Author: Mark Slaney
Publisher: Rowan Rose
Price £7.99. Buy from Amazon
I know Mark Slaney thanks to his role as Manager of the excellent Horseshoe Inn in the Scottish Borders where his terrific wine list, complete with very personal annotations, is always the highlight of a visit. Having spent his entire career in the wine and hospitality trade he has committed his experience to print to very good effect: Tasting Notes is essentially an autobiography recounting his career in wine and charting the significant events that developed his knowledge and tastes. But that period was also a fascinating time for the UK wine scene, which saw significant changes, all of which form part of the story in this book. It is also a wine primer, as well as the author’s guide to the world’s best-performing regions and esates, all of that related in a highly personal way, full of anecdotes and asides, including several short chapters contributed by world winemakers with whom Slaney has a particular relationship. The book darts from subject to subject in a fairly free-wheeling style, but everything comes back to a love of wine. There’s a genuine warmth and enthusiasm in this text, and Slaney’s chatty, light-hearted style makes it something of a ‘romp’ through one man’s life in wine – which is both instructive and highly entertaining. A jolly good read
Author: Richard W. H. Bray
Price: £8.59. buy at Amazon
I’ve known Richard Bray, Boston-born but UK-based, for the best part of a decade I guess, from his days retailing wine in the Scottish town of St Andrews, through his time as sommelier in some rather smart restaurants. His crowd-funded book is a very personal tale of the several harvests he has spent ‘working the vintage’ alongside a mutual friend and former colleage, Andy Cook, who makes wines in the Roussillon region in the south of France. In his introduction he says “This isn’t a wine book, not really,” but I would beg to differ. True, this is a story about an experience – or series of them – that has clearly been profound for Richard, but wine is at the heart of everything in it, and the minutiae of the life of a day to day winemaker is described in glorious, slow-panning detail, from how a pneumatic wine press must be treated with respect, to how to bottle and pack 15,000 litres of wine without going crazy. Richard speaks in an honest and amusingly un-edited voice, so beware the occasional profanity, or stream of consciousness diversion as he muses on baseball, blues music or Stornaway black pudding. Salt & Old Vines is about those experiences – sometimes maddening, sometimes exhausting, sometimes frightening and sometimes bewildering – but the truth is that he loved every minute of it, and that truth shines from every page. It is without doubt an original and entertaining take on one man’s first hand connection with wine. Note that you can buy the paperback or download using the Amazon link above, but at www.unbound.co.uk you can still help fund the book.
Author: Wink Lorch
Publisher: Wine Travel Media
Price: £25.00. buy at Amazon
If the crowds thronging to the annual wines of Jura tasting in London last month is any yardstick, then Jura really is buzzing as a wine region at the moment. The tasting was also a platform for Jura expert Wink Lorch to launch her crowd-funded and self-published book on the region and its wines. Jura produces very distinctive wines, most famously its Vins Jaune which lie somewhere between trendy natural wines and even trendier bone-dry Sherries, and quietly but steadly they have been building a cult following. Educator and writer Wink (who has written for wine-pages on the wines of Jura) has written a book that is as enjoyable and human as it is information-rich and comprehensive. Her love for the region and its wines shines out of every page, and I really enjoyed her writing style and the approach of the book: it is written in a very personal voice, not as a dry text book and with no sense of self importance. Instead it gently welcomes the reader to join Wink in her travels through the Jura with the stories behind the region, its wines and winemakers – and its food and character. Yes there are facts aplenty, with maps and charts, and all the information you could possibly need on grapes, climate, soils and winemaking, but the heart of the book is about the people, with 100 estates profiled and a romp through Jurrasic history. The book is also very polished, with quality printing and extensive use of colour photography by Mick Rock, and it has been designed well, with amusing, entertaining and enlightening fact boxes picked out on most pages amongst the text. Clearly this is a book with a niche market, but it goes way, way beyond many self-published titles and really delivers as high quality and absorbing a guide book to a wine region as any I have seen. Note that the best place to buy the book is via Wink’s own web site at winetravelmedia.com but it is also availble via the Amazon link above.
Authors: Tom Stevenson & Essi Avellan
Publisher: Absolute Press
Price: £50.00. buy at Amazon
Champagne authority and wine-pages columnist Tom Stevenson has brought in rising star Essi Avellan for this completely revised edition of his epic encyclopaedia of all wines sparkling. This 3rd edition really is epic: 40% larger than the previous edition published a decade ago, with 528 pages and 1,600 producers from around the world rated and profiled. Obvious expansions are in England, where the sparkling wine industry has boomed in the last decade, but the Cava, Prosecco and Franciacorta growth is there as are expanded industries from Chile to China. Champagne accounts for the bulk of the content of course and the book mixes a massive amount of factual information that even the geekiest of fizz geeks will find fascinating, with strongly stated opinions about quality. One of the stars in the Pantheon of essential wine text books.
Author: David Williams
Publisher: Apple Press
Price: £18.99. buy at Amazon
Good friend and fellow member of The Wine Gang, David Williams was writing this book when we travelled to together in the spring and we had many a laugh imagining just what occasions might be included – some not fit to print. But in fact the book is a really interesting and remarkably scholarly one. Beside obvious occasions like Christmas and Father’s Day, David suggests wines to suit everything from baptisms to having the boss to dinner. For each he sets the likely scene with amusing precision: for example, to relieve the tedium of election night, he suggests a wine-themed party game that should liven things up, and if the occasion is a confrontation with a difficult neighbour, some soothing wines to make the peace. But David’s serious wine knowledge means the wines recommended are of high quality and the reasons for their inclusion well thought out. Original, amusing and actually quite useful!
Author: Tim James
Publisher: University of California Press
Price: £27.95. buy at Amazon
Despite its 350 years of winemaking history, South Africa is an entirely suitable candidate for a book celebrating the ‘new’. In the 25 years since the fall of apartheid and the country’s re-emergence onto the world stage the speed and extent of the wine industry’s renaissance has been remarkable. Tim James, a well-respected South African wine journalist who lives in the country, is careful to establish his impartiality from the outset. This is a country in which the political context of wine and the wine business cannot be ignored. James tackles sensitive and complex issues like land ownership and the progress of black empowerment with steely objectivity. Indeed, in the often enlightening opening chapter all of the country’s current wine challenges and opportunities are explored. Each of the Cape’s wine producing regions is explored in depth, with a map and scholarly introduction spanning from earliest plantings to recent developments. Profiles of all the significant wine producers follow, and once again James’ economical writing style is business-like and accurate. This is certainly no coffee-table book. Monochrome throughout, illustrations are confined to a few simple maps and tables. In a multi-media world that is arguably old fashioned. However, it is a terrific book, never dull, and written with both cool precision and passion for the subject.
