Six cork­ers to quench your thirst for knowl­edge

You-know-what is just around the cor­ner, so here are some wine books that will make ideal gifts

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - FOOD DRINK -


ack in the Eight­ies, a bunch of Bri­tish wine lovers beat the home team at a tast­ing match in Paris. The in­ci­dent was viewed as a Gal­lic cri­sis; Le Fi­garo edged its front page in black for only the sec­ond time since the Sec­ond World War. (The first was to mark the death of Charles de Gaulle). One of the Brit tast­ing stars was a young ac­tor, fresh out of Ox­ford, and be­cause he was sing­ing in a pro­duc­tion at the Na­tional Theatre at the time, he got his pic­ture “on the front pages of the news­pa­pers in full cos­tume, dressed as a Welsh druid, hold­ing a glass of cham­pagne,” he writes in his new book.

Oz Clarke – of course it was Oz – now oc­cu­pies a unique spot in wine cul­ture. His TV racon­teur’s con­ge­nial hu­mour means that he is recog­nised – and loved – by lorry drivers. His ex­tra­or­di­nary mem­ory and breadth of knowl­edge mean that he is also re­spected in the most high-church wine cir­cles.

In­ter­est­ing is a throw­away word th­ese days, but that’s what Oz is. His new book Red & White (Lit­tle Brown, £25) ef­fec­tively cap­tures the pure essence of Oz and it tells you what he thinks – an il­lu­mi­nat­ing joy in a world in which think­ing is some­what out of fash­ion. There’s a bit of au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, and the re­main­der is ar­ranged in chap­ters by coun­try, then by ma­jor wine styles. The writ­ing is a free-form ram­ble, in­tended to be read for plea­sure, not used as a ref­er­ence book. In­evitably some chunks are stronger than oth­ers, but I would buy it just for the sec­tion on Aus­tralia – “I should have guessed that Tas­ma­nia would be good for grapes. The lo­cal depart­ment of agri­cul­ture swore it was too cold and only any use for ap­ples. That’s al­ways a sign that a clas­sic cool-cli­mate re­gion is on its way” – and the story of how the first vin­tage of Cloudy Bay Sau­vi­gnon Blanc was made by a wine­maker work­ing else­where but phon­ing through his in­struc­tions ev­ery meal and tea break. As close as you can get to lis­ten­ing to Oz chat off the cuff – shar­ing his great en­thu­si­asm for the ge­og­ra­phy, taste and sto­ries in wine – this book would be a fantastic Christ­mas present for any­one who likes wine, Oz or both.

For listophiles and cham­pagne lovers, I rec­om­mend 101 Cham­pagnes and Other Sparkling Wines to Try Be­fore You Die by Davy Zyw (Bir­linn, £14.99). First you can flick through to count up how many you have tasted, then you can dive in to Zyw’s en­gag­ing and in­for­ma­tive mini-por­traits to find out about each one. If I could change one thing about this book it would be the lay­out – it feels like it was de­signed by some­one who reads right to left, not left to right. But that doesn’t get in the way of it be­ing a good stock­ing filler.

Where to Drink Wine: The es­sen­tial guide to the world’s must-visit winer­ies by Chris Losh (Quadrille, £22) is a book that does ex­actly what it says on the tin. Cov­er­ing more than 400 vis­itable winer­ies, from the “in­cred­i­bly pho­to­genic” Cham­pagne Pom­mery in France to the “su­per­mod­ern”

Ixsir at Ba­troun, a coastal city in north­ern Le­banon, stop­ping off at Can­tine San Marzano in Puglia and Taws Win­ery in Canada along the way, it is an ex­tremely use­ful start­ing point for any winelov­ing trav­eller. I fore­see a lot of Boxing Day arm­chair trip-plan­ning.

My fourth wine book is The Wan­der­ing Vine by Nina Ca­plan (Blooms­bury, £16.99), a fiercely in­tel­li­gent writer whose eru­dite and witty con­ver­sa­tion can dart in a few mo­ments from five-spiced grilled duck, to Rousseau Clos St Jac­ques, to Proust, to the be­head­ing of St James the Apos­tle in Judea, as in­deed it does in this book. Ca­plan’s theme is the his­tor­i­cal move­ment of the vine through the Ro­man Em­pire, but that is really just an ex­cuse for a big delve into Euro­pean his­tory, food, lit­er­a­ture, drink, travel, and her own Jewish back­ground.

Fi­nally, a cou­ple of books for cocktail and spirit drinkers. He­len McGinn is the founder of the hugely pop­u­lar Knack­ered Mother’s Wine Club and her ex­cel­lent new book is a guide to mak­ing sim­ple cock­tails at home. Home­made Cock­tails (Robinson £10.99) is a fresh take on a well-worn sub­ject: a beau­ti­ful edit of the mod­ern and the clas­sic cocktail scene that serves up those drinks you might want (and could be both­ered) to make at home. I’m drink­ing boule­vardiers now and will be mov­ing on to the Rosé Sum­mer Cocktail come next May (the recipe comes to McGinn cour­tesy of stylish Bordeaux-based wine­maker Gavin Quin­ney).

The boule­vardier also fea­tures in Kate Hawk­ings’ book Aper­i­tif: A Spir­ited Guide to the Drinks, His­tory and Cul­ture of the Aper­i­tif

(Quadrille, £16.99). Not that I’m ob­sessed, but the boule­vardier is an ex­tremely good – if nu­clear – aper­i­tif. Think ne­groni, with bour­bon tak­ing the place of the gin. Any­way, Kate Hawk­ings is a restau­rant and wine con­sul­tant as well as a drinks writer, and her book on ap­petis­ing drinks has the brio of some­one who is out and about, laughs a lot, and who en­joys her­self in bars. Here she is on ar­rack, for in­stance: “Arak means ‘sweat’ in Ara­bic – more a nod to the way the spirit drips from the top of the still dur­ing the dis­till­ing process than to the pos­si­ble ef­fects of overindul­gence.”

And on gin, whose sec­tion opens with the line: “Oh, dear lord, where would we be with­out gin?” There is a smat­ter­ing of his­tory here, some lit­er­ary ref­er­enc­ing and the whole thing is in­ter­spersed with 33 recipes that run from a gin and tonic to vin d’orange, a con­coc­tion made with cloves, an orange, and eau de vie that Hawk­ings says is “a really ran­dom recipe given to me by a French­man who’s bet­ter off for­got­ten” but is also “really, really good mixed with Cam­pari”. I have dipped into this book a lot since it came into my pos­ses­sion, and I am en­joy­ing it more and more. I might even make the vin d’orange. Let me know if you do.

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