Wine: Heard it Through the Grapevine by Matt Skinner

Book Review 2009

In May I had lunch with wine author and writer Matt Skinner, who shot to fame as the new generation sommelier from Jamie Oliver's restaurant Fifteen in London. Matt was in the US to promote his newly launched wine book Heard it Through the Grapevine — The Things You Should Know to Enjoy Wine. With bookstores awash with wine books and guides, I was a little skeptical in the beginning. Was this just a very good PR machine at work or a book worth reading?
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I read through the book twice before meeting Matt, and much to my delight I thoroughly enjoyed it (beautiful photography). I found it both entertaining and educational. And, while the book is endorsed by Jamie Oliver, it can stand proudly on its own.

The book covers a broad range of topics from shopping and buying wine, to tasting and pairing wine with different foods. It also has sections on wine for cellaring and storage guidelines, as well as an important chapter on the health aspects (both the positive and negative) of wine consumption.

Over lunch Matt was cheerful and relaxed. We chatted about a million things from his home in Melbourne, his family, the horrendous bush-fires that ravaged parts of Victoria earlier this year, the state of the Australian wine industry, and most importantly how we as educators and writers can make wine more accessible to more wine drinkers.

Matt's advice is "Love what you drink" and take time to savor what you taste. In his book he talks about how when eating, we chew our food, so the food stays in our mouth for at least nine seconds. In contrast when drinking, it is quickly sipped and swallowed in one to two seconds. Matt believes that we can all be good wine tasters. We just need to stop and actually taste what is in our mouth. Try it and see if it makes a difference.

I asked Matt to give me some recommendations of Australian wines that he would be enjoying over the summer, and what he would pair them with. Here are his top three:

Jansz Premium Cuvee NV, Tasmania - $20
Pairing: Soft-shell crab - Lightly coated in a dry batter and tossed through a mixture of garlic, sea salt, and fresh chilies. It’s a tough ask for most wine, although good sparkling wine is an obvious choice, and the Pipers River region in Tasmania is home to some of Australia’s best. Of those, this example packs a bright and clean nose of green apple, citrus, bread, and honey; while in your mouth great flavor and masses of bright tiny bubbles are all you’ll need to navigate even the trickiest of tricky food textures.

2008 Vasse Felix Classic Dry White 2008, Margaret River – a blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc.

Note: As I was not able to find this wine in the US, I would also recommend 2008 Cape Mentelle’s Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon blend, Margaret River at $16

Pairing: Char-grilled pork skewers, a squeeze of lemon, a dollop of good Greek yoghurt, and a little salad of tomato, cucumber, capers, and dill will be all you’ll need to stand up to this great dry white from the cool of Margaret River. Bright yellow/green to look at, the nose shows smells of passion-fruit, grapefruit citrus and zero oak influence. The palate is tight, clean and dry with stunning intensity of fruit and racy acidity.

Yalumba Sangiovese Rose 2008, Barossa Valley - $8

Pairing: No longer just a summer standby, as food-friendly wine styles go, rosé ranks right up there with the best of them. Combine the freshest mozzarella you can lay your hands on, a couple of small, sweet tomatoes and a drizzle of good olive oil for one of the best, and easiest, matches for light, dry rosé you can make. From its pretty pink color to its compact and fresh nose of wild raspberry, apple, and dried flowers this bone-dry rose from 100% Sangiovese is bright, lively, and as good with food as it is by itself.

Until next week, enjoy some refreshing summer wines.

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• Find it! Heard it Through the Grapevine: The Things You Should Know to Enjoy Wine, $16.50 at Amazon.com

Related: Book Review: 101 Wines by Gary Vaynerchuk

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