Author: Simon Woods
Publisher: Simon Woods
Price: £2.56. Download at Amazon
The irrepressible Simon Woods has published this book for Kindle (or iPhone, Android device or computer running Kindle software) and whilst its 49 pages probably do make it the world’s shortest, it is packed with information that is all about approachability and no-nonsense advice for the (relative) wine novice. 21 short chapters are all intended to help you get more out of a bottle of wine and cover topics from choosing glassware, to the point of sniffing a glass of wine. It won’t appeal to the serious wine freak, but it is fresh, fun, cheap and founded on Simon’s wealth of expertise and knowledge.
Author: Oz Clarke
Price: £11.99. buy at Amazon
Brand Oz is big business thanks to his TV presence and string of regular wine guides and other books. But that is not to diminish the man in the slightest: he remains one of the world’s great authorities on wine and his annual guide is, along with Hugh Johnson’s of course, a terrific way to keep up to date with the whole world of wine. It is a concise but fact-packed volume, an A-Z of over 1500 entries spanning wine countries, producers, personalities and more.
Author: Monty Waldin
Publisher: Floris Books
Price: £16.99. buy at Amazon
Monty Waldin is well known, not only as an advocate of organic and biodynamic wines, but through the Channel 4 TV series ‘Château Monty’ that followed his trials and tribulations as he established his own organic vineyard operation in France. With a title like “Best Biodynamic Wines,” I think it is fair to say this book will not zoom to the top of the best-seller charts – not even to the top of the best-seller-wine-book charts I suspect. Whilst it intrigues some, biodynamic winemaking remains a niche within a niche (possibly within another niche). There’s a brief and useful primer on biodynamics to begin, but then the meat of the book’s 270 pages is given over to specific product recommendations categorised by wine style, and within that, grape variety. But each profile is much more about the grower and their biodynamic credentials than any particular bottle or vintage, and that’s a good thing: surely printed wine buying guides will go the way of the dinosaurs, but for those with a keen interest in this intriguing subject and who do not find enough specific recommendations online, it is a thoroughly well done and useful publication. It throws up new names, and plenty of interesting facts and opinion on even the most luminous stars of the biodynamic firmament. Waldin is passionate without being a zealot, and he’s smart enough to know that scaring people off with too much emphasis on the minutae of biodynamism’s sometimes eybrow-raising detail (think manure-stuffed cow’s horns, etc.) is not the way forward for these growers, or for any supporter of biodynamics as a force for good.
Author: Neal Martin
Publisher: Wine Journal Publishing
Price: £50.00 from www.pomerolbook.com
The age of self-publishing has arrived for wine books thanks to advances in technology, cheaper costs and, not least, the dearth of opportunities that exist in mainstream publishing. A recent spate of good examples is crowned by this epic and beautifully presented tome from Neal Martin, ex-trader and blogger turned establishment critic (well, sort of). Neal is well known for his succesful marriage of serious, incisive commentary allied to irreverance, often taking off into flights of fancy. I guess there’s more of the former in this weighty, 600-page text book than in his blogging, but glimpses of humour and surrealism are lightly dusted throughout. Printed on very high quality paper with a mostly monochrome palate, the few maps, diagrams and photographs are beautifully done (including many hand-drawn vineyard maps by winemakers), but this is a book that is text rich – though never text heavy. It is Neal’s paean to Pomerol, a tiny enclave of Bordeaux made famous by its superstar estates like Pétrus and Le Pin. The meat of the book is estate profiles of course, each immensely thorough (some are mini-books in their own right) but attempting to go beyond the dry history and statistics, to somehow express the character of the wines and winemakers through words. As well there is useful background, scene-setting and all the obsessive stuff like vintage charts back to the 40s and lists of grape varieties once allowed in the region, but at all times the story is written on a human scale, with anecdotes and thought-provoking supposings sprinkled amongst the analysis. It’s a bit of a triumph of self-publishing this and whilst niche, extremely worthwhile.
Author: Jasper Morris
Publisher: Berry Bros & Rudd
Price: £14.99. buy at Berry Bros
Jasper Morris’s magisterial Inside Burgundy was published in 2010. The fruit of over 30 years’ worth of insider knowledge, the book soon became an essential source for those interested in exploring the region’s wines in greater depth – with one caveat. Anyone intent on physical exploration of Burgundy would have to tote two kilos of book with them. Now, Berry Bros has reissued the book in five volumes specially adapted for the iPad platform. Wine-pages’ columnist Natasha Hughes recently evaluated the first instalment – on the Côte de Beaune – and says “the interactivity afforded by this iPad version certainly brings something extra to the party. While a book offers the reader glorious full-colour photos, it can’t feature interactive maps or videos that allow Morris to explain the quality factors that pertain to certain vineyards in greater depth. As you read through the text, you can also add your own comments or tasting notes, allowing you to add personalised layers of complexity to the already thorough text.” The hard-back book is £50 from Berry Bros.
Authors: Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding, José Vouillamoz
Publisher: Allen Lane
Price: £120.00. buy at Amazon
The most magnum of magna opera, this 1,280-page brand new work is subtitled “A complete guide to 1,368 vine varieties, including their origins and flavours.” Jancis Robinson and her right-hand woman and fellow Master of Wine Julia Harding have put an enormous amount of research into this text book, ably assisted by renowned grape geneticist Dr José Vouillamoz. The book is above all an academic work, with the authoritative text and lovely illustrations reminiscent of a great, scholarly botanical book of the 19th century with its full colour plates. It’s true that 21st century ampelographic techniques might lie behind the clarity with which the grape varieties are identified and described, but the overall effect is of a timeless classic.
Author: David Copp
Price: £9.99. buy at Amazon
This is a self-published book from David Copp, who has spent a lifetime working in the wine trade and in wine journalism, and who has a particular love for the relatively unsung Bordeaux commune of St Estephe. Perhaps it is because I once had a wonderful week’s holiday in a gîte, on a wine estate in the commune where I got to know its sleepy byways very well, but I really warmed to this book. Copp captures the tranquillity of the area, and more than that, his infectious enthusiasm for the Châteaux, both the highly-regarded stars and the almost unknown minor estates, leaps from every page. It’s a labour of self-published love and whilst of minority interest arguably, really is an important work for this region and a good one too.
Authors: Belinda Kemp and Emma Rice
Price: £9.95. buy at Amazon
A book that will be of minority interest I am sure, as it is a handbook for those wishing to set up a vineyard and or winery in the UK. That means readers are likely to be very serious about this subject which is a good thing, because presumably they will be forgiving of the rather lumpen writing style and huge litany of typos and errors in what must be a self-published title. Despite that, the knowledgeable authors (a PhD in Viticulture and lecturer at Plumpton College, and a winemaker running her own custom crush business) do cram useful information into the densely-packed pages, not just on growing and making wine, but on marketing and handling the business aspects of running a vineyard or winery too. A curate’s egg, but there’s a lot to commend.
