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Published: Tuesday, 4/2/2002

Keeping up with the wine industry

Along with spring comes a new generation of wines, some first-time arrivals, others the children and grandchildren of familiar families. In the next two weeks, I'll review several recent arrivals you may want to be aware of. But today, let's take an overdue look at literature and web sites.

If you've been in your favorite wine shop recently, you can hardly have overlooked the really striking - I want to say spectacular - cover of the current issue of Wine Spectator. It is the most forceful declaration I've seen anywhere of New York's will to recover. And that speaks highly of publisher Marvin Shanken and his staff. This journal over a quarter-century has grown steadily from humble beginnings to broad professional coverage not only of the American wine industry and commerce, but of the world's.

Regular readers will understand that I take a qualified and rather dim view of numerical ratings, Robert Parker's or anyone's, on the grounds that they will insulate you from bad buys, but from many good ones as well.

However, keeping up with a rapidly evolving global market in a favorite product is worth a monthly commitment to a few moments' leisure reading.

For those who set stock by Wine Spectator ratings, only to find that highly recommended buys are sold out by the time the magazine turns up beside your reading chair, there's an internet briefing, the Wine Spectator Weekly, which reports the week's ratings. For an annual fee, subscribers get an e-mail every Thursday with a special section of Wine Spectator Online that can be viewed online, downloaded, or printed. Information: www.winespectator.com.

By now, most larger wineries and wine merchants have Internet sites, some narrowly drawn on a single line of products, others more broadly informative. One of the best I've found is www.aboutwines.com. It is produced by Seagram Chateau & Estate Wines, the parent and/or importer and distributor of several popular labels, among them Brancott, San Telmo, B&G, and Trimbach. This site offers comprehensive, reliable wine information and, distinct from the company's mummcuveenapa.com and sterlingvineyards.com sites, is not simply commercial.

Out to capture your attention (and $20) is a weighty softcover volume, ambitiously titled The Wine Bible, by Karen MacNeil (Workman Publishing, 910 pages). Ms. MacNeil, the cover tells us, is director of the wine program at the Culinary Institute of America, and that rouses this reviewer's curiosity - about the same time this book was released, Exploring Wine first found its way onto bookstore shelves. It was described as “the Culinary Institute of America's complete guide to wines of the world,” and its three authors were said to be the culinary institute's leading wine educators. That handsome, $60 volume was only 820 pages long, but its format was a bit larger than Ms. MacNeil's, and it had fewer human-interest tidbits - “passionate asides, tips, anecdotes,” with which she entertains her readers. So far as substance is concerned, the only reason, if any, to buy either book is saving $40. Promising to teach readers all about the wines of the world is more than works of this sort deliver, and they may imply - perhaps unintentionally - that the wines, winemakers, and wineries that are not mentioned are scarcely worth notice.

Two slim volumes that do not promise more than they deliver, fairly representative samples of regional Michigan and Indiana wineries, were published last year. The author, D.L. Tadevich, has done her homework, describing winemaking and its place in the life of each state. She proposes weekend tours that for practical reasons cover only a few typical wineries. Each, adventurously researched, offers travel tips as well, such as eateries, overnight accommodations, and other sights or events of interest along the way.

Wineries of Michigan (92 pages) and Wineries of Indiana (100 pages), handsomely illustrated and thoughtfully organized; are each $20. A companion publication presenting Ohio's Lake Erie wine industry is scheduled to appear soon.

Robert Kirtland is The Blade's wine critic.



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