Magazine article Sunset

The Wine Guide

Magazine article Sunset

The Wine Guide

Article excerpt

Sunset's wine columnist offers a magnum of wisdom

* Karen MacNeil has voiced her expertise about wine in this column for four years. From aromas to corks to vintages, she has explained wine's enigmas for connoisseurs and novices alike.

Behind the scenes, MacNeil has been writing a comprehensive book on the subject, from growing to making to understanding wines worldwide through history, culture, and food. For once, she got all the space she wanted to bring her passion to the technicalities of wine. The Wine Bible--nearly 10 years in the making and more than 900 pages long--will be in stores October 1 (Workman Publishing, New York, 2001; $19.95; 212/254-5900 or In it, wine is alive--scientific and sensual at once. And drinking it becomes a simple, unpretentious, delightful practice. Below are a few excerpts from MacNeil's pragmatic advice.

On buying wine

If you're trying to describe to the clerk the kinds of wines you like and you're at a loss for words, think about foods. Wines can be big and juicy like a steak; fresh and light like a salad; or spicy and bold like a Mexican sauce. It isn't necessary to use technical wine terms; in fact, they can get in the way. One day, wanting an adventure, I asked a wine clerk to give me a wine like Robin Williams. Amazingly enough, and without a minute's hesitation, he did.

On storing wine

Wine doesn't care if it's stored in a $10,000 custom-built cellar, in a damp basement, or between shoes in the closet, as long as three things are true: (1) The environment is cool. (2) The bottle is lying on its side or upside down (but not standing upright). (3) There is no direct sunlight.

On pairing wine with food

Beginning in the 1980s, wine and food pairing became something of a national sport. Restaurants offered wine and food dinners.... It was all very exciting. But as time went on, what started out as an exploration meant to heighten enjoyment began to border on the neurotic.

The problem with this sort of approach is that it has very little connection--today or historically--to how we actually behave when we cook, eat, and drink.... We sometimes choose wines as much to match the mood as the food. …

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