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General wine books

1001 Wines: You Must Try Before You Die edited by Neil Beckett
Cassell Illustrated (6 Jun 2008), ISBN 1844036138; ISBN-13: 978-1844036134

1001 wines you must try before you die is a brilliant book, but as one of the team of contributors, I'm probably a bit biased. The idea is quite simple: it's a compendium of many of the world's greatest and most interesting fine wines, with each having a picture (in most cases a label image) and a short (200 word) description. From the same publishing stable as The World of Fine Wine magazine, it's edited by Neil Beckett, and includes entries from a crack global team of wine-loving scribes. I don't know exactly how the list of wines was chosen – I'm guessing that Neal made use of his eminent editorial board for suggestions, but it is a remarkably eclectic, mouth-watering array covering all wine-producing countries, and not just the old world classics. The quality of the writing is really high, and it must have been quite a job pulling together all the text, getting hold of the images, and then designing the layout. The book is quite beautifully produced, in full colour, printed on nice paper, and while it's a bit heavy to lug around in your laptop bag, it's a great diversion – leave it lying around for causal browsing or bedtime reading. A real bargain at £20 (and a must buy at the amazon price of £12).

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Red, white and drunk all over: a wine-soaked journey from grape to glass by Natalie MacLean
Bloomsbury, 2007, ISBN: 978-0747580607, Hardback 279 pages

I’d been looking forward to reading this book: Natalie MacLean is a Canadian writer who began her wine writing career in a similar way to me, through a personal website. This is her first book, and it’s really good. Written in her trademark accessible, gently humorous and nicely self-deprecating style, the reader is immediately drawn into the text. And on the back of this highly readable prose, a lot of good information is smuggled in.

This isn’t a book for the hardened geek, although I found there was enough meat here to keep my interest. Instead, it’s pitched at the majority of people who have some interest in wine, but wouldn’t count themselves as wine nuts. It’s not deliberately an educational book, either, although I reckon most people would learn a good deal from this.

Natalie deals skillfully with the transitions between the subjects she covers. She begins in Burgundy, heads off to California and then sojourns in Champagne. Then she addresses the role of the wine critic, looks at the way wine is sold and deals with the issue of glassware. Then she takes a look at wine and food matching, goes undercover as a sommelier, and meets up with novelist Jay McInerney. The tone is breezy, the pace just right, and the reader is left wanting more. That’s a good sign.

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How to choose wine: know what you like – get it right every time by Vincent Gasnier
Dorling Kindersley, 2006, ISBN 978-1405315777, Hardback 352 pages

What a depressing book. ‘A useful rule of thumb’, says Andrew Jefford, ‘is that any wine book with a photograph of its author on the front cover is second-rate.’ In this case, Jefford’s rule is maintained. This is an introduction to wine book—like we really needed another—that shows a staggering lack of imagination on the part of the publisher.

Over the last couple of years the two leading wine book publishers, Dorling Kindersley in this case, and Mitchell Beazley (with Matt Skinner’s Juice), shifting their focus from choosing authors by writing talent, and instead opting for young sommeliers who they think look the part. Their thinking is that they can create wine ‘slebs’, and in a celebrity-driven culture they probably think the only way they can sell wine books is through personalities.

But the results are very disappointing. In this case we have a very ordinary and predictable introduction to wine text, which the designers have desperately attempted to enliven by including lots and lots of colour photographs, a large proportion of which have Master Sommelier Vincent’s action-man like visage in them—in most cases he’s either  sipping wine or appears to be giving an earnest explanation to an unseen customer. The text is also pretty dumbed down, and follows exactly the same predictable course that almost every other book of this type takes.

Perhaps the assumption is that people who are interested in wine but don’t know much about it are therefore stupid. In my experience, most people taking an interest in wine to the point where they actually want to buy a book about it are actually quite sophisticated, intelligent people. I reckon a far better strategy to get people interested in wine is by giving them introductory texts that are well written, interesting, and have some sort of personality to them.