Editor: John Livingstone-Learmonth
Publisher: Bottin Gourmand
Price: €39. buy at Amazon
A book which currently appears only in its French edition on Amazon UK. However the English edition can be ordered from gigondas-vin.com for €39 with delivery within Europe for an extra €5. This is another minority interest title perhaps, but the diametric opposite of The Winegrower’s Handbook being a very high production value, full-colour, large hard-back with sumptuous use of photography and weighing in with almost 500 pages. Published in France, it is massively detailed, with contributors from France and around the world contributing not only estate profiles and wine tasting notes, but all sorts of historical, technical and scientific background. The reviewed English edition strikes me as written in English rather than French with translation.
Editor: Neil Beckett
Price: £20.00. buy at Amazon
At its cut price on Amazon it is still a very worthwhile buy with almost 1000 pages of content. I’m not a huge fan of the ‘bucket list’ craze and plethora of ‘…before you die’ titles that have covered almost every subject under the sun in the past few years, but at least this one is well done. It has a small army of contributors (well, 44) but those included real experts such as Michael Edwards on Champagne or Huon Hooke on Australia. Each wine has a label and short description and amongst the 1001 there is real diversity and some nicely obscure choices crop up.
Author: Patrick Hilyer
Price: £7.99. Buy at Amazon
Patrick had his first writing break back on wine-pages in 2006, and though he has published a book on wine tourism in France since, this is a departure: a wine-, or at least, vineyard-based, mystery novel. When I first read that I feared it could be a misguided or clichéd attempt at forcing the wine theme into a poorly executed story, but far from it: Patrick has crafted a real page turner of a story full of teasing clues and cliff-hanging suspense as the book’s central character – a middle-aged English widow – struggles with her St Emilion wine estate whilst various characters drift in and out of her life – not all of whom are quite what they at first seem to be. The minutiae of vine growing and winemaking is sprinkled throughout, but it fits so naturally into the story that it is both absorbing and believable. That’s because it is just one more detail that is beautifully crafted: Patick’s assured painting of people, places and events is at the core of this novel’s success. It is very deftly handled, and whilst just occasionally a line of dialogue did’t quite ring true (I wondered if this is a consequence of a man writing in the first person as a woman?), that really is a minor quibble. Broke the Grape’s Joy is a triumph of a little book, immensely readable and with the added interest of its back-story for the wine buff. Highly recommended. Note that a Kindle Version can by purchased for just £1.99.
Author: Caro Feely
Price: £8.99. Buy at Amazon
From the moment I read the title of this book my heart sank: such a clichéd pun is not a good omen for a book covering the now over-familar ground of middle-class professional family leaves their well paid jobs, moves into a ramshackle house in France and begins a new life against all the odds. The theme has been explored in dozens of recent books and TV shows, always with the same pattern: family struggles with uprooting from UK; family struggles with settling into rural French village; family doesn’t have a clue what they are doing; family tensions build and despair is nigh; family gets help from salt-of-the-earth local; family is relieved that it all works out. Often the dream is to run a B&B or restaurant, but even the specific theme of making wine has been done to death in a string books, always ending with a successful first harvest leaving our heroes full of uncertainty and hope. I have nothing against the Feelys. I’d be very happy to visit their estate and learn their story over a glass of their wine. But this book and the story being told really is nothing special and nothing new. If you have never come across Steve Hovington’s The Grape Escape, Monty Waldin’s Chateau Monty, Patricia Atkinson’s The Ripening Sun or a host of other similar books, then perhaps you will find this more entertaining than I did. But I didn’t particularly warm to the tale, and in truth it has been told much better. Hopefully this will be the last gasp for this over-worked genre until someone has something genuinly new to say. Perhaps the next city professional selling up to become a vigneron will just get on with making great wine.
Author: Chris Kissack
Price: £6.99. Buy at Amazon
First, a word on the format of this new book: the first in a series of ‘magbooks’ (think Brangelina) this is a hybrid magazine and book, meaning it is published very rapidly after writing so the content is more current than a book, yet it is nearer the size and thickness of a modest paperback. It has the aesthetic quailities of a magazine too, from the glossy paper to the liberal use of colour. Whether the format is a valid one remains to be seen: this was released to coincide with the first reviews of the new Bordeaux ‘en primeur’ vintage, yet only a couple of pages really refer to that, and news is much better served by a variety of web sites. As a format I’m not sure how successful this is but let’s leave that aside: the book is a snip at £6.99, as the content is terrific, detailed and copious. There’s a mountain of data and information in here about Bordeaux and its châteaux, grape varieties and communes, as well as reference chapters on subjects like investment and cellaring. It is a fairly dry textbook at heart, but Chris Kissack does express his opinions on the relative merits of the various châteaux and their wines. It’s worth paying the modest price to see if this format appeals.
Author: Bill Nanson
Publisher: Aurum Press Ltd
Price: £20.00. Buy at Amazon
The latest in the Arum Press/World of Fine Wines series of ‘The Finest Wines of…” books is for that geekiest of wine geek regions, Burgundy. And talking of geeks, I need to declare an interest in that I have known author Bill Nanson for over a decade now. A wine loving Yorkshire scientist working in Switzerland, Bill has been a wine-pages regular since its earliest days. Whilst Bill is still resolutely attached to his day job, his passion for the wines of Burgundy has grown incrementally, until now expressed through his Burgundy Report web site. I was delighted to hear that Bill had been asked to write this book. He is someone not in, nor attached too closely to the wine trade, and is still a passionate amateur de vin at heart. In many ways that is what this most complex and at times frustrating of wine regions demands, and Bill has delivered a thoroughly researched and objective overview, written on the ground via his regular visits to the region. The introductory chapters to this series can be a little workaday; topics like Burgundy’s history, geography and grape varieties have been covered so many time, but Bill has some fresh and insightful things to say on topics like premature oxidation and the tricky business of choosing which domaines to follow and how to navigate Burgundy’s myriad villages and producers. The meat of the book is the series of 90 in-depth profiles of the most interesting producers, new and established, large and small, each illustrated as always by plenty of evocative photography from Jon Wyand. Bill’s easy-going but accurate texts give a very rounded impression of each domaine, and his descriptions of their key wines are informed. In all, this is a really welcome – but distinctly different – addition to the pantheon of Burgundy books from Anthony Hanson, Clive Coates, Jasper Morris and the rest. Well done the boy from Yorkshire.
Author: Tom Stevenson
Publisher: Dorling Kindersley
Price: £35. Buy at Amazon
This magnum opus from wine-pages columnist Tom Stevenson has been a long time coming. After four years the 5th edition of his most comprehesive wine encyclopedia has appeared, completely revised and its 736 pages are crammed as never before with minutely researched information. The book approaches the entire subject of wine based in geography, and is astonishingly detailed down to quite obscure regions and sub-regions. Maps have been re-drawn to good effect, information updated and new sections added, but though mind-boggling in its thoroughness and comprehensive scrutiny of the world of wine, the book is never dull: Stevenson is one of our most generous and plain spoken wine communicators, so I rather enjoy the fact that he criticises and asks tough questions in a book that might otherwise be admirable, but dry. He takes issue with common perceptions of wine regions, regulations and styles, argues over the importance of others and generally ensures that as well as being a well-researched text book of similar stature to the Oxford Companion or World Atlas of Wine, the Sotheby’s Encyclopdia is thought provoking and can occasionally raise doubts over accepted wisdom. The ‘Micropedia’ – a vast glossary of wine words and terms – could be a stand alone book of its own, as could the first 93 pages on vine growing and wine making history, science and culture. Stevenson is a passionate oenophile and has a most inquiring mind. He is truly the perfect man for the job of making this an epic and essential reference work, and so much more.
