Ryan and I occasionally receive either a book in the mail or a bottle of wine for us to sample at our leisure. And as much as I adore tasting wine, I am even a bigger fan of receiving an books on Spanish or Portuguese wine, because even if it ends up being a better paper weight than a literary gem, the experience of opening the glossy cover and cracking the pages of a new book is incredibly fun! Our most recent literary surprise in the mail was Graeme Chester’s “Shopping for Wine in Spain”.
Let’s start with the basics. This book is directed for people coming to Spain to either live or vacation, not for someone who is buying wine outside of the country. Now, considering that there are zero books about shopping for wine in Spain, it is difficult for me to objectively compare his book with others. What I can say is that the book is witty, informative and does it’s level-headed best to give you information in small bites. However, I would not suggest this book if you are a wine aficionado or wine geek who appreciates technical jargon, nor is this a coffee table book displaying glossy dramatic photos of the stark mesas of La Mancha or the steep green mountains of Catalonia. This is a practical user guide that tries to give you the weaponry to walk into a restaurant or wine shop in Spain with confidence. Chester covers topics such as: spanish grape varietals, wine regions, the relevance of a vintage, food and wine pairing and how to store wine effectively.
For both Ryan and I, there are most definitely some negatives and positives about Chester’s book. Let’s get negative stuff out of the way first. Although Chester structured his chapters well, allowing you to search for a wine based on region, price or pairing, we feel he approached wine buying from the wrong angle. Chester dedicates 90+ pages on specific bottles to buy based on one of the three categories mentioned above. The issue we have with this model is that
several restaurants, wine shops and supermarkets will not carry the specific bottles mentioned by Chester, so why not do yourself a favor and familiarize yourself with varietals, bodegas and regions. If you are savvy as to the basics of Spanish wine, you have the freedom to choose a wine based on a general guideline, rather than a specific label. Secondarily, we highly suggest using the local wine merchant or waiter as your guide. Understandably, you may not know the Spanish language, making the idea of asking the local wine merchant or waiter which wines he/she might suggest difficult, we always suggest that you at least try to pick their brains first. Generally, the individual from the region will know which wines in stock are the best wines for that region or price point.
The positives really come down to structure and some good solid tips. The chapter on storing wine is actually quite an interesting topic because once you are familiar with the ways you care for your own wine in Spain, you become even more sensitive as to how wine stores and restaurants choose to store their own. There are several cultural factors that go into wine storage and I found that if you read the chapter “where and how to buy wine” in conjunction with “storing wine” it gives you a nice round perspective on wine care in general. For example, he does a wonderful job listing some warning signs of bottles that have been stored poorly. Chester points to the extremely hot and dry conditions in Spain, where few retailers take adequate precaution against their wines sitting in direct sunlight or in cool temperatures. This is an extremely good piece of information because a wine that has been cooking during that day will taste will be better used as a doorstop than a delicate complex beverage to enjoy. This is also true for shops that have low turnover and store their wines right-side up. Corks will try out very quickly when their is no moisture leaving ample room for oxidization.
Overall, I would suggest this book if you want a simple user’s guide for troopsing around Spain. It is well-laid out and offers some wonderful suggestions in a format that is both humorous and practical. As long as you take his suggestions as to which bottles are worth buying with a grain of salt, focusing on some broad basic facts, you have a great tool at your disposal.
If you are interested in contacting the publisher, you may do so here.