If you are new to wine and looking for a book to guide you through the basics, then this will do the job as will any myriad of similar titles. But far better is Hugh Johnson’s Wine: a life uncorked, which, while not being a dedicated intro to wine title, will actually enthuse and inspire in a way that this book and its peers fail to do.

Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape: odd wines from around the world by Peter F. May
Quirk Books, 2006, ISBN 1594740992, softcover 256 pages. 

This is definitely what you'd term a quirky book. With no disrespect to author Peter May, who I know well from having drunk wine with at several dinners, it isn't something that's meant to be taken too seriously. Peter, author of a website devoted to unusual wine labels (www.winelabels.org), has produced a book with 100 of the world's most stylish, oddest, weirdest and funniest wine labels, with commentary on each facing page. It's the sort of book you'd leave by your toilet for browsing on the job. Great fun and an ideal stocking filler for the wine lover in your life. My favourite is probably Spatzendreck on page 195. 

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A life uncorked by Hugh Johnson
Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 2005, ISBN 0 297 84378 8, Hardcover 416 pages (October 13, 2005)

In 1965, Hugh Johnson wrote a book. Simply titled Wine, it was the beginning of a career that saw him established as the world’s leading wine writer – subsequent works, including his famous pocket book and the iconic world atlas of wine, have all been best-sellers that have spawned a host of imitators.

Now, 40 years later, comes his autobiographical A life uncorked, and for me, it’s his best book yet. But don’t expect to learn too much about Hugh himself – a modest, private man, there’s actually very little about him in the book at all. While others might have filled the pages with stories about themselves – and juicy gossip about their colleagues, of course – wine takes the centre stage here. Indeed, rather than being arranged chronologically, each chapter covers a different wine type, beginning with Champagne and ending with Madeira. Those familiar with Hugh’s previous books will immediately recognize the trademark elegant writing style that is so easy to read.

Hugh is posh, but he’s certainly not elitist. Perhaps the reason for his broad appeal as a wine writer is that he gets alongside the reader. You feel he’s by your shoulder, like a benevolent schoolmaster, gently guiding, rather than speaking down to you in lecture mode. And while in four decades he must have amassed a huge amount of knowledge about wine, he wears it lightly. ‘Wine is first and foremost a social game; only secondarily and interest like music or collecting,’ he writes in the preface. ‘It is about human relations – hospitality, bonding, ritual…all the manoeuvres of social life, and all under the influence, however mild and benign, of alcohol.’ All the way through the text the theme of wine as a social drug that finds its highest place at the table is a recurrent one. Hugh is quite scathing of the collecting mentality that sees wine as an object in itself, and lays in to influential American critic Robert Parker for the way his 100-point scoring system is changing the way wines are made, with an emphasis on big, heavy, obvious wines at the expense of lighter, more elegant ones that often have more to say.

A nice feature of the book is that it is illustrated in large part by Hugh’s old snaps, although he can’t have taken the majority of them because he features heavily. It’s hard not to feel just a trifle envious of the charmed life he must have led as one of the premier wine communicators travelling the globe at other people’s expense (aside: I have to be careful here because increasingly I’m in the privileged position of doing as he has done. It’s called research.) And because Hugh is not given to writing proper tasting notes, concentrating instead on just the odd evocative sentence (perhaps there’s something to be said for this approach), it’s not like he’s had to scribble hard at all those dinners and lunches.

Above all, though, this book’s value is that it is a brilliant introduction to the world of wine. If you are interested in wine and want to learn more about it, forget the myriad ‘introduction to wine’ titles that publishers have flooded the market with – they are usually patronising, inaccurate and just plain boring to read. Instead, you could do a lot worse than placing yourself in the trusty hands of one of the world’s great experts, still at the top of his game after some 40 years.