Author: Steve Hovington
Publisher: Matador 2011
Price: £10.00. Buy at Amazon
I really liked this book from Steve Hovington. Whilst it is not a profound work of literature, it has an unassuming honesty and lack of self-importance that is missing from similar stories: the tale is usually of a passionate wine lover who leaves a high-flying career behind to follow a dream of owning a great vineyard, but Hovington’s dream is much less grand, and his life-story very different. Once a member of a reasonably successful B-list pop group that never quite made it, there’s a sense running through the book that Hovington regards his life as ultimately unfulfilled. Post-popdom, he has been a bit of a drifter (maybe even a waster), settling for a decent if workaday life – reasonably content with his humble lot and fond of glass of wine of an evening. Suddenly however, a crazy idea takes hold and he grasps the chance for one last big adventure before looming middle age. He want to make a wine. He’s not interested in owning a vineyard, moving his family to Provence or fundamenally chaging his life, he just wants to give it a go and see what happens. The book then chronicles this adventure, as he makes contact with a French family domaine that is willing to rent him a few rows and some facilities, and how Hovington spends a year in the Roussillon grappling with the challenges of being a first time winemaker. By the end of the book he has made a few hundred bottles of acceptable wine (he is refreshingly honest about the reception his cuvée receives) and whilst never meant as a commercial proposition, the adventure ends in real success: Hovington has done it, he has loved the thrill and hard work of the year and he is back in his old life a happier, wiser and more contented man. There is plenty of colour in the book, the characters in France and at home are well drawn and the flashbacks to the rock ‘n roll days of his youth are fun. In all, this is a really enjoyable, feelgood read that I can thoroughly recommend.
Authors: Jesús Barquin, Luis Gutiérrez and Víctor de la Serna
Publisher: Aurum Press Ltd
Price: £20.00. Buy at Amazon
The latest in a now considerable volume of works published by The World of Fine Wine does not change the format of earlier titles in this series. The co-authors of this volume have been given free rein to include their personal choices of ‘The Finest Wines’, with the bulk of the book made up of a series of highly personal portraits of leading estates and their winemakers, as always evocatively and beautifully photographed by Jon Wyand. The scene setting early chapters describe the fascinating development of the Rioja region, and its quality ups and downs, amply illustrated with maps and photographs. But the meat of the book is the portraits of the estates, which are mostly quite factual, but do include the authors’ assessments of the specific qualities (and sometimes failings) of each, plus assessments of their most important wines. Moving on from Rioja, Navarra, Bierzo, Galicia, and the Basque country are also covered in similar style, before the final chapters deal with vintages, wine and food and a run-down of the best restaurants in each region. A page of ‘secret addresses’ is handy – restaurants and wine shops where great examples of mature Riojas can be purchased at reasonable prices. A teaser which alone might be worth the modest price of the book. Barquin, Gutiérrez and de la Serna pool decades of knowledge of these lands and their wines, and whilst the functional (but aesthetically lovely) format of this series does not allow for deep, soul-searching writing, enough comment, criticism and flavour comes through to give the book – and the wines – some real personality.
Editor: Tara Devon O’Leary
Publisher: Tara Devon O’Leary
Price: £9.99. Buy from Lulu at £8.99
Self-published by wine blogger Tara Devon O’Leary, this 100-page paperback is maybe not an important book in the annals of wine writing, but it is a nice idea, realised with plenty of goodwill from both Tara Devon O’Leary herslef, and the assembled crew of 29 wine experts who contribute a story of their most memorable wine tasted in 2010. Yes there are tasting notes, but more importantly, a context is given for why each enjoyed that particulary bottle so much. So an array of wine makers, writers, merchants, marketeers and sommeliers reveals something of themselves through their choices. Learn why Decanter’s Stephen Spurrier choose the Romanée-Conti 1971, why writer Simon Woods picked Jean-Luc Columbo’s Vinsobres 2009 or indeed why I settled on the Cheval Blanc 1985. The reasons given for each of the 29 choices run the gamut from the amusing to the heart-warming. Like the other contributors I was not paid for my entry, and receive nothing back except Tara’s thanks. In the world of self-publishing this book is unlikley to make her rich – but reading it might just enrich your life, for a little while at least.
Author: David Smith
Publisher: Quartet Books
Price: £18.50. Buy at Amazon
This is a curious book. David Smith is a journalistic and political heavyweight, as former war and foreign correspondent for ITN and then Director of the United Nations Information Centre. But a suspected cardiac arrest in Washington DC caused him to reassess the frantic pace of his life and, along with his Argentine wife, Sonia, he decided to plant a vineyard in Mendoza and become a winemaker – just as the global downturn stacked all of the cards against him. So all the pieces are there to assemble a riveting story that takes in not only the great big wine adventure as he struggles to make a great wine and bring it to market, but Smith’s many, many front-line stories from some of the world’s most profound news events of the past few decades. And therein lies the problem with this book: Smith adopts a cinematic device to tell his story by including many flashbacks to his past, triggered by events in the present. Thus, waking up to a freak rainstorm that threatens to ruin his first ever grape harvest sends him spinning back 30 years to famine in drought-ridden Uganda, and several pages follow on how his story brought the situation in Africa to the world’s attention. Both are fascinating stories, but for me the book loses all of its tension and much of its rhythm by this constant seguing between his various lives. It is not just his subject matter that changes constantly, but it seems to me his writing style and tone. The wine chapters really capture his obvious excitement and nervous anticipation, whilst he must present the political and war chapters with more gravitas and formality. With amusing anecdotes from his past thrown in too, there are at least three separate books in here. For me that’s just how this material should have been treated, as Smith’s fascintating former life seems to have little that informs his new one. As I say, a curious book, but one I still enjoyed reading.
Author: Patrick Hilyer
Publisher: Alastair Sawday
Price: £19.99. Buy at Amazon
I don’t suppose author Patrick Hilyer had any idea that Staying at the Châteaux, a feature he wrote for wine-pages in 2007, would end up spawning this terrific guide to staying in gîtes, guesthouses and châteaux across rural France. Part of a range of titles under the banner ‘Special Places to Stay’ published by Alastair Sawday, it is a lovely and extremely well thought-out book that takes each of France’s main wine producing areas in turn, and introduces each with a map showing major roads and locations of the properties, background and main attractions of the region, and finally detailed appraisals of a dozen or so special places on working wine estates where guests are welcome. In a nice touch, restaurateur and wine-lover Patrick also recommends the best wines of the estates for you to enjoy whilst you are there. But like all of Sawday’s books, this is really about the places to stay and the people behind them, so the assessments concentrate not only on the practicalities – numbers of bedrooms, facilities and proximity to local attractions and so on – but on trying to capture the spirit and ambience of each location and its owners (almost all are family-run). So the furnishings, gardens, style, food, even resident pets are described in detail, and unlike many guide books, there’s a strong feeling that the person writing really has been here and observed, perhaps even absorbed, a little of what makes each place special. Highly recommended for those planning a visit to France.
