A book review of “The Concise Guide to Wine & Blind Tasting 3rd Ed.”

by  |  27-02-2020

Not terribly long ago, I reviewed the second edition of Neel Burton’s foundational tome on tasting wines blind. Towards the end of 2018, he brought out a revised third edition which probably makes anyone with the second edition ask, should I pick this up? My gut reaction would be “yes” but it depends a lot on who you are and what you’re looking for.

There was a seismic shift in terms of content and approach between the first and second editions so that the second edition really a necessary book to buy. But from second to third, while there is definitely new information, perhaps it’s not quite as profound an amount. It seems that Neel has really hit his stride with this series and this, as well as I assume future editions, will expound upon what is a most necessary reference for anyone going down the path of WSET, Court of Master Sommeliers, or just wanting to be able to do the “trick” of blind tasting wines for family, friends, and enemies alike.

To recap, the book covers basically everything about blind tasting from how to set up a tasting, how to understand what you’re doing, and ultimately, how to identify wines. This last item is I think, for anyone who does it, the most interesting part. How a notch of alcohol more and a notch of residual sugar less can tell you that a Riesling from from Clare Valley in Australia instead of the Mosel in Germany is a fascinating, albeit niche pursuit.

The wine and variety profiles are invaluable to anyone wanting to get a leg up on blind wine tasting. I might add that there are additional sources out there one should look at like what Tim Gaiser has written on his site, but Neel has really put together one of the most complete lists in existence. The only real criticism I have in all the book is actually here with the wine descriptions as a more structured profile such as seen with WSET/CMS approaches where you block out flavors in groups, then acidity, tannins, alcohol, and then the rest. It’s tough to really commit this in stone as it changes with time and producers (who thought super sunny regions in Spain could ever have medium plus acidity and medium alcohol?!!) but having an overall reference point to start with would be really helpful.

I can see that it’s the wine reference part of the book that’s growing the most and in time, it will probably be more complete and up-to-date than a lot of “classic” references that aren’t keeping up with real time–more on this at a later date however. To that end, the third edition also has new information for Greece, Georgia, and other regions. Neel adds to these sections as he can given that it’s based upon his own research. A novel concept this day and age of copy, paste, publish, but if you don’t believe it, follow his Instagram where he’s constantly tasting and exploring.

So to conclude, this remains one of if not the most solid reference on blind tasting in existence. If you’re pursuing any kind of wine studies, pick up a copy pronto.

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