A few months back, Scribner sent me a copy of Educating Peter, by Lettie Teague (with the hefty subtitle: How I Taught a Famous Movie Critic the Difference Between Cabernet and Merlot or How Anybody Can Become an (Almost) Instant Wine Expert). The call to review this book arrived at the perfect time: My mother had just purchased me a subscription to Wine Spectator, and D and I were on our way to Napa in a few months with our interests in wine growing (and a wedding to attend).
While I found wrapping my head around some of the articles in Wine Spectator challenging (did I really know what first growth meant?), I was pleased to find that Educating Peter provided me the base of understanding I needed to not only pick up more challenging concepts in wine, but also inform my purchases and answer most of those questions I was too afraid to ask (wait, so cat pee is a good smell in wine?!).
So why so long to write this review?
For starters, the book had landed a whole of two hours in our apartment when D noticed it. “Ooooh, a book about wine? Who sent this? I call I read it first,” and he whisked it away before I could object. For nights I endured queries about wine on topics he now understood and I was in the dark about, was subjected to quizzes on various vintages and regions, and endured nights of chuckles while he read on and I tried to sleep. His last comment as he finally closed the back cover: “You know, you should really read this book.”
It’s what I intended to do all along before it was taken from me! So I read it and enjoyed it, recommending it to everyone I knew with the slightest interest in wine. But still, why no review?
My only defense is that I promised to let two others borrow the book once my review was completed. But I couldn’t bare to part with it. My defense is that this book remains a fixture on my shelf. It is my go-to when I need an answer to a wine question– How could I let this reference out of my site? How could I let it be soiled by others’ hands? Most important, how could I allow others to gain the same insight in wine I now possessed (it was all too fun to prove supposed wine-knowing friends wrong these past few months)?!
But the time has come to pass the torch.
Educating Peter is a fantastically fun read for the novice wine lover looking to understand more about wine. The book will empower the reader with basics to wine regions, vintages, types of wine and their blends, and more. Best of all, Lettie Teague has accomplished this in a totally non-snooty way, making anyone feel capable of grasping wine and turn into an (almost) wine expert.
When it comes to wine, Peter (that is, Peter Travers, movie critic at Rolling Stone) is a bumbling fool. He loves his “fatty” Chardonnays and attributes all other wines to the famous directors and actors he has interviewed. Chianti? Sure, that’s one of “Marty Scorsese’s favorite wines.” New Zealand wines? Peter Jackson (director of Lord of the Rings) thinks the reds of NZ are no good.
Through Peter’s mishaps and misguided senses, we learn about wine right along with him, falling in love with new varietals and regions.
Peter’s gifted cases of wine from years back were stored next to the basement radiator. We learn this is a big no-no because it cooks the wine and ruins it, as does storing it over the stove (a common storage place in most homes for go-to bottles).
We endure Peter’s often silly epiphany’s on how to remember his newfound wine knowledge: the film Citizen Kane is likened to a first growth Bordeaux and Riesling is like a filmmaker who relies on a good story rather than big names. We also put up with Peter’s strange obsession with hail throughout the book.
When I started reading Educating Peter, Peter’s quirks drove me mad. Sure, I thought, I know very little about wine, but this man is an idiot! And all of Peter’s memorization techniques, attributing every movie in his memory bank to something about wine, were inane and bordered on show-offy. Was this man real?
But I soon gave up and took all these idiosyncrasies to heart. I realized everywhere Peter shares his wisdom in wine-movie pairings or makes a lame joke, I was more likely to recall what was discussed. I would walk to work the next day discussing Peter’s silly comments, soon realizing I had an epiphany of my own: I remembered more when Peter had made one of his declarations than not.
The book is a great introduction to most of the wine regions of the world, though some regions seem to be glossed over. For one, the chapter on Italy is in desperate need of more information. Other chapters seem to just open up when the subject suddenly changes. And some regions just list wines to try instead of breaching the topic at all. But in the wines and regions that are discussed, we see Peter’s and our own interest grow as everyone learns more.
The book is organized in four sections. The first, an overview to wine, terms, storage tips and other basics about wine and wine-making. From there, we enter Old World Wines and get a fantastic starter into France and its’ regions and to a lesser extent Italy, Spain and other regions. New World Wines broadens the discussion into South America, Australia and regions in the United States, while the fourth section rounds out Peter’s new wine knowledge (and our own) with first use of this information at restaurants, wine stores and a “final exam” for the reader to test their own knowledge.
This book is a great introductory into wine. I applaud Teague for her efforts in making the topic of wine accessible to so many, while remaining light hearted and funny throughout. Educating Peter is a fantastic book for the wine novice that can easily be reread again and again and passed around to friends who love the subject but are looking to understand more. Which is where my own copy will now go…
Be warned: building a knowledge in wine can cause a great emptiness to the bank account.