Two guides to peak wine performance

I hit a major milestone in my life last week, turning 60, and I found great celebration in a short four-day trip to Washington, D.C., with my twin brother John, who lives in Providence where we were born in the Italian-Irish West End neighborhood.

While we remain close, John and I are separate and distinct in so many ways that it makes us both laugh when a new medical study comes out suggesting that twins can feel each other’s pain, know when the other is in trouble.
He’s always been a New York Yankees fan; I always rooted for the Red Sox.

He enjoyed science and nature when we were young students; I liked reading comic books, sports magazines, and writing letters to sports celebrities.
He was a government administrator in Rhode Island for both Mayor Buddy Cianci and later Gov. Donald Carcieri for 30 years; I’ve worked in the private sector all my life as a journalist.
He’s a Republican; I’m an independent.

Yet we agree on a lot of things too, like wine, women and song — not necessarily in that order. John’s been married to his high school sweetheart for 35 years; I’ve been married to my soulmate for 21. Neither John nor I could be as happy as we are today without Kathleen and Mary Lee, respectively, by our sides.

We also look forward to drinking a good Brunello di Montalcino whenever there’s pasta on the menu and listening to Frank Sinatra whenever there’s a song to be sung.
So what does this have to do with wine? Nothing except that I think my big brother (he was born exactly 1 minute and 28 seconds ahead of me) is aging as perfectly as the 1946 Chateau Petrus Bordeaux. And since we are identical, I feel like I’m reaching vintage form too. Buona fortuna!

Believe it or not, I didn’t do any wine-tasting during my birthday week. Still, I didn’t slack off. I read two wine guides that I think every Wine Novice should consider to enhance their tasting and food pairing experience. Here they are:

• The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Wine & Food Pairing by Jaclyn Stuart and Jeanette Hurt, $16.95 — For the price of a 2009 Louis V. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon, you get 231 pages of easy-to-read information on all the wine basics, including how to taste wine, how to taste food, the main aromas of wine, and what it all means.  Every page is stocked with an educational tip box. For instance, “More wines are ruined by being served too warm than too cold. Your wine will always warm up in the glass. Err on the chilly side.”
The book lists the major red and white grape varietals and provides the region where it is best produced; the wine body type (light, medium, full); alcohol level; acidity; sweetness level; common aromas (green apple, peach, almond, lemon, etc.) and what it is best paired with (Example: Sauvignon blanc — salty and tart cheeses; herbal dishes, especially those with cilantro; raw tomoatoes; salads; garlic; vegetables).
There’s a section on how to read labels and what to do in a restaurant if you get a bad bottle of wine. What I liked most, however, was the comprehensive wine-food pairing lists that can come in handy for quick entertaining or for planning a formal dinner.

• Food & Wine’s 2012 Wine Guide, $12.95 — This is a nifty compendium of all the top wine producers, vineyards and labels from across the globe. It features an index to locate more than 1,000 favorite wines, breaking them down by light-, medium- or full-bodied. The guide covers 13 wine-producing nations by region and offers suggestions on the best products by price. There are sections on wine terms — cur, cuvee, dry, earthy, lees, etc. — and food pairings. I found the chapters on Champagne and Dessert wines to be fascinating. You can stick this guide in your back pocket, take it to any wine store and have field day hunting down its suggestions.

Wine Novice is located at Follow Jim Campanini on Twitter @suneditor.