Tipplers served a large glass of knowledge
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.