Tip­plers served a large glass of knowl­edge

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel - James Halliday

PEO­PLE in Aus­tralia and Ice­land are among the most vo­ra­cious read­ers in the world. It’s not hard to un­der­stand why Ice­land should be up there, but Aus­tralia? As a ben­e­fi­ciary I’m cer­tainly not com­plain­ing, and I’m pro­foundly grate­ful I’m not try­ing to eke out a liv­ing in Bri­tain, where the words are few and the rate of pay pa­thetic.

ThePen­guinGoodAus­tralianWineGuide is on sab­bat­i­cal, though it will re­turn, and a new an­nual is to be pub­lished by HarperCollins. Even so, this year’s Christ­mas of­fer­ing of wine books seems larger than ever. Those two books will have new au­thors, as does Don’tBuyWineWithoutMe (Text Pub­lish­ing), for­merly writ­ten by Stu­art Gre­gor with the as­sis­tance of one or two ghost writ­ers. One of those, Ken Gar­gett, has ma­te­ri­alised in the role of au­thor, but the ratatat­tat, throw­away prose is the same.

Gar­gett breezes through an in­evitably highly per­sonal se­lec­tion of about 250 wines (two for each full-colour page). Most sell for $25 or less, but he does oc­ca­sion­ally ven­ture into the rar­efied heights, such as 1996 Krug at $500, which makes the book’s price tag of $27.95 seem mod­est.

Aus­tralianWineVin­tages by Robin Bradley, bet­ter known per­haps as the lit­tle gold book, cel­e­brates its 25th edi­tion. The old­est edi­tion I have in my li­brary is the fourth, which ran to 160 pages. Now it is 420 pages, has a hard cover and a linked cel­lar man­age­ment pro­gram, WineBase for Win­dows (www.winebase.com.au). Bradley rates the se­lec­tion of wine­mak­ers by a five-star sys­tem, while the vin­tage rat­ings come from the winer­ies and a com­pli­cated for­mula gives a the­o­ret­i­cal price for pre­vi­ous vin­tages.

It’s a book that largely dis­penses with words, us­ing nu­mer­ics in­stead, and is su­per­fi­cially sim­i­lar to Jeremy Oliver’s TheAus­tralianWineAn­nual2008 ($26.95, 320pp); cer­tainly nei­ther au­thor has tried to fix a for­mat that is far from bro­ken and pre­cisely suits the needs of their read­ers. How­ever, Oliver crams a huge amount into his an­nual, with a lengthy present- vin­tage tast­ing note for each wine se­lected, backed by a nu­meric rat­ing (a 100-point sys­tem) for that and back vin­tages.

Peter For­re­stal like­wise cor­rectly sees no rea­son to change Quaff (Hardie Grant, 260pp, $19.95), the 2008 edi­tion pro­fil­ing the best 400 wines un­der $15. He pulls out all man­ner of se­lec­tions, in­ter­est­ingly com­ing up with the 2007 Peter Lehmann Eden Val­ley Ries­ling as his wine of the year, which Gar­gett chose as his best value white wine of the year.

The 2008 TasteFoodandWine by Matthew Jukes and Tyson Stelzer (Wine Press, 382pp, $19.95) is only the sec­ond edi­tion. Jukes and Stelzer man­age to pin more an­gels on a pin­head than any of the other books, pro­fil­ing 365 (one a day) of the best Aus­tralian and New Zealand wines, giv­ing price and stock­ists, type of clo­sure, pro­ducer web­site and so forth in a side­bar to the tast­ing notes. This takes 170 pages; then come food and wine com­bi­na­tions (100pp); a who’s who of pro­duc­ers in both coun­tries set against re­gional sum­maries and best vin­tages; top re­tail­ers, shops and web­sites; de­tailed cov­er­age of their an­nual Great Aus­tralian Red com­pe­ti­tion (for caber­net-shi­raz blends); and more still.

Robert Ged­des’s con­tri­bu­tion is two ti­tles for the price of one: AGoodNose­andGreatLegs:TheArtof Wine­fromtheVine­totheTable (Mur­doch Books, 256pp, $39.95). At­trac­tively de­signed and easy to read, it seems to be pitched to the wine drinker who has been through the be­gin­ner phase and wants to delve deeper. While there aren’t any earth-shat­ter­ing rev­e­la­tions, Ged­des shows the depth of knowl­edge a mas­ter of wine should have.

Len Evans’s sud­den death came as he was in the fi­nal stages of writ­ing two books. One, LenE­vans: How­toTasteWine (Bar­bara Beck­ett Pub­lish­ing, 112pp, $19.95) has been pub­lished and I can but quote my cover note: ‘‘ This book is quin­tes­sen­tial Evans: ideas, ques­tions and chal­lenges con­stantly spilling out from his quick­sil­ver mind and tongue. How much I wish I could de­bate some of his views and as­ser­tions over a great bot­tle of wine, even though I know I would have come out sec­ond best. It is the im­me­di­acy of the writ­ing, the fresh­ness of his ideas which make this book so in­ter­est­ing. He makes his point and never be­labours it, in­stead mov­ing on to the next.’’ Need­less to say, I strongly rec­om­mend it for those look­ing for some­thing dif­fer­ent.

Camp­bell Mat­tin­son has just re­leased Whythe FrenchHateUs:TheRealS­to­ry­ofAus­tralianWine (Hardie Grant, 376pp, $28.95). Mat­tin­son is the most lit­er­ate au­thor Aus­tralia has had since Wal­ter James dom­i­nated the scene from the late 1940s and ’ 50s. Read­ing the book, you might pic­ture Mat­tin­son as a blue-sin­gleted, ag­gres­sive, ma­cho male who hap­pened to be able to con­jure up land­scapes with a few well-cho­sen words. In fact he is dis­tinctly ret­i­cent and qui­etly spo­ken, still com­ing to terms with the fact that he has rapidly be­come a very good wine taster and in­dus­try ob­server. This is a book full of en­tirely new in­sights into Aus­tralian wine, the way it is made, the way it is mar­keted (or mis-mar­keted) and where it should head. And you don’t have to be a wine nerd to en­joy ev­ery page.

I should add that my WineAt­la­sofAus­tralia (Hardie Grant, 310pp, $79.95) has won the Louis Roed­erer in­ter­na­tional wine book of the year award (Lon­don) and the 2007 Le Cor­don Bleu world food me­dia award for best wine book (Aus­tralia) in re­cent months. And if my wine and pro­ducer guide, the 2008Aus­tralianWineCom­pan­ion (Hardie Grant, $29.95) isn’t the best an­nual, its 768 pages make it the largest (www.winecom­pan­ion.com.au). FromtheRe­gion will re­turn in the new year.

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