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Learning about wine through ’36 Bottles’

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

“Muscadet makes a lovely hot-weather aperitif – ice cold, low alcohol, and insistently neutral, which I’ll admit does sound eerily similar to the selling points of Bud Light,” writes Paul Zitarelli in his debut book, 36 Bottles of Wine, which will be released later this month.

Many lovers of Northwest wine will no doubt recognize Zitarelli’s name and often humorous writing style from his Seattle-based, email-driven retail wine company, Full Pull Wines. Though Full Pull offers wines from around the world, Washington and Oregon are at its heart, with Zitarelli’s engaging writing and incisive palate making the engine go. Zitarelli also serves as wine columnist for Seattle Magazine.

36 Bottles takes a unique approach to exploring wine by writing about and recommending three bottles each month: one red, one white, and one other (dessert, rosé, sparkling, etc). To make the wines easier to find, these are not specific bottle recommendations but rather recommended categories, such as Rías Baixas Albariño.

In the book, Zitarelli seeks out wines that provide consumers with value, whether Assyrtiko, California Zinfandel, or points in between. On one page, the book has a table summary of what the wine is, where it is from, why it is picked, how to pronounce it, how much decent examples cost, and what to pair it with. The opposite page provides richly detailed information about the specific variety and style as well as occasional personal stories that bring the book to life.

Indeed, much of the enjoyment of 36 Bottles centers around Zitarelli’s ever-engaging writing. He has a talent for turning a phrase and also a comedian’s eye. He writes of single serving wine cups that have come into vogue recently, “They are sold in interconnected stacks of four that look like sex toys for a race of giants.” The internet has unfortunately forever ruined the phrase ‘laugh out loud.’ However, I found myself doing so throughout this book.

While wine is at the book’s core, 36 bottles is also an ode to seasonal drinking and eating, with specific recipes to prepare and pair each month. When camping season begins, it’s ‘Campfire Foil Pouches’ with Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc. For the day after Thanksgiving, ‘Leftover Thanksgiving Turkey Schmaltzo Ball Soup’ with Tavel rosé.

The book contains sidebars throughout, such as how to order wine at a restaurant, a discussion of wine headaches, and talk of wine serving temperature. It’s all thoroughly entertaining but also sneakily educational.

36 Bottles occupies a unique space as both wine book and cook book. While this makes it a bit difficult to figure where to place it on the bookstore shelf – to the extent such things still exist – anyone with an interest in wine or food will find much to enjoy. If you enjoy both, so much the better.

Throughout 36 Bottles I laughed, learned, and found myself excited about wine all over again. Oh, and I got really, really hungry. Who could ask for more?

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