Book Review: Educating Peter


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Lettie Teague is the wine editor of Food and Wine magazine, a James Beard Distinguished Writer Award winner and a monthly columnist for Wine Matters magazine. In her new book, Educating Peter, she is also a consummate guide to all things wine related for Rolling Stone movie critic Peter Travers; described as a ‘complete wine neophyte‘ who claims his favorite wine is a good ‘fatty’ (read ‘oakey’) $10 a bottle Chardonnay.

Lettie sets out to show Peter all the wonderful things there is to know about wine in it’s many personalities and, in the process, takes the reader on an amazing journey through Old and New World wines.

I just completed a 16-week Wine Professionals Certification course last Fall, and yet there was still enough material in this book to keep me mesmerized and reading for many hours.

Lettie is wonderfully well versed in her wine knowledge, and also amazingly patient with the likes of Peter, who comes across in the beginning of the book about as structurally sound as soggy cardboard. The guy whines, and whines a lot. Fortunately, there is a lot to keep the reader occupied despite Peter’s impatient and childlike behavior, as Teague employs an easy, conversational tone to describe the differences in the basic six grapes, teaching the reader to build a tasting vocabulary, what constitutes a great wine and the differences in bottle shapes, sizes and colors.

Lettie systematically walks through French wine, describing in detail each growing region and the subtle nuances of character found among their respective vines and soils, describing ‘first growth vineyards‘ and beyond, as well as touching on all the prominent viticultural areas of the world; both Old and New. As Peter develops his own understanding of wine, using references to movies and dropping famous names along the way, his behaviour evens out a little, and by the end of the book he seems much more likeable. He discovers, through Teague’s patient tutelage, a love for previously scorned Cabernet Sauvignon and delights in a journey through California’s famed Napa Valley, holding his own with winemakers and vineyard owners and getting the enviable honor of being able to imbibe in an original Napa cult Cabernet classic- a 1992 Screaming Eagle Cabernet that sells for upwards of $4,000 dollars per bottle.

Throughout the book, Peter’s goal is to indulge in a bottle of Chateau Petrus, one of France’s legendary and ungodly expensive wines which is way out of Teague’s budget, but the Eagle was a gift; one which Lettie and Peter spend months hashing out details of who they will share it with and what to serve, and in the end, the anticipation over such a bottle is equal to the experience of drinking the phenomenal wine. By this point, the reader feels confident that Peter is in a position to fully enjoy and appreciate such a rare bottling, and I felt a sense of relief that there was no whining involved in it.

The last part of the book deals with sending Peter out into the world of wine to deal with a wine auction, purchasing wine in a retail environment, talking with a restaurant sommelier, choosing wine with dinner and dining with a famous wine collector.

Peter more than holds his own in these situations, learning and understanding fully that no matter how much one can be told about the world of wine, regardless of how many wines you can sample and compare, there is no substitute for ongoing research, and there is no way of ever knowing all there is to understand. Lettie’s love of wine shows glowingly in this book and any reader, from an aficionado to a new oenophile such as myself can gain an immense amount of understanding, along with a arm’s length list of wonderful wines to try. For a wine lover, or just anyone with a passing interest in the noble grape, Educating Peter is an informative and compelling read.

Educating Peter: How I Taught a Famous Movie Critic the Difference Between Cabernet and Merlot or How Anybody Can Become an (Almost) Instant Wine Expert is available from Amazon.com for $19 and Amazon.co.uk for £11.67.

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