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Mitchell Beazley Discovering Wine Country Series
Bordeaux: How to Find Great Wines Off the Beaten Track by Monty Waldin
Mitchell Beazley; Paperback 144 pages (March 17, 2005); ISBN: 1845330382
amazon.co.uk catalogue entry

Burgundy: How to Find Great Wines Off the Beaten Track by Patrick Matthews
Mitchell Beazley; Paperback 144 pages (March 17, 2005); ISBN: 1845330366 
amazon.co.uk catalogue entry

South of France: How to Find Great Wines Off the Beaten Track by Jonathan Healey
Mitchell Beazley; Paperback 144 pages (March 17, 2005); ISBN: 1845330374 
amazon.co.uk catalogue entry

These three books are the first in a new series of wine travel titles by leading wine book publisher Mitchell Beazley. They are well laid out, nicely illustrated (in full colour) and well written. I guess the best endorsement of them is that they make you want to actually visit the regions themselves. Of the three, the South of France title suffers a little because it is covering such a huge geographic spread, and as a result seems a little dilute and unfocused. Burgundy and Bordeaux are more successful in this regard: they aren’t terribly in depth (the size of each book conspires against this) but they benefit from by being written by journos whose primary specialization is in wine. Verdict? Well produced books that are worth popping in your bag if you are travelling to these regions. I look forward to the other titles in this series.

North American Pinot Noir by John Winthrop Haeger
Hardcover 456 pages, September 1 2004; University of California Press; ISBN 0520241142

Pinot Noir is arguably the greatest of red wine grapes. I guess that’s a bold statement to make, but it seems that no other variety has the ability to beguile, thrill and frustrate the drinker to quite such an extent. People often graduate to the charms of Pinot later than other more immediately accessible red grapes, but when they do they frequently become hooked. Thus I can quite understand someone wanting to write a book just on Pinot Noir.  

John Winthrop Haeger’s North American Pinot Noir is a big old book. Weighing in at 445 pages, it’s an encyclopaedic review of the enigmatic Pinot Noir grape and how it has found relatively recent success in California, Oregon and Washington State. Except for some tipped in colour maps, it’s unillustrated. I’ve spent some time browsing through this book and come away impressed: Haeger writes clearly, in a rather studied tone – in fact, the book has a semi-academic voice to it. Rather than writing with artistic flair, Hager generally avoids the first person and the book has more of a neutral, scientific tone.

What makes this book so interesting to me is the depth of coverage. The publishers have allowed Haeger to go much deeper than most wine texts delve. In the current market where almost all books are entry-level and repeat themselves endlessly, this in-depth coverage of a rather narrow subject is welcomed. We have discussions of clonal variation, grapevine genetics, filtration systems, terroir and extraction, for example. And the stance adopted by the author on many of these controversial, rather technical issues is generally spot on. He’s done his homework. A good deal of the bulk of the book is contributed by the producer reviews, including dated tasting notes in many cases. This is a book any lover of North American Pinot should rush out and buy, and slowly digest, glass in hand. I like it, and it’s certainly given me a hunger to explore US Pinot in more depth.  

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Great Wine Terroirs by Jacques Fanet
Hardcover 240 pages, November 1 2004; University of California Press; ISBN: 0520238583

Beautifully illustrated with lots of glossy colour photos, this is a very pretty book, and I’ve had great fun browsing through it. I’ve also learned a lot. It’s written by an ex-assistant director of the INAO in France, who’s cited as an expert in soils science, vitculture and oenology, and it has been translated from French. So as you can imagine, the focus is firmly on the diverse wine terroirs of France, with less extensive coverage of other key global wine regions. Three points worth noting about this book. First, it’s a thinking person’s book: you’ve got to be prepared to study some fairly full-on geology to understand what Fanet is on about. Nothing wrong with that, but be prepared to spend some time digesting the first few background chapters – without this context, the rest of the text is not that accessible. Second, much like James Wilson’s popular book on terroir, this is a descriptive book: it tells us what the various terroirs are in terms of geology, but doesn’t make that all important link between the soil and the flavour of the wine. It’s a tall order to do this, but in the absence of this link, I find all the descriptions of the terroirs a little unsatisfying. Third, the translation is a bit annoying: for example, all the grape varieties have ‘The’ put in front of them. So it’s ‘The Syrah’ and ‘The Pinot Noir’. A minor point, I guess. It’s all quite cleverly put together, though, grouping the various terroirs according to their geological origin. Recommended for all wine lovers who have an interest in the soil.

