Monday, October 15, 2018

New Book Brings “Power Rankings” To World’s Greatest Wine Regions

For sports fans, power rankings help sort out the contenders from pretenders. Combining various metrics, pundits can rank teams from worst to first. What if that same idea were applied to wine regions?

43 Wine Regions – A Practical Guide

Michael Biddick is a certified sommelier with an impressive background in information technology. He has a graduate degree in information systems from Johns Hopkins and was contributing editor and writer at InformationWeek and Network Computing Magazine. These might seem like disparate interest areas, but Biddick has melded the two in his latest book, 43 Wine Regions subtitled “A Practical Guide to the Top Regions and Vintages Around the World” (Mascot Books, 144 pages, $24.95).

The book, released earlier this month, is a compact summary of the aspects defining the wines produced in some of the most famous growing areas in the world. Biddick crunched the numbers on climate data, consumer reviews, critic scores and quality systems to come up with his list of the world’s 43 best wine regions.

Biddick evaluated 197 wine regions on four dimensions: Composite Vintage Score, Weather and Climate, Producer Quality & Control, and Sensory Evaluation for the period 2000-2016. Each region could score a maximum of 100 points with the weighting as follows: Vintage (48 points possible), Weather and Climate (16 points), Producer Quality & Control (32 points) and his own sensory evaluation (4 points). Regions scoring 50 points or above made it into the book.

Infographics And Data Visualization

Unlike the power ratings and national rankings devoured by sports fans, Biddick doesn’t organize his results starting with #43 and culminating with the top pick. Rather he organizes the regions geographically and presents a table of his data as an appendix.

Some people (like me) may get the itch to go straight to the rankings.
Each chapter begins with a summary of a country followed by one or more regional profiles. In general, the country profiles present a good overview of a country’s wine history, regulations, wine styles and other interesting tidbits. The regional profiles consist of two pages, one an infographic and the other a narrative discussion of the region.

The infographics pack in quite a lot of information ranging from climate, vintage ratings, major wine grapes and classifications. The narrative blends Biddick’s expert insights with facts about the region.

Are These The Top 43 Regions?

The book provides great capsules of more than 40 great wine regions. 43 Regions is an excellent place to start for wine lovers just beginning to expand their horizons and wondering which wines to taste next. The reader who is familiar with most of these regions will want to focus in on how her or his favorite region stacks up against the rest of the world.

This book isn’t intended to be an in-depth examination of any one region. For example, one page about Tuscany or Bordeaux only grazes the surface of regions about which volumes could be written. Don’t buy this book as your only travel guide to France, for example, but do buy it to find a new favorite wine region or get some insight on those you already love.

Some of the results are head-scratchers. For example, the Middleburg AVA of Virginia is ranked higher than Barossa Valley, Australia, which didn’t even make it into the book. I’m a fan of Virginia wine, by the way, but that does not compute. Likewise, Portugal’s Vinho Verde is rated higher than Oregon’s Willamette Valley and South Africa’s Stellenbosch region. I enjoy a glass of Vinho Verde, but to me it falls magnitudes below Willamette or Stellenbosch.

Of course, many of my favorite regions do get spotlighted and it was enjoyable to get the authors take on these areas. Are the results of 43 Regions controversial? Perhaps so, but in a good way. It’s bound to uncork many a debate over glasses and bottles of wine.

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