GRAPEVINE

KATHRYN McWHIRTER TAMES A MOUSE TO BROWSE A CD-ROM WINE GUIDE
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The Independent Culture
MOUSE? Help! Icons? Oh my God! CD-ROM? Do I have to? Yes, I had to find a friendly, modern computer on which to review the latest release in wine publishing, Microsoft Wine Guide, The Essential Multimedia Wine Reference with World Expert Oz Clarke. My own computer and its contents are one step up from an electric typewriter, the software so old it refused to talk to the laser printer I bought when my ancient daisy-wheel packed up.

My computer-ace friend Neal was on holiday in Sardinia. His mother, brother and I found the "Windows" programme in which the wine programme had to run, inserted my disk, and spent an hour discovering that the first computer didn't have a "sound card", so wouldn't play the music, the video soundtracks, or tell me the correct pronunciation of Riesling and Rioja. The second computer talked to me, but couldn't play the videos.

Computer number three and a long telephone tutorial from the publishers got me going. An hour later, the mouse was nearly tamed, and I was flipping happily from wine encyclopedia entry for Navarra to the atlas and its various maps of Spain, clicking on to interesting icons (little pictorial symbols that respond to an arrow-poke on the screen and a press of the mouse) and re-routing to discover what Oz had to say about the Tempra- nillo grape, my favourite Navarra producer, food matches with his wines, wine in a hot climate, wine faults, winemaking, vineyards. And back, occasionally, frustratingly, to the start when the mouse misbehaved, but fascinated, and able to cross-reference to much more information than I would ever bother to look up in an index, and so much faster.

It's like a book, the publishers admit, but, they add, "a book with bells and whistles on it". CD-ROM, they tell me, means Compact Disk Read Only Memory - you can't write on it, that is. But you can accumulate a list of your own favourite wines, or print out detailed information about any wine you select from the 6,000 or so in the system. The videos, little snippets lasting 30 seconds to a couple of minutes in Oz Clarke's easy style, are quite jumpy and certainly not of televison quality, but apparently the technology has yet only come this far. There is about an hour's worth of film in total.

Sometimes you have to read for yourself, but there are also little audio bits, for example Oz talking you through his scoring system. And little loudspeaker icons throughout put your pronunciations on the right, mid- Atlantic course - not too authentically Italian or Spanish, but deliberately near-correct, according to the publishers, "so that people won't feel an idiot asking for it a wine shop".

Beginner or buffs could find it useful. Everything is interlinked, but one of the five main sections, "Wine Tasting with Oz", enlightens you on glasses, decanting, tasting procedure, elements of taste (oak, tannin, acid, fruit) and faults (oxidation, vinegar, sulphur, corkiness). "Oz Clarke's tasting tour" covers 18 wine styles, such as California Cabernet, with videos called "prepare and look", "swirl and smell", "taste and assess", then "contrast and compare", in this case with French Cabernet Sauvignon, Califor-nia Pinot Noir and Australian Shiraz.

The encyclopedia, runs to 1,800 entries on wines, regions and producers, and a click within an entry will take you deeper, perhaps into tasting notes on a particular wine, the grapes it's made from or the best vintages

"Wine Selector" allows you to stipulate your criteria - one or more of region, grape, wine style, star rating (quality), and food you want to drink it with - and will search the database for wines that fit. You can look up good vintages and likely lifespans of a wine, or appropriate wines for particular foods. A food with wine section gives advice on wines to suit 450 dishes, not always ideal choices, I felt.

There are 60 maps in the "World Atlas of Wine", on three different scales, sometimes down to individual chateaux - detailed enough for most people's needs. "All about Wine" goes on a year-round tour of vineyard and winery, tells about grape varieties and wine styles and deciphers different types of wine label.

The package "makes the subject more accessible to the average consumer than ever before," say Micro-soft. Well, the average consumer may not yet be kitted out with the necessary hard and software (it works on modern versions of Windows or Macs, and needs quite a lot of memory and hard- disk space, a sound booster, plus, of course, a slot for the CD). But prices of compatible computers fell last year.

Neal, back from holiday, has persuaded us to get a new computer, complete with Windows, CD-ROM, mouse and modem. Maybe that mouse wasn't too scary after all.

The Microsoft Wine Guide costs about pounds 40 from most department

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