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Biodynamic wines by Monty Waldin
(Hardcover 300 pages; August 2004; Mitchell Beazley; ISBN, 1840009640.

I must declare at the outset that this is a book I was looking forward to for a while.
I find biodynamic wine a fascinating subject – some of the most interesting producers in the wine world have decided to farm their vineyards the biodynamic way. It’s a subject I’ve also covered at length on this site. I also have a lot of time for Monty Waldin, a wine writer who follows his convictions and has been an advocate for organic and biodynamic wine growing. Credit to publishers Mitchell Beazley for commissioning the first book on this subject. I’ll say at the outset that even if you have just a passing interest in the subject, this is the tome to have on your bookshelf as a comprehensive reference on the subject.

With more than 500 pages this is a bit of a door-wedge of a book. Despite its size, though, there isn’t much room for a broader introduction to the subject – it is straight into the deep end with a discussion of biodynamic practice and the various preparations used. I guess my only gripe with this otherwise excellent book is that it is aimed at believers. The assumption is that you are already familiar with biodynamics and agree that it works; there’s no discussion of the conflict between some of the tenets of this agricultural system and mainstream science, or that some elements of biodynamie might have efficacy while others don’t. The book is poorer for the lack of a frank discussion of the controversies that surround this subject. I think Monty would have done better if he’d been able to take a step back from this subject, which is evidently very dear to him, and think from the perspective of the non-believer.

On the positive side, the bulk of the book consists of a geographic survey of biodynamic producers, an extremely useful feature, and it’s worth buying the book for this alone. There are many streams or varieties of biodynamic wine growing, and this makes it difficult to identify who is actually doing it. In addition, some use it primarily as a marketing tool, while others will use just some aspects of it without wanting to label themselves. Monty’s book is the first systematic attempt to catalogue biodynamic winegrowing throughout the world’s wine regions, and it should help to stimulate interest in and debate around this unusual and fascinating agricultural system.  

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Ancient wine: the search for the origins of viniculture   by Patrick McGovern
Hardcover 360 pages; October 2003; Princeton University Press; ISBN: 0691070806)

Patrick McGovern’s book ‘Ancient wine’ is a unique and important contribution to the literature of wine. He’s a respected academic archaeologist, and in this work he takes us with him as he journeys to find the origins of modern wine. It’s part science, part detective work and part history, and while there’s lots of detail here, it’s written in terms a non-specialist can understand. 

One of the strengths of this book is that it is firmly evidence based. McGovern doesn’t just piece together a pretty story from a few bits of scattered evidence, he lets us know just how difficult ascertaining the true picture is in this line of work, and where he presents theories he gives a balanced account of how strong the evidence supporting them is. 

To me, the most interesting aspect of the book is the use he makes of the new science of ‘molecular archaeology’, a powerful analytic technique that takes small biological and chemical samples and extracts valuable molecular information from them. For example, tiny residues in the bottom of ancient clay pots can be shown to be from wine, or preserved grape seeds can be analysed to yield valuable clues. Using this analysis McGovern has provided answers to many key questions that were previously matters of speculation or inference. 

With it's rather scholarly approach and intricate attention to detail, I don’t think this book will be for everyone, but for anyone curious about the origins of modern wine and at least a passing interest in history and archaeology, I strongly recommend it.

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I don’t know much about wine…but I know what I like by Simon Woods
(Paberback 144 pages, November 2003; Mitchell Beazley; ISBN: 184000844X)
Introduction to wine books abound. The problem with almost all of them is that they are formulaic, repetitive and just plain boring. But there’s a new one out, and it’s different. It’s small, perfectly formed, cheap and, most importantly, it’s really interesting. 

Simon Woods’ I don’t know much about wine…but I know what I like may have an awkward title (if you are buying this as a gift for a friend they might think you are saying something about their lack of wine knowledge), but it works really well. The text is broken up into 50 short chapters, all of which add something to the book, and which are then grouped in 10 larger sections.  

