The New Wine Rules – A Review

by artfuldiner on August 24, 2018

in Artful Diner Mini Review, Breaking News, Opinion, Wine

FROM THE BOOKSHELF: Jon Bonné, The New Wine Rules: A Genuinely Helpful Guide to Everything You Need to Know (New York: Ten Speed Press, 2017, 151 Pages)

New Wine Rules CoverJon Bonné is one of the leading American voices writing about wine today. He is the senior contributing editor at Punch, an independent online magazine, author of The New California Wine, wine consultant for JetBlue Airways, and former wine editor and chief wine critic at the San Francisco Chronicle… An impressive resumé. But don’t worry, he isn’t about to overwhelm you with eonological esoterica.

“Certainly, the world doesn’t need another ‘drink this, not that’ book,” he notes in the introduction. “The New Wine Rules was born out of the idea that the most valuable thing I can share is a handy summary of the practical things I’ve learned about incorporating wine into everyday life: how to figure out what you like, how to pick out a bottle for this weekend’s barbecue, when to splurge and when to keep it low-key.”

And he does so in a delightful little book of 89 rules – each paired down for quick consumption and broad understanding – divided into eight (8) simply stated categories: The Basics… Inside the Bottle… Choosing It… How to Serve & Enjoy ItStoring It & Taking It Places… Wine with Food… Dining Out… Drinking In. There’s something for everyone in Mr. Bonné’s book, but it will be especially helpful to neophytes who may feel overwhelmed by the baggage of unfamiliar terminology (i.e., Rule 4: “Don’t be intimidated by wine jargon – most of it doesn’t mean much”; Rule 5: “Really you only need to know a few key wine terms”). From the five essential wine tools you should own, to the basics of malolactic fermentation, to starting a wine collection for under $300, the book is filled with a marvelous array of down-to-earth practical information that is concisely presented.

New Wine Rules Author Jon BonneHis rules and discussion of pairing food and wine are right on the money. Americans, he notes, seem to get especially uptight about matching food & wine because we’re basically insecure about wine in general. He gives some helpful hints regarding the importance of textures, sauces, and preparation with regard to pairing rather than just main ingredients; but then concludes: “In any case, stop worrying. There is no single perfect pairing… Don’t sweat it. We’ll all get out of this alive.” However, Rule 70: “If all else fails: bubbles.”

On the other hand, I think most readers will find the rules on Dining Out and Drinking In particularly enlightening. For instance, ever wonder whether ordering wine by the glass is a bargain or a rip-off? Rule 71: “If a glass of wine costs more than one-quarter of the bottle, skip it.” Or, how about those restaurant wine lists that are as voluminous as Tolstoy’s War and Peace? Rule 74: “Big wine lists are not better than small ones.” It’s not the size, he notes, quoting that old adage, it’s what you do with it. If it’s done right, a well-edited one-page list can be as rewarding as a fifty-page list.

Or, how about this: You’re going to a dinner party and bringing wine as a guest. Rule 81: “Don’t be the guest who brings the cheap stuff… But that doesn’t mean you have to splurge.” So, how much should you spend? The author’s rule of thumb: the approximate cost of a main course at a restaurant you’d go to with your hosts… But, he notes, expensive doesn’t equal special. A brilliant, unique $12 bottle might be just the perfect house gift. Thoughtfulness always outweighs the price tag.

And speaking of price tags… Rule 26: “A wine’s price rarely reflects its quality.” There are wines that overdeliver; from places like Chile, Australia and South Africa, for instance. And then there are wines whose prices have far outpaced whatever benefits they may offer (think outrageously expensive Bordeaux & Burgundy and certain California “cult” wines). “Obviously,” the author notes, “we all want to be on the first half of that equation… but there are times when spending dearly makes sense.”

The above paragraph calls to mind a provocative essay by Matt Kramer, Why I No Longer Buy Expensive Wine, published several years ago in the Wine Spectator. And the reason Mr. Kramer no longer buys expensive wines…? They are simply not as surprising as a variety of less expensive vintages. “The majority of the world’s most interesting wines,” he writes, “now come from ‘unknown,’ or at least unheralded, locales. Collectively their numbers far outstrip the relatively small pool of famous zones commanding high prices.”

Mr. Kramer, I believe, makes an exceedingly valid point. Expensive wines can be absolutely wonderful. Great! Fabulous! On the other hand, he goes on say: “Expensive wines rarely surprise. But modestly priced wines – the best of them, anyway – are endlessly surprising. Why is this? Largely because we have no expectations from such wines. They are either wholly new to us or they offer new levels of achievement in zones previously unrecognized for anything special.”

“My goal now,” Kramer concludes, “is to have a cellar filled with surprises. Ironically, that means selling my expensive wines so that I can ‘afford’ today’s really great cheap wines. Now that is a surprise, wouldn’t you say?”

But let’s go back to where we came in – Rule 26: “A wine’s price rarely reflects its quality.” – so, what about Matt Kramer’s great cheap wines? Mr. Bonné gives us a bit of sage advice: 1) It’s difficult to find wines under $15.00 that are “distinctive and made with care”; nearly impossible under $10.00; but relatively easy to snare good ones under $20.00… 2) Few places in the world can justify a wine over $100. “They’re only worth buying if you do your homework first (and that doesn’t mean just checking wine scores)”… 3)The best wine values often come from places that have fallen out of fashion.

New Wine Rules Illus from BookIf you’re a wine lover, I’m certain that you will find The New Wine Rules an invaluable little book to help you make sense of an all-too-confusing subject that has become shrouded in the myth of connoisseurship and guided by the fear of displaying bad taste or revealing what you don’t know. “The world of wine,” Mr. Bonné writes, “has grown so vast that it’s impossible for anyone to know it all. What matters is learning to figure out what you like… If I can share one bit of advice as you read along, it’s this: Drink wine with Joy!”

Cheers… I’ll drink to that! The New Wine Rules is available at, other sources online, and through your local Barnes & Noble.


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