It strikes me ...

Friday, 28 May, 2004
Lesley Beake
Book Review : Wine for Dummies
A book landed on my desk recently called Wine for Dummies - which, yes, I know is part of a long running and popular series for ‘dummies’, but I’m afraid I take grave exception to it.

A person who does not know as much as you do is not a ‘dummy’. They are a new convert to your passion, somebody with a delightful learning curve ahead of them, a charming new addition to your tasting (or sketching, or knitting, or motor-bike customizing) circle. Someone to be welcomed, gently applauded for their humble interest in your overwhelmingly interesting passion in life (underwater hockey, first-day covers, Afghan hounds ... porcelain thimble collecting) it matters not. Or does it?

Authors Ed McCarthy and Mary Ewing-Mulligan are two wine lovers who happen to be married to each other and one of whom, (Mary) was the first female Master of Wine in the United States (of America). Apart from tasting, drinking and writing about wine, they wind down by listening to Bob Dylan and Neil Young with their cats (Brunello, Dolcetto, Black & Whitney and Pinot).

This book repeats (and repeats and repeats) the message that wine is lovely, wine is good, and some day you too will be able to order it in a restaurant with out feeling like a complete ... well, without feeling shy. In case the reader gets stuck with any big words, there are icons alerting them to ‘tips’ (an arrow in a target) ‘snob alert’ (a strange looking guy with big glasses) and ‘technical stuff’ the same guy as the wine snob, except that in this icon he isn’t wearing a dinner jacket and is holding up one finger (don’t ask).

I do like their kick-off into the fascinating world of wine when they describe how wine is made (Page 7).

· Pick a large quantity of ripe grapes from the grape vines.
· Put grapes into a clean container that doesn’t leak.
· Crush the grapes somehow to release their juice.
· Wait.

Isn’t it great?

And there is humour. ‘Lot’s of people like to drink white wines when the weather is hot because they are more refreshing than red wines and they are usually drunk chilled (the wines, not the people)’.

And (although I don’t think the humour here is intentional) we are told that ‘Two very complicated rules of wine tasting’ are ‘1. Slow down and 2. Concentrate.'

Look, there is also plenty of useful stuff in the whopping 400 pages. Once they get into their strides, Mary and Ed have a lot to say about wine, and they clearly know their subject. If I didn’t already know how to pronounce Montrachet (Neil Pendock told us all in a column a few months ago) I would look it up here.

Actually, that section (Appendix A) is a bit of a giggle when you think about all the d..., sorry, readers, mouthing things like ‘bor guh nyuh’ and ‘greh n’wee’ and 'pee noh nwahr' to themselves in the mirror before going out ordering. And there is plenty of real hard information. What sticks in my craw is the tone of voice that is surely only used by people who know they are superior and who think they are just talking to ... well, idiots, (like the chapter called ‘Hello, my name is Bordeaux!’ and another one - on American wine - called ‘Thar’s wine in them there foothills’).

But ... on the other hand ... I see, at the back of this book for dummies who don’t know doodly-squat about wine, that the other titles in the series include Flash MX for Dummies, TCP/IP for Dummies and C++ for Dummies. Oops. And what about (this is my favourite) Red Hat Linux All-in-one-desk-Reference-for Dummies.

Half an hour has now passed. I got sucked into the website for dummies (, natch). It’s another world in there! Robot Building for Dummies, Spirituality for Dummies, Pit Bulls for Dummies (I’m not making any of this up) and even Sex for Dummies.

Hmm. Maybe I should rather have a look at one of them. It might make me realize just what a dummy I am.

Bor guh nyah is American for Bourgogne
Greh n’wee translates as Grenouilles
Pee noh nwahr is, of course, Pinot Noir
(And Montrachet is pronounced mon rah shay)

Wine for Dummies is published by Wiley Publishing Inc. For more details check out