Wine Spectator's Ultimate Guide to Buying Wine (Eighth Edition)Running Press, 1,006 pp., $29.95
The Wine Spectator's Ultimate Wine Tasting KitRunning Press, $39.95
Wine Spectator has such an important place in the world of wine that they can make or break a winery with a simple score. All that power makes them a convenient target for industry grousing, but the fact remains that they are the primary source of wine information for the general public. The eighth edition of their guide covers more than 11,000 wines from all over the world, giving descriptions, pricing, and that all-important score. The book is very useful as a way to get a few ideas for wines to try to taste, but I would encourage you to avoid the trap of using the scores to make your shopping list. Your best strategy is to develop a relationship with a wine seller you trust, and then use the book to come up with a few wines whose description and price appeal to you, then ask your seller about them. Then, maybe, try a bottle. When it comes to the book, ignore the score.
Give a person a fish and you've fed them for a day; teach them to fish and you've fed them for life. The Ultimate Guide fits into the former category, and The Wine Spectator's Ultimate Wine Tasting Kit fits into the latter. It teaches you all you need to know about how to taste wines and make your own evaluations. The box includes Harvey Steinman's book Essentials of Wine, a valuable 240-page overview covering the basics; Wine Spectator's Pocket Guide to Wine, a quick guide to wine tasting; two notepads with tasting sections preprinted; 10 reusable bottle bags so no one knows what they are tasting (very important); and several other goodies. Go to your favorite wine seller, give them a budget, say $30-40, and tell them you want three bottles of wine made from the same grape but from different parts of the world. Take the wine home, put the bottles in the bags, and mix them up so no one knows which wine is in what bag, then follow the tasting guide. Do this a couple of times a month, and, by this time next year, you'll know so much about wine you won't pay attention to scores anymore.