Author: Randall Grahm
Publisher: University of California Press
Price: £24.95. Buy at Amazon
Those who’ve read the label notes on a bottle of Bonny Doon or Ca’ del Solo, the twin labels of Californian winemaker Randall Grahm, will already know that things work a little differently on planet Grahm. This weighty, hard-backed book is subtitled ‘A Randall Grahm Vinthology’, and as Hugh Johnson says in the foreword “I was baffled at first. Then I saw his feelings about Chardonnay turn into biting satire and his views on scoring explode into righteous wrath, while all the time he was laughing – sometimes hysterically – and I laughed too. Then I started to ponder. So, I promise, will you.” This is a singular new addition to the annals of wine writing, flitting between prose and poetry, comic strips and serious research, celebration and invective. Learning how Randall dealt with not being invited to participate in the ‘New York Wine Experience’ is hilarious, and typical of the off-the-wall but incisive mind of one of wine’s great originals. Fabulous stuff, and a beautifully produced and illustrated book.
Author: Andrew Jefford
Publisher: Ryland Peters
Price: £19.99. Buy at Amazon
Covering similar ground as existing books by the likes of Jancis Robinson and Michael Schuster is not an easy task, yet Jefford is a hugely respected writer and one of the world’s deepest thinkers on the subject of wine, so anything to which he puts his name will have merit. Here 20 chapters split into sections called ‘The Tools’, ‘The Elements’ and ‘The Journey’ which cover both the mechanics of how to taste and what to look for, but also as befits a writer like Jefford, much background information and more in-depth analysis of why wines from various grapes, regions and cultures taste as they do.
Author: Ned Halley
Price: £7.99. Buy at Amazon
Having had the pleasure of spending a week in Ned Halley’s company on a trip a couple of years ago I can tell you he is great fun with a whimsical and often outrageous mind that has turned itself to writing over 30 books, including many for children. But in that time he has also been a wine columnist and writer, and this excellent little paperback is an amusing and very easy to read collection of anecdotes and funny stories with a vinous bent. One of those terrific little books for dipping in and out of, it nevertheless is well-researched and reveals something surprising – even illuminating – on every page.
Author: Oz Clarke
Price: £14.99. Buy at Amazon
As the most prolific of the UK’s wine book authors, it’s no surprise to have a second title from Oz in my Christmas list, and it is really rather good. It’s Oz at his best in many ways, demystifying wine and offering a beginner’s guide that is sensible, useful, yet easy to read and delivered without any pomp or undue ceremony. Everything from how to open Champagne, to how to get the best from restaurant wine lists, to a run-through of the world’s great regions is covered in this illustrated hard-back. There’s nothing here that hasn’t been covered before by others, but if you are looking for a general purpose beginner’s or reference guide to wine, then look no further as this presses all the buttons.
Author: Nicolas Belfrage MW
Publisher: Aurum Press
Price: £20.00. Buy at Amazon
Michael Edwards’ The Finest Wines of Champagne (below) was my ‘Book of the Month’ for December 2009, and from the same series of titles co-published by The World of Fine Wine magazine comes this terrific look at the wines of Tuscany and central Italy. The format and structure is very similar, with Jon Wyand’s excellent photography bringing each producer and estate to life, and Nicolas Belfrage’s words so obviously coming from the heart of someone who so clearly lives and breathes these wines and the people who make them. Immensely detailed, this book – as befits a Word of Fine Wine title – packs an enormous amount into its 320 pages.
Author: Michael Edwards
Publisher: Aurum Press Ltd
Price: £20.00. Buy at Amazon
The UK can proudly boast two of the greatest living authorities on Champagne in the shape of Tom Stevenson and Michael Edwards. Not only are both men extraordinarily knowledgeable writers, but they are passionate lovers of Champagne too, and in Michael Edwards case, of grower Champagnes in particular. Of the 21,000 growers in the area, more and more are making their own Champagnes rather than simply handing over grapes to the local cooperative or selling to large houses, and Michael Edwards’ book is a wonderful celebration of a region that in many ways is one of Europe’s most dynamic, and yet deeply traditional. Published in conjunction with Fine Wine magazine, the book’s 320 pages are beautifully illustrated by photgrapher John Wyand, but Edwards’ writing and passion for the subject are what drives it. He takes a terroir-based approach, moving geographically through the region, with 90 immensely detailed profiles of the best small growers. These are as thoughtful as they are incisive, revealing something of the personalities behind the wines. Due space and respect is devoted to the great houses too of course, and for all there are tasting notes on the best wines and vintages. Edwards’ writing style is authoritative but easy and discursive, and the love he has for these wines and this region screams from the page. The growers and houses featured are simply the author’s favourites, and his regular travels through the region lead to dining and travel sections, vintage guides and a personal ‘top 100’ list of favourite Champagnes. This is an important work, not just for the detailed information it contains, but in the way the author’s obvious joy for his subject is captured on every page. It left me anxious to discover these wines for myself. Bravo.
Author: Robert Parker
Publisher: Dorling Kindersley
Price: £60.00. Buy at Amazon
The new edition of the single most influential wine book in the known universe. Parker is a phenomenon: his seal of approval can make a winery, but even a mild expression of disappointment can have a devastating effect on sales – such is his influence. It is a massive tome, now split into two volumes, bound together in a card slip cover; a comprehensive round-up of the world’s wine output, with scores awarded to all wines tasted as well as full notes. Each of the world’s wine regions is taken in turn, and all the important producers listed alphabetically with a run-down of their wines. Parker has broadened his horizons considerably with this edition, for the first time supplementing his usual focus on France and California to allow more than a brief paragraph or two on Austria, Australia and New Zealand. The Guide remains the essential reference work for those seeking guidance in buying or drinking fine wines.
Author: Victoria Moore
Publisher: Granta Books
Price: £15.99. Buy at Amazon
It’s not easy to come up with a new book format or novel take on the subject of wine. Wine has been covered so well and so often, that attempts to do something ‘different’ often fall flat. But Victoria Moore and her publishers have cracked it here, with a genuinely fresh approach that is not only entertaining, but informative and occasionally challenging. This is a book about drink – not just wine, and not just alcohol. It attempts to give the liquid part of a meal, if not centre stage, then at least equal billing. Drinks in this book – from the best gin gimlet, to the best Mocha coffee, to the best wine with Manchego cheese – are always put in a context of the food to be eaten, the occasion to be marked or the season to be celebrated. Essentially it attempts to point you to the best, most authentic, most satisfying example of just about every drink in the known universe. Moore guides you to the best rum and cigar combinations, how to make your own elderflower cocktail or the best white wines to drink with a platter of fruits de mer. It is liberally sprinkled with food and drink recipes, snippets of history, and words of wisdom that puncture drink shibboleths or explain exactly why some things work, and others don’t. The book is arranged in snappy sections and bite-sized sub-sections for easy dipping, but there is enough quality information to also give the book a meaty substance. Well done Victoria Moore and Granta.
