Pros: Great for enthusiasts desiring greater depths of info on wines/spirits.
Cons: Will not set you on any path toward sommelier certifications or jobs.
Reviewed By: Ruben Urias
The Sommelier Prep Course takes a comprehensive look at wine producing regions of the world. The book examines the soil, grapes, and climate of each region and how they combine to give a country its wine identity. It reads like a textbook with topic reviews and questions at the end of each chapter, but unfortunately the book does not train you to be a sommelier or prepare you for any certifications. While the book does provide a brief introduction to tasting and pairing, including a hands-on exercise, you are left to develop your palate alone. The bulk of the book is wine reference material organized by region, but you are also introduced to spirits, spirit production, service and sales. For wine enthusiasts who are not seeking to be trained sommeliers, but desire increased wine knowledge, this book is a great resource.
Four things separate this book from many other comprehensive wine books on the market. First, the book explores wine making details that other books neglect. More than explaining the pressing and bottling process, this book also discusses how climate limits the growth of grapes to select regions; the effects of late or early harvesting; the impact of juice contact with skins, stems, and leaves; fermenting techniques; and even differing styles of aging. By no means do the wine making chapters cover all possible processes or techniques, but the author does dedicate more pages to the subject than many other wine books.
Second, the book goes beyond wine and also examines other alcoholic beverages. This side-by-side study helps underscore the relationship between wines and spirits, both historically and practically. For example, wine makers' use of the distilling process or spirits to preserve wines, or the continuing use of old wine barrels to age spirits. With such detailed information for both wines and spirits in a single volume, you are really getting two books for the price of one.
Third, this book provides information on beverage sales and service. Tips on how to properly open a difficult bottle, a discussion on when to decant, and how to improve sales from a night's dinner service are all included. The author goes so far as to discuss organizing wine lists. While this information is better suited for wine professionals, those interested in all aspects of wine will enjoy information.
And fourth, emerging growing regions are discussed in greater detail than found in many other books. In addition to Canada, Oregon, and Greece, for example, this book also takes the much needed step of discussing wine from Mexico. Despite having lengthy histories of wine production, many books tend to overlook these smaller regions' importance or simply cover them as a footnote. Thankfully, the author treats these regions with the same attention to detail as the better known regions making the book all the more appealing as a reference source.
But even in the best of books, there are bound to be a few drawbacks. In The Sommelier Prep Course, its problems start at its title. Calling a book The Sommelier Prep Course when it neither guides its readers toward a certification nor how to use the book in conjunction with sommelier studies is a bit astonishing. This book would be less misleading if it were instead called, The Sommelier Reference Guide or something similar. Or better yet, if the book instructed readers how to refine their palates through more than one simple chapter and exercise, then the title would have been better fitting. At very least, the author should have included some guidance concerning how to expand upon the book's material and properly work towards a sommelier certification, and not just refer readers to third party websites. Despite openly admitting in the book's introduction that this is not an actual preparation guide, it is still unsettling to see this book published with the title The Sommelier Prep Course when its title does not match its substance.
Another drawback was the lack on information on specific bottles of wine. While I can appreciate the attempts at impartiality, the inclusion of a few exemplary wines could have helped drive home the key points of each chapter. To be fair, the author does broadly explain what flavors to expect from, say, a cool growing region as compared to a hotter climate. Yet, specific exposure to distinctive flavors from various regions would have been helpful.
Regardless, this book is still an informative look at wine and spirits. It is comprehensive enough to satisfy most enthusiasts, but will be a very dry read due to its textbook style of writing. A deeper study of this book will allow you to discuss wines intelligibly, but such knowledge does not translate to a professional setting, much less establish sommelier credentials. Overall, the information in this book is detailed, well organized, and practical without being overwhelming. So for those readers who enjoy studying wines generally, or who are in need of a promising reference book only, The Sommelier Prep Course might be the book for you.