Imbibing with the Uninitiated

Lettie Teague leads a friend, and the rest of us, into the mysteries of wine

Of all the wine books sloshing around the world, Lettie Teague's Educating Peter (Scribner, 2007) has got to be the most fun. It's not that Teague, a 1983-vintage Kenyon graduate, isn't serious. For nearly a decade she has been the wine editor at Food & Wine magazine; her knowledge--of wines and the wine trade--runs deep.

But above all, she's a buoyantly entertaining writer, who wields her considerable expertise without pretentiousness or far-fetched metaphors. If you're interested in learning about wine, you'll find her an enlightening and amusing companion.

And you should read the word "companion" literally. In her book, Teague introduces the uninitiated into the mysteries of wine by taking one of her friends under her wing. The subtitle explains: "How I Taught a Famous Movie Critic the Difference Between Cabernet and Merlot."

The friend in question was Peter Travers, the film critic for Rolling Stone and a perfect pupil in that, while largely ignorant about wine, he was curious, eager to learn, and no stranger to the habit of forming opinions. "I'd often wondered what it would be like," Teague writes, "to teach someone enough about wine that he or she would be able to read a restaurant wine list without fear, approach a wine merchant with confidence, and perhaps even score a few points off a wine-snob friend."

From the reader's point of view, Peter also turns out to be a good pupil because he has personality. Part of the fun in the book comes from his witty observations and his ability to grasp wine concepts by drawing on cinema lore.

The fun makes the impressive quantity of information go down easy. Teague covers grape varieties, winemaking, and the importance of age and temperature. She introduces a tasting vocabulary. And she leads Peter on a quick tour of the world's wine regions, including an actual road trip to the Napa Valley.

--Dan Laskin