Editors: Jancis Robinson
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Price: £40.00. Buy at Amazon
The extensive updates (hundreds of brand new entries and all remaining text completely revised) must have been a massive task for Jancis Robinson and her expert team of contributors. This is an absolute bible for the serious wine enthusiast. More than 4,000 entries cover every aspect of wine, from history and evolution, to viticulture, to explanations of the most obscure technical wine terms. Everything is imbued with a tremendous sense of authority but carries a lightness of touch that bears testimony to Robinson’s vast knowledge and ability to distil and present complex subjects clearly and concisely. The book is fully illustrated with maps, technical diagrams and photographs. It is always digestible, despite the minute detail which some subjects deserve, and are given. Essential.
Author: Monty Waldin
Publisher: Portico, Price: £16.99. Buy at Amazon
Given the TV series and book it would be easy to assume Monty Waldin is a work of fiction. In fact, Waldin is a serious journalist and author who has a long-standing committment to organic wines and who has published other, less ‘celebrity’ books on the subject in the past. So there is genuine enthusiasm for the subject and credibility for the main star here, yet nagging doubts remain – not just about this book – but about the whole project. Ostensibly Waldin is presented as a dreamer and a passionate advocate of organics and biodynamics, who is living the dream and putting his money – indeed his whole life – where his mouth is. He takes over a vineyard in the Roussillon, and sets about converting it to Biodynamic farming to make the best wine he can. My first problem is with the book itself, which falls somewhat uncomfortably between text-book and amusing autobiographical yarn. That makes some of it seem contrived, like a whole treatise on biodynamism presented as a conversation between Monty and his girlfriend Silvana, that could simply have never have happened. The whole packaging of ‘Monty the product’ makes me feel a bit uneasy too: how does this great idealistic biodynamic quest square with the book, the TV show and wine all being launched simultaneously, the camera crew flying out to France to film, the PR machine in full swing, etc. So why Book of the Month? Well, despite all of this the book is a worthwhile read, and in bringing such an esoteric subject to a mainstream audience, is achieving something few other wine-related titles have managed.
Author: David Copp
Publisher: PxB, Price: £10.95. Buy at Amazon
It is pretty clear from the moment you open the jacket of this colourfully illustrated and passionately written book that the author has a deep love not only for the wines of Tokaj, but for Hungary’s Tokaji wine country. The first double picture spread may be a detailed map of the wine region, but then the people, places and sights of Tokaji gain just as much importance. The first third of the book is a thorough primer on the wines of Tokaj, covering everything from history and geography, through discussion of Tokaj terroir, and extensive explanations of Tokaji’s viticulture, winemaking and styles. Food matching and vintage guideliines are all present and correct. The middle section of the book is a wine and food-related travel guide pure and simple, with practical advice, addresses and itineraries. Finally, the producers are discussed in detail, with all their contact information, but also assessements of their operations and the wines produced. Remarkably comprehensive, there is also guidance on experiencing the best of Hungarian food and wine for the visitor to Budapest, and a suggested list of further reading. This is one of those boks that will obviously have most appeal to anyone planning a visit to the region, but it is highly readable in its own right. The author’s obvious committment makes it an easy recommendation.
Author: Evelyne Resnick
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan, Price: £25.00. Buy at Amazon
Subtitled ‘Success Strategies for New Markets, New Consumers and New Trends’ I found marketing expert Evelyne Resnick’s new book totally absorbing. Resnick is the perfect hybrid to understand how wine brands can be successfully marketed to the ‘new consumer’. French-born, Resnick gained a PhD at the Sorbonne, then married an American and began teaching at the University of California in Los Angeles, before founding a company in charge of the online marketing strategies for famous wine names including châteaux Haut-Brion and Palmer. This scholarly but very readable book examines what is needed to market wines not just in new markets, like Russia and the ‘Tiger Economies’, but to a new generation of wine lovers who have grown up with the Web, iPods and Satellite TV. As someone who has not only made my living through writing about wine on the Internet, but commentating on the ups and downs of selling wine on the Web, I found the book’s plethora of charts, tables, statistics and facts to be fascinating. But even more intriguing are the interviews and case studies that make up the bulk of Resnick’s research. In chapters like ‘Birth of the New Wine Consumer’, and ‘Traditional Marketing verses Web Marketing’ she goes deeply into how wine communication and marketing
have each adapted and fed from each other, studying online advertising and the influence of magazines, blogs and the rest. Though I’m not in the wine selling business, I found this book to be packed with interesting information and new ways of thinking not just about wine marketing, but about how wine information is communicated and how it fits in today’s culture and society. Wine Brands really is a valuable new resource.
Author: Christopher Fielden
Publisher: Chastleton Travel, Price: £12.99. Buy at Amazon
In these days of smartphones, Google, online maps and a host of travel-related web sites this book is somewhat old-fashioned, both in its concept, and its execution. It is massively detailed and meticullously researched, and somehow its proper, well-educated, and very English voice invokes the travel guides of a different era. Yet for all that, there is something deeply likeable about this book, as Fielden takes you on a journey through the vineyard roads of a France that he so obviously loves. From Alsace to Corsica, and from Bordeaux to Savoie, there are thorough chapters that will guide you through towns, villages and famous vineyards, with suggestions along the way of not only wineries to visit, but things to do, restaurant, hotels, and important historical and geographical attractions. Facts are plentiful (addresses, opening hours, roads and directions) and there’s plenty of background information and opinion on the “must sees” of each region. You will undoubtedly manage a summer holiday in the wine regions without this guide, but I can also throroughly recommend it as a useful and amiable companion, and who know – perhaps the last of a dying breed.
Author: Roger Corder
Publisher: Sphere, Price: £9.99. Buy at Amazon
‘The Wine Diet’ might sound like one in a series of fad diet titles, but unlike other ‘diet doctors’ (whose academic titles turn out to have been bought on ebay for a fiver), Roger Corder is the real deal: a research scientist whose life’s work has been the study of food and its impact on health. Corder’s particular focus has been wine in recent decades, and this book is an approachable distillation of his findings and beliefs, gathered together and expressed in plain English. It is a diet book – complete with eating plans and pages of recipes – but it is also an enthralling look at the particular properties of wine and their beneficial impact on health, and how that manifests itself in cultures around the world. Corder gets down to specfics too, with a chapter of wine recommendations, country by country, where he rates regions, grapes, producers and even individual wines on his own one to five scale. Although this scale is actually for the wine’s effectiveness in preventing disease and promoting health, principally on its level of Procyanidins, Corder obviously knows his wines and he tends to favour the better producers whose wines fit the profile. Chapters on other foodstuffs that are also rich in Procyanidins (like quality dark chocolate and cranberries), on debunking some food and health myths, and his holistic but rarely ‘preachy’ approach to nutrition and health make this book thoroughly enjoyable and convincing. Is this the holy grail for wine lovers? Well it is an excellent book that is very readable – and I will report back on the diet’s effectiveness at some point!
