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Published: Tuesday, 11/11/2003

For basics, try Discovering Wine

If you re looking for a basic wine book that is readable, sensible, and reliable, take a look at Discovering Wine by Joanna Simon (Fireside Book, Simon & Schuster, 160 pages, $19.95).

It s a handsome, soft-cover volume that is attractively illustrated and clearly written, with a judicious sense of what s more important and what s less so. It will tell you in a few words, for instance, the meaning and importance of malolactic fermentation without devoting a page to the chemical formula.

If it s not on your favorite bookseller s shelf, it can be ordered for you.

This is a reissue with just bits of updating here and there. When it first appeared about a decade ago, wine writers were invited to nominate the year s best wine book in English; Discovering Wine was my choice then. It still is. My nomination didn t arouse an echo then, and it won t now, but if it s a book that gives you confidence in your knowledge of the basics, it will have served its purpose.

eONE OF LIFE S CURIOUS FADS is finding an appropriate place to invest a vast fortune. This is not a challenge for most of us, but it may sometimes have consequences that touch our lives.

Among those whose resources, created by lotteries, sports, entertainment, or liberal corporate compensation committees, inspire the creativity of financial advisers, one current fad is winemaking; “How to make a small fortune in the wine business?” goes the adage. “Start with a big fortune.”

Just think! In the narrow confines of your local wine shop you can offer a sparkling toast to Francis Ford Coppola, for example, the awesome accuracy of Greg Norman s putter, or the richly endowed voice of Olivia Newton-John. The vision of the English actress Lily Langtry, who invested in a Lake County, California, winery a century ago, was singular.

Clearly, there s nothing wrong with this. But there s a margin of error, namely that it s hard to squeeze even a small profit from making wine. A third-generation professional Californian vintner once remarked that it s a generational business, not biographical.

And the temptation, for both the celebrity proprietor and the expansive multinational, is a preference for profit, not quality.

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