Learn How to Fake Your Way Through a Wine List »

With great tips from Oregon wine writer Katherine Cole

By Sara Schwarz
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How to Fake Your Way through a Wine List by Katherine Cole

How to Fake Your Way through a Wine List by Katherine Cole


I remember the day I first walked into a Tesco’s supermarket in central London and discovered row upon row of wines from around the world. It came as a bit of a shock, straight off the plane as I was, that Australian wines took up less than a couple of metres of shelf space. All our proud winemaking reduced to just a few major brands and varietals – it definitely put things into perspective!

As I wandered those rows studying bottles from France, Italy, South Africa, Chile, Moldova and another dozen nations, I became fascinated by the names, the regions, and the varietals, 99% of which I’d never heard of, let alone could pronounce. Looking back, How to Fake Your Way through a Wine List by Katherine Cole would have been a very handy addition to my carry-on luggage!

Katherine Cole is an experienced wine writer and columnist based in Oregon, in the Pacific north west of the USA. As such her book is tailored towards the US, European – and, I would assume, Asian markets – where wine selections are much broader than we find in Australia. The book includes examples of wines from Santorini Greece, Oregon USA and Galacia in north west Spain that we would be hard pressed to find in our local winestores.

Don’t let this put you off, however. If anything the international approach Ms Cole takes is a delight for your senses!

She opens up a wide world of wine regions and varieties, taking us through a selection of 75 of the world’s most prominent wine regions and styles. This is arm-chair wine travel at its best.

The wines from the 75 regions make up the main portion of the book. Each double page description includes a map, some imagery of the place, and a local wine bottle to tempt the palate.

Aside these sits information on Top Terms, offering a bit of information about the region and "Key Players": the varieties key to the region. So far, so pretty standard wine book. However Ms Cole has livened these up by including phonetic pronunciations, mnemonic descriptors and quirky visual links to help you commit the information to memory (should you so wish….)

As an example, the pages on Margaret River cabernet sauvignon includes a photo of Baroness Margaret Thatcher cuddling a koala. (The links being the name ‘Margaret’ and ‘eucalyptus’ being something enjoyed by koalas while also a key aromatic compound in cab sav.) I’ll never look at a bottle of Margaret River cabernet again without thinking of the Iron Lady!

Sometimes these mnemonic links work quite effectively, however other times I found them rather long-winded and distracting. For example Western Australia’s descriptor is: "In the American West, folks like to eat south western-style food. If Western Australia is a quesadilla, its wine country is a teeny-tiny bite out of the lower left-hand corner. And cabernet is surprisingly tasty with quesadillas." Doesn't do it for me.

However if this approach of making connections and building a memory palace works for you, then this is a great way to tempt your tastebuds while grooming your grey matter.  If not, just skim through the pages, you are still assured of soaking up a number of interesting facts almost by default.  I know I have.

On each side of this journey through the world’s wine regions, sit some quite practical advice on how to fake your way through any wine list as the title suggests, including myth busters on the classic wine list theories such as ‘if its expensive, it’s got to be good’, and ‘only drink great vintages’.

Cole also offers ways to navigate even the trickiest wine list – don’t be afraid to ask questions, and ask the server what they recommend (my personal favourite technique).

She includes a fun glossary with all the key wine terms you’ll ever need to know, though I’m not sure I’ve ever described a wine as "jazzy", and please someone shoot me if I do!

Overall I found How to Fake Your Way through a Wine List a fun look at the world of wine. In a crowded marketplace, not unlike the shelves of Tesco, it takes a lot to stand out from the crowd. Katherine Cole manages to do this and I encourage you to delve in. You’ll find yourself quickly ensnared, and will become an expert wine list faker in no time at all.

A great gift for someone new(ish) to wine, and with a sense of humour! If only more wine books were this approachable and so much fun.


How to Fake Your Way through a Wine List by Katherine Cole is published by Exisle Publishing (NSW, 2105; sc 224pp). It  is available from www.exislepublishing.com.au and wherever good books are sold. RRP A$19.99

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November 07th, 2015
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