Authors: Michel Bettane and Thierry Desseauve
Publisher: Stewart, Tabori & Chang, Price: £24.95. Buy at Amazon
“Lavish”, is descriptor for a new book (on any subject) that can be bright red warning flag, where the quality of glossy paper, even glossier photography, and heavyweight hardback binding cannot compensate for inadequacies in the content. But to be fair on the hugely influential authors of this book, world authorities Bettane and Desseauve, although The World’s Greatest Wines is a more coffee table browser than serious reference tome, it is a most enjoyable book to flick through at one’s leisure. In it, the authors choose their favourite wines from amongst the world’s elite estates, and tell us something about the place, people and wines. 600 elegant pages and 170 colour plates.
Author: Kevin Zraly
Publisher: Sterling, Price: £16.99. Buy at Amazon
This US book is regarded as a classic in the States, and is one of the all-time best-selling wine books. This new edition is being made available in the UK for the first time, and is a refreshing and welcome addition to the wine bookshelves. Zraly is a sommelier who created one of the world’s best wine lists and a whole business around it, at the Windows on the World restaurant, destroyed in the tragedy of the World Trades Centre collapse in New York. The book, a thorough course on understanding and appreciating wine, may be slightly US-centric in some of its material, but it is a terrific and successful wine course by any measure. Zraly peppers each page with nuggets of anecdote, information and amusing facts that not only make the book a breeze to work through, but cleverly instil lots of knowledge as you do so.
Editor: Don and Petie Kladstrup
Publisher: Tempus Publishing, Price: £16.99. Buy at Amazon
The Kladstrups also wrote ‘Wine and War’ a tale I really enjoyed that looked at how winemaking survived the Second World War. This book follows in a broadly similar vein, being sub-titled ‘How the World’s Most Glamorous Wine Triumphed Over War and Hard Times’. Here, the timescale spans from Attila the Hun up to 1945 again, meeting as it does notable characters who influenced, or were noticeable champions, for Champagne, from Dom Pérignon to Louis XIV of France, to Napoleon Bonaparte. This is a worthwhile follow-up to Wine and War, though perhaps with a slightly narrower appeal.
Author: Elin McCoy
Publisher: Grub Street, Price: £20.00. Buy at Amazon
Even though some ephemeral popstars are onto their second “life story” before they are 20, it is still surprising to see that a wine critic can be the subject of a biography. But Robert Parker is no ordinary critic, and more ink has been spent analysing him, than all other wine tasters put together. The first thing to say about McCoy’s book is that it is a brilliant read and terrific piece of research. Is it unbiased? I’m not so sure about that: Parker certainly cooperated with the author, but whilst the more contentious episodes of his glittering career are not shirked, his side of the story is presented quite forcibly. But this intelligent and searching book paints a vivid picture of the man that is not always flattering, and looks at how a changing world of wine created Parker, before Parker went on to change the world of wine. There are references to juicy episodes were players in scandals, arguments and hissy-fits surrounding Parker get to put their case, and there are very measured assessments of Parker’s influence and the effect he has had on wine today. The book is written in page-turning style, and in chronicaling events throughout Parker’s life McCoy has managed to give the reader a much greater insight into the personality of Parker, and what makes him tick. But more than that, this book touches on the entire development of wine over the past 30 years – indeed it is a book that explores wine’s role in a broad social context through the last decades of the 20th century.
Author: Alex Dingwall-Main
Publisher: Ebury press, Price: £7.99. Buy at Amazon
Not my usual ‘hard core’ wino choice, but a delicious book that is just a really good read, like a flower-filled and more genteel update of the movie Sideways. In this case we swap the fictional Miles, for the factual Dingwall-Main, a highly successful landscape garden designer living and working in France for the past seven years. Dingwall-Main is at a crossroads in his life: not certain that his life in France was what he really wanted, and flirting with a professional and emotional mid-life crisis (one suspects). A wealthy and insightful client gives him an empty wine case as a gift, with a list of Châteaux with wonderful gardens. The client suggests that Dingwall-Main gets on the road, to discover more about the gardens of France, wine, the French way of life and, ultimately, himself. His challenge is to fill the case with one bottle each from his most memorable visits, upon which the client will meet him, pay for the wine, and drink it with him. There follows a diary of the journey, which is full of amusing stories and beautiful evocations of the gardens featured. A very readable book, with a poignant sting in its tail.
Author: Michael Karam
Publisher: Saqi, Price: £25.00. Buy at Amazon
Author: Daniel Rogov
Publisher: Toby Press, £9.95. buy at Amazon
What a coincidence that this fascinating pair of books about Middle Eastern wines should appear within a few months of each other, even though the books themselves are like chalk and cheese. Michael Karam’s Wines of Lebanon is a large-format hardback, luxuriating over several hundred glossy pages, and comprehensively illustrated with full-colour photography (in fact, photographer Norbert Schiller shares the front cover credits). It is a celebratory book that tells the story of wine in the Lebanon during its 5,000 year history, both in terms of social, cultural and religious history, and with individual profiles of the country’s estates and wines. Château Musar, the Lebanon’s most famous name, receives 20 in-depth pages, but in fact 16 estates are brought alive with knowledgeable and passionate writing, and Schiller’s resonant photography. Daniel Rogov’s terrifically comprehensive little book is a pocket-sized reference guide, that aims to be both comprehensive and definitive in its coverage of the Israeli wine scene today. It will be an annual edition. Yes, it has introductory chapters that briefly tell the history of wine production in Israel, but the meat of this book is given over to explaining the current state of play for wine in Israeli culture, and then on to assessments of all the producers, small, medium and large, and detailed assessments of their current vintages, complete with tasting notes and scores.
Author: David Bird
Publisher: DBQA Publishing, Price: £25.00. Buy at Amazon
David Bird is an analytical chemist who joined the wine trade in the 1970s, graduating as a Master of Wine in 1981. This book is very well-constructed, and the breakdown of its myriad topics into concise, digestible chunks of no more than a page or two each is extremely well thought through. This book is just packed with information that answered lots of questions I had about winemaking, and shed light on aspects of the science that I hadn’t previously considered. Bird’s writing style is friendly and easy going, so that even the weightiest chapters are clear and easy to read. This is not a book that looks at the philosophical or moral impact of wine technology. Though contentious subjects like reverse osmosis and cork taint are covered in some depth, it is in the context of factual, explanatory information. It is a very nicely produced book, and I found plenty of interest on evey page.
