I'm only nine pages into Sunset magazine's new guide to the state's wine regions - "California Wine Country" (Sunset, $19.95, 160 pages) - and already I'm agitated.
Napa Valley naturally is the first region the book addresses, and at the outset the text recommends a tour with stops that celebrate both art and wine. The accompanying map, however, doesn't show the suggested stops. Grrrr.
Nonetheless, I hit the accelerator and soon discover that that early shortcoming was but a minor glitch in an otherwise pleasant and smart ride, not unlike a brief traffic jam on Highway 50 when you are heading out for a day of wine tasting in the Sierra foothills.
As with other California wine regions, the manual does the foothills justice. It isn't comprehensive in its survey of the region's wineries, but it does provide intelligent and helpful if brief information on most of the area's pivotal players. The maps are detailed, instructive and accurate, and insights on where to stay, where to eat and what else there is to do in the area is largely up to date and savvy, though anyone familiar with the region could quibble about a few oversights.
The vintners of Lodi will be doing more than quibbling, I'm sure. Sunset dismisses Lodi's increasingly highly regarded vineyards and wineries with one brief aside, saying the area is "worth a stop as you head to the Sierra foothills," with no positive elaboration beyond a footnote mentioning the city's Wine and Visitor Center. Visitors haven't had to fret about getting stuck in Lodi for years, but Sunset's editors seem to be suffering some sort of flashback. Geez, even Temecula and Baja, which isn't even in the state, get their own chapters.
Overall, however, "California Wine Country" is a largely balanced and graphically appealing guide to most of the state's larger appellations. It's the right size to fit in the glove compartment, it has one of those satiny red ribbons to help mark your place, and the cover has been treated with some sort of protective material so it can't be stained with wine. Not even in Lodi.