Simon’s writing style is lively, interesting and balanced. He’s jokey without being forced, and critical without being an iconoclast. Best of all, he talks good sense – if I were to recommend an introduction to wine book for someone new to the subject, this would definitely be the one. I opened it up and found myself reading through it chapter after chapter, agreeing all the way. 

Publishers Mitchell Beazley have done Simon proud: the design is excellent. The use of typography breaks the text up into digestible little chunks, and Roman Grey’s black and white illustrations are superb, giving the book a real sense of coherence. For just £4.99 this is a perfect stocking filler that almost anyone with a slight interest in wine would welcome.

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You heard it through the grapevine: shattering the myths of the wine business by Stuart Walton
(Paperback - 256 pages, March 2001; Aurum Press; ISBN: 1854107615)
In our sixth form class at school there was a rather odd chap called Julius. At one stage he kept an exercise book in which he scrawled brutally frank assessments of his classmates. As you could imagine, this book held a great fascination for the rest of us, and was the source of a good deal of acrimony when we finally liberated it from his possession. I mention this because, to me, this controversial, no-holds-barred book by Stuart Walton -- a tirade against the current state of the UK wine trade -- has a very similar appeal. Quoting from his introduction, "…increasingly I was unable to shake off a feeling that not everything in the global vineyard is lovely. This book is the product of that creeping sense of unease. I now believe that all aspects of wine, from the way it is made to the way it is marketed to the way it is talked about, are infected to a dismaying degree with dishonesty and pretentiousness, and that there exists a kind of silent conspiracy to prevent the truth of this being known." One by one, Walton lines up his targets, and lays into them big time. Chapter one starts with the supermarkets and high street retailers, who are criticised for their safe buying and the lack of diversity on their shelves. Chapter two looks at whether expensive wines are worth it (mostly not), and this is followed by a broadside against the famous names that often disappoint -- Bordeaux, Muscadet, Rioja, Chianti and Port. Next it's the turn of flying winemakers and 'international'-style wine (a bad thing), then oak (mostly a bad thing), Champagne (too expensive) and restaurant wines (also too expensive). But Walton saves his best for last: in the last two chapters he really lets rip. First of all, he launches into food and wine matching, and then he blasts the wine writers. It's actually this last chapter that makes the most gripping reading, because he's dishing the dirt on his own colleagues. Malcolm Gluck is a particular target. Youch!

My verdict? Walton writes well, is sometimes genuinely funny, and I was entertained from start to finish. But I don't think it's particularly good journalism. While many of Stuart Walton's criticisms of the UK wine trade are justified, a good number aren't. The tone of the book is unceasingly negative, and I feel that his points would have more weight put into the context of a more balanced (less jaundiced) overall perspective. Perhaps he needs a nice holiday? With this reservation, I'd recommend this book as a truly entertaining read that has some serious points to make. The only problem for the general reader (at whom this book is aimed) is sorting out the valid criticisms from the grumpy swipes. It's not an easy task. (See also: interview with Stuart Walton)

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Vine to bottle: how wine is made by Simon Woods (Photography by Jason Lowe) (Hardcover - 160 pages; May 2001; Mitchell Beazley; ISBN: 1840003391)
Too many wine books set out to educate; too few are actually a 'good read'. It's understandable¾ after all, wine is a ferociously complicated subject. And one of the most complicated aspects is how the stuff is actually made. This is why a book like this is so welcome, because it's about making wine, it's genuinely a good read, and along the way you learn quite a bit.

The concept? Wine writer Simon Woods, accompanied by photographer Jason Lowe, set out to track the course of the vintage at two locations -- Louis Jadot in Burgundy and Domaine de La Baume in the Languedoc. The book that resulted is a mixture of narrative and photography, beautifully laid out and produced in a very elegant format. The photography is quite striking. Lowe has taken some risks and deviated from the standard wine book fare of vineyard shots and bunches of ripe grapes, preferring to catalogue a much more nuts and bolts montage of winemaking imagery. Most of the time this works brilliantly, although a couple of the compositions look a bit dodgy to my admittedly untrained eye.