Author: Rosemary George
Publisher: Bantam Press, Price: £15.00. Buy at Amazon
Rosemary George is well-known to wine-pages visitors as one of our key columnists, and for this, her latest book (subtitled ” Walking Through the Vineyards of Tuscany”) she combines her passion for the wines of Tuscany with her love of walking. Rosemary walked over 300 miles of Tuscany’s most beautiful wine country in nine visits to the area, compiling as she did a diary not only of her adventures, but of addresses she could recommend for food, wine, sightseeing and general enjoyment of the area. Her focus in each, was wine of course, and visits to a multitude of producers in dozens of Tuscan regions form the core of the book. Here, the book comes into its own for wine buffs, as Master of Wine Rosemary covers much more in-depth information than most “touring the wine country”-type publications. This is expert guidance and assessment at its most open and accessible.
Editor: James Gabler
Publisher: Bacchus Press, Price: £40.00. Buy at Amazon
This huge tome of a book is subtitled “A History and Bibliography of Wine Books in the English Language” and that is aexactly what it is: an academic work of reference stretching to 500 large-format pages indexing 8,000 wine and wine-related books. All bibliographic details are included, as well as Gabler’s short pen picture of author and content. It is an exhaustive and extraordinary compilation for those with a serious interest in wine litertature.
Author: Oz Clarke
Publisher: Websters, Price: £14.99 Buy at Amazon
This new guide is a fabulous production. It is, if you will excuse the cliché, “lavishly illustrated” with quality photographs and the best wine region maps I’ve seen: relief panoramas that really give a sense of the contours and lie of the land for all of Australia’s wine regions. The book begins in Oz’s trademark chatty style, as we eavesdrop on tales of his love affair with Australia, before moving on to a terrifically thorough examination of the Australian wine industry, from grape varieties (“classics” and “future classics”) to portraits of the movers and shakers of the industry, to dedicated chapters on each of Australia’s regions. Qualitative analysis of all the major producers, wines and vintages are very stylish and contemporary, with label images and interesting facts in “Quickview” side panels. The guide ends with a great fact-file section on visiting the regions, and a useful breakdown of who-owns-what in the complex web of Australian corporations and their hunger for takeovers. A must for Aussie wine fans.
Author: Simon Woods
Publisher: Mitchell Beazley, Price: £4.99 Buy at Amazon
To get away with writing a book like this – hip and aiming to puncture many bits of wine myth and snobbery – takes a writer who is able to simplify rather than dumb-down, and who has the nous to chop his way through the thicket of politics and reverence that surrounds the subject. More than anything else, it takes a writer who really knows his stuff – well enough to forget much of it, and boil wine truths down to a simple, but concentrated essence. Simon Woods is just the right man for the job, and his track record gives him the necessary authority. This inexpensive little volume is bright and breezy in both design and presentation of material. Unlike some other attempts to sex-up the subject of wine, this one just works, partly because of Woods’ chatty, informal and often very amusing writing style, and partly because the standard text-book explanations of grape growing, wine making, and even tricky concepts like terroir are done so lightly, yet so thoroughly. Such educational chapters are punctuated with top-ten lists, blunt opinion pieces and irreverent side-swipes at over-hyped wines, jargon and wine bores.
Author: William Echikson
Publisher: W.W. Norton, Price: £14.07.
Noble Rot is a serious, contemplative look at the state of Bordeaux today in terms of the wines being made, the players involved, the influences that shape the wines, and the commercial forces behind them. Echikson gets under the skin of Bordeaux, contrasting the “new breed” of winemaking personalities against the aristocratic old-guard, and the influence of Robert Parker. It looks at what has changed in just a couple of decades, from centuries of much more slowly evolved tradition. It also unpicks the complex financial stiching of Bordeaux’s suppy chain, and the history of how it was created. What Echikson seeks to do in the book is burrow to the core of Bordeaux, through inter-linked stories that weave through the book, like the battle over Château Yquem, the arrival of new-money upstarts in the shape of garagistes Michel Gracia and Gerard Perse, and the all-pervasive influence of Parker. Part history book, part pot-boiler, part forensic examination, the book is not always the lightest of reads, yet it is causing quite a stir amongst Bordeaux-lovers on both sides of the pond.
Author: Michael Broadbent
Publisher: Little, Brown, Price: £30 Buy at Amazon
Authors: Donald and Petie Kladstrup
Publisher: Coronet, Price: £7.99 Buy at Amazon
Author: Rosemary George
Publisher: Faber & Faber, Price: £30.00 Buy at Amazon
Wine Pages columnist Rosemary George’s new book on the wines of Southern France must have been a delight to research. She confesses to no less than 16 different visits in two years to this beautiful, historic and, above all, exciting wine region. The South has been the most explosively dynamic in France – perhaps Europe – over the past decade or so. This is a heavyweight book; literally with its 750 pages, and conceptually, with its comprehensive cataloguing and comparitively academic approach. There are few illustrations other than maps, and it is not a buying guide as such: no detailed tasting notes of various vintages. What it is, is a beautifully written exploration of the intricacies of the region, its people and the influences that have shaped and are shaping its wine industry. Hundreds of estates, winemakers and wines are lovingly described, and Rosemary’s descriptive style conveys her enthusiasm vividly with excursions into history, geography and politics.
Editors: Hugh Johnson & Jancis Robinson
Publisher: Mitchell Beazley. Price: £35.00 Buy at Amazon
Author: Burton Anderson
Publisher: Little, Brown, Price: £18.99 Buy at Amazon
Editor: Jancis Robinson
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Price: £9.99 Buy at Amazon
Author: Michael Schuster
Publisher: Mitchell Beazley
Price: £20.00 Buy at Amazon
Author: Jancis Robinson
Price£16.99 Buy at Amazon
There are differences in approach taken by these authors: Schuster plays it very straight, getting down to business immediately with an explanation of how the book works and what you will learn from reading it. Robinson, on the other hand, sets out to entertain as well as educate: “drinking wine is a lot more fun than reading about it…this is a book for the thirsty”. Essential Winetasting is a large-book, liberally illustrated with photographs and maps. It has extensive information on wine-making, geography and understanding labels, but the bulk of the book is focused on equipping the reader with winetasting skills: identifying faults; words to describe wines; training your palate to recognise sweetness, acidity and alcohol. The book finishes on a high-note, with a set of nine tasting practices using a selection of recommended wines. The Wine Tasting Workbook also contains much general reference material on wine grapes, styles, etc. but whilst Schuster’s book treats these as a scene-setting exercise, this book is more integrated in its approach. For example, in the section on the Riesling grape, theoretical explanations of the grape’s character are married to practical tasting tasks which illuminates the theory through sniffing and sipping. The book is peppered with tasting practices and games, fine llustration and photography. Both are recommended.
Author: Michael Broadbent
Publisher: Mitchell Beazley
Price: £8.99 Buy at Amazon