News & Features

Happy Hour Q&A with the World Wine Guys

Welcome to our Happy Hour Question & Answer series, where we ask questions to interesting people in the alcohol world.

This week’s spotlight is on the World Wine Guys, Mike DeSimone and Jeff Jenssen, and their follow-up to Red Wine with WHITE WINE: The Comprehensive Guide to the 50 Essential Varieties & Styles (on sale now). DeSimone and Jenssen bring their expertise to the world of Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio with profiles of all the must-known varieties and their styles. Each chapter surveys one grape or blend and a snapshot of what to expect in the glass, suggested food pairings, and more than 1,500 recommended wines.

Hops & Spirits: How did you all get into writing books?
Mike DeSimone: It’s all my fault. I studied journalism at NYU, and after working in different industries but never actually writing professionally, I realized that I wanted to re-focus my energy and get back to doing something I love. At that point I narrowed it down to writing about things that are important to me, such as wine, food, and travel. I started writing on my own and then encouraged Jeff to join me. What began as occasional freelance articles for wine magazines has blossomed into a full-time career. I was trying to get two still-as-yet unpublished books, a novel and a memoir, published, and we met editors who were more interested in wine books. So here we are.

HS: Did you both enjoy wine from the beginning or was it something you acquired after some trial and error?
Jeff Jenssen: I’ve been a wine drinker since day one. I worked as a waiter and bartender through college and graduate school, so wine was always part of the equation. I was able to try the wines that we sold at the restaurants that I worked in, and at one job I became the wine steward, and I was able to take wine classes even though at the time I had no plans to stay in wine as a career. I also always enjoyed going out to dinner with friends and trying different wines with my meals. Travel only heightened that pleasure; I have always loved trying local wine and food together.

MD: I’ve pretty much always been a wine drinker too. When I was in school, I loved to go out to dinner and would always order wine to go with the meal. I’ve kept up that tradition ever since.

HS: What made you all want to do a book like WHITE WINE: The Comprehensive Guide to the 50 Essential Varieties & Styles?
JJ: With the success of Red Wine, which was written in a very similar format, we knew that the next logical step was a companion edition on white varieties. We host wine tastings and often appear on TV, and both of us like the educational aspect. If we can impart some knowledge to help deepen other people’s enjoyment of what they are drinking, that makes us both very happy.

HS: How much work goes into researching everything that went into this book?
MD: A lot! Once we narrowed down which varieties and regional styles to include, we had to contact wine consortia around the globe for facts, figures, information, and photos. It’s generally well over a year from the time we start to the date the book is turned in, and even then, the work isn’t done; there is an extensive editing and fact checking process. To make it more handleable, we treat each chapter as a magazine article and work on them one at a time.

HS: How did y’all decide on the setup for this? (i.e. In the glass, food pairing, recommended, etc.)
JJ: In the internet age, attention spans are somewhat short, so we wanted a book that is visually appealing, with a nice balance of text, graphics, and photos, that is also divided into “bite-size” sections. When we host a tasting, teach a class, or write an article, these are the categories we include. If we cover history, geography, aroma, taste, and food pairings and then recommend some bottles across different price categories, we’ve done our job. We also added “winemaker wisdom,” or quotes from winemakers, giving interesting facts about the grape or talking about their favorite pairings. It’s a nice way to forge connection between our readers and the fascinating people who make the wine.

HS: This is a book that’s supposed to be used and not on a shelf, right?
MD: Exactly. Many books, especially novels, are read once and put on display in a bookcase. We like people to think of our books more like they would a cookbook: Keep it in easy reach so you can refer to it whenever you want. If you go out to dinner and there’s a variety on the wine list that you’re not familiar with, you can give it a try and learn more about it at home. If you like a particular variety, you can see where it’s grown in the world and try versions from different locations. Or you can just read a chapter to advance your own knowledge base. But it’s meant to be turned to frequently, not read in one sitting and put away.

HS: What was the most unexpected thing that happened while working on this book?
JJ: We sort of knew it before we started but working on White Wine really hammered home how many white varieties there are in the world. We had to winnow down the list to keep it manageable, and since Red Wine includes 50 varieties, we wanted to keep it consistent, but we could have gone way over. We also realized just how popular white wine is; every time we mentioned we were working on this, people were so excited that we were writing about their favorite grapes.

HS: What would you tell someone who might be unsure of the wine world, but wants to find something that suits them?
MD: Read and taste. Read articles in magazines and online and find a handful of publications and writers that seem aligned with your taste and interests. Look for and attend wine tastings in your area. This will help you to understand what you are reading about: What do we mean when we describe the flavor, texture, or tannins and acidity level of a wine? Ask sommeliers or waiters who seem knowledgeable for wine recommendations with particular dishes. Start small and then spread out; maybe try to learn more about two or three varieties over a period of several months, ordering them in wine bars or drinking them at home, and then expand your horizons.

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