Book review: A Toast to Bargain Wines

TaberBuy this book. "A Toast to Bargain Wines" may not be everything you need to know about cheap wine, but it's close enough. George Taber, the author of several acclaimed wine books, including the legendary "Judgment of Paris," has nailed cheap wine in a way few others have — or have cared to.

More, after the jump: 

Disclaimers, first: I'm in the book, quoted as one of the iconoclasts who offers a new style of wine criticism, and who is compared with the likes of Gary Vaynerchuk, Doug Frost and Robin Goldstein. I'm not sure about that, though I'm grateful for the comparison.

Still, this doesn't change what I think of Bargain Wines. The book is important because it may be the first comprehensive look at cheap wine in the U.S. and how it has changed the wine business — something most in the wine business would prefer to ignore. "The free market may not work in many fields," writes Taber, "but wine is a textbook case of how it operates to the benefit of consumers." You're not going to see that in the Winestream Media.

The book's highlights are many:

? The best interview that I have ever seen with Fred Franzia, the inventor of Two-buck Chuck. Franzia doesn't give many interviews, and he is rarely this candid when he does. Taber puts into perspective what Franzia accomplished with his $1.99 Trader Joe's wine, and what it meant to the wine business.

? A readable, easy to understand primer about the economics of the wine business. Or, as Taber, puts it: "The greatest story never told." Want to know why there is so much cheap wine in the world, and why its quality is better than ever? Then read this.

? Details of the controversy surrounding wine competitions, gold medals and whether they mean anything. Again, Taber digs deep, but you don't need initials after your name to make sense of what he writes.

? Some 130 pages of cheap wine recommendations, including wineries to look for and wines to buy. If I have a criticism of this part of the book, it's that Taber isn't tough enough; there is a lot of very ordinary grocery store wine in these pages. On the other hand, much of the $10 Hall of Fame is here, so he obviously did a lot right.

There is also a section on Chinese wine, and what it means for the future of cheap wine. This seems overdone — not so much because China's entry into wine production won't change the world, because it will, but because Taber and the people he talked to expect this to happen over the next decade. It's going to take longer than that — if not a lot longer.

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