed with information on all aspects of enjoying wine. Best of all, the book is fun.
Oldman’s Guide is organized into 108 short chapters, or as the subtitle puts it “108 Ingenious Shortcuts to Navigate the World of Wine with Confidence and Style.” The chapters cover all the basics of tasting, structure, major grapes and regions as well as ordering wine in restaurants, buying wine, storing wine and more. Each shortcut/chapter also contains a “Cheat Sheet” that gives advice on food pairings, pronunciation guides, tips for decoding wine labels & Mark’s recommendations.
One of the features I love the most is the section titled “Outsmarting the Basics: Secret Alternatives” which gives recommendations of wines you might like based on wines you already know. For instance, one is titled: “Instead of Zinfandel, Taste the Mediterranean Sun in Chateauneuf de Pape.” What follows is a brief history of the region, discussion of the major grapes (of the 14) allowed in the making of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and a description of the character of the wine. You’ll also find the names of top producers & general price points (which are now a bit out of date but still give a general idea of what a bottle will set you back.) As with every chapter, the “Cheat Sheet” helps decipher the label, suggests food pairings, lists Mark’s top producers & helps with pronunciation (shah -toe-nuff-dew-PAHP).
You can read the book straight through, use it as a reference book, or read chapters as they strike your fancy. Scattered throughout the book are fun wine quotes as well as lists of the wines on the table of various wine professionals and celebrities.
Though it is packed with useful information, what really sets this book apart is Oldman’s style. His exuberance jumps off the pages and pulls you in. His writing is the antithesis of stuffy and pretentious. Instead, it’s personal and playful. Reading this book feels like getting the inside track from your coolest friend. “Want to sound wine savvy in one word?” he asks. “When asked your favorite wine region, raise a randy brow, affect an air of breezy nonchalance, and hiss Ahl-ZASS.”
I still go back to this book all the time. Not only as a quick reference but also for inspiration. Whether you are just starting out or already know a bit about wine, I highly recommend grabbing a copy of Oldman’s Guide to Outsmarting Wine. And while you’re at it, pick up a few bottles as well. Reading the descriptions will definitely make you thirsty.
p.s. Mark Oldman has two other books as well: Oldman’s Brave New World of Wine: Pleasure, Value, and Adventure Beyond Wine’s Usual Suspects and How to Drink Like a Billionaire: Mastering Wine with Joi de Vivre. These are both terrific as well, but I suggest starting with Oldman’s Guide, especially if you are relatively new to wine.