It's a story told very much in the third person: Woods is strictly an observer and doesn't involve himself at all. But he's consistent, and the text is pretty polished. When he strays onto areas of controversy -- and there are lots of these in winemaking -- a tactful line is taken, and where opinions are expressed they are well judged and balanced.

Overall, I found this a great read, giving some real insight into the process of growing grapes and making wine. Criticisms? Well, I would have liked more substance -- possibly covering more (or different) producers, and scratching a bit deeper below the surface. The book is over remarkably quickly and ends a bit abruptly, leaving me wanting more. But this aside, kudos to the author, photographer and publishers for taking a bit of a risk, and in the process producing a well conceived, good looking and interesting book.
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Crushed by women: women and wine
Jeni Port (2000; Arcadia ISBN 1 875 606 76 9)
Jeni Port is wine writer for the Melbourne Age newspaper and a correspondent for leading Aussie wine magazine Winestate. This, her latest book, tells the story of women in Australian and New Zealand wine. It's a tale worth telling, and Jeni tells it well. As she states in chapter one, women have often been assigned to the footnotes of history, and this imbalance needs addressing. The book begins by tracing the role of women in the development of the antipodean wine industries, and after this useful perspective chapter, things move to the present day. The bulk of this highly readable book consists of pen pictures of 22 of the key women in the Australian and New Zealand wine scene, based on the author's interviews. It then finishes off with 'two top dozens' (Jeni's selection of 12 of the best Australian and New Zealand wines made by women) and a 'who's who' of women in wine. The writing style is lively enough to keep things fresh throughout the 180-odd pages, and the text is frequently broken up with special boxed snippets (including 'Do women make better wine tasters than men', 'Holding their drink: how much alcohol should women drink?' and 'Good legs and all'). Despite the title, this is not a crusading or 'preachy' sort of book. Firstly and foremost it's a book about people making wine, and as such it should appeal to anyone who has an interest in Australian and New Zealand wine, not just women. The unique perspective Jeni has taken provides a delightfully fresh 'insider's' view, and I learned a lot through reading it. It's a shame that this book probably won't be as widely read as it deserves to be, due to its poor availability (it's not available through Amazon, alas). However, you can obtain it directly from the publishers, who are happy to send it anywhere around the world (RRP is Aus$30). Their contact details are:
PO Box 299, Kew, Victoria 3101, Australia
Phone: +61 (0)3 9817 5208 Fax: +61 (0)3 9817 6431
E-mail: aspic@ozemail.com.au

jrwkbook.gif (11600 bytes)Jancis Robinson's wine tasting workbook
Hardcover - 208 pages (published 19 October, 2000)
Conran Octopus; ISBN: 1840911395

What a shame about the title. The word 'workbook' conjures up images of education, schoolrooms, homework and swotting for exams. For most people, these aren't images of fun, and it would be a shame if people are put off what is an excellent book by simple word association.

I usually find 'introduction to wine' books yawn-inducingly dull, but this is different. Jancis strikes the balance right between imparting essential information and keeping the book lively and fun, without falling into the trap of dumbing down or forced jokiness. There's all the usual material that these sort of books usually have, but with a fresh twist. Best of all, this book is intensely practical in its nature: the focus is on actually drinking the stuff (an indication of this is given by the title of the foreword: 'A book for the thirsty'). I can't help feeling that this is healthy and appropriate for a book about wine. One of the most effective features is that the text is divided into sections on both theory and practice, and it’s the latter components that set this book apart from the competition. While any old hack can write about wine theory, it is a whole lot more difficult to write successfully and sensibly about the practical side of wine tasting, and this is done here very well. A further useful feature is the glossary of wine tasting words, which are sensibly and accessibly described.

Although this is clearly targeted at the novice wine geek -- for whom I'd say this was pretty much compulsory reading -- I think it has a lot to offer the more serious wine nut. I found it a really good read, and for me it helped provide a nice balancing perspective. Let's face it, there's an awful lot written about wine, but not a great deal about how it actually tastes, and this is surely what counts. Wine is a complex subject -- and to someone new to wine this complexity can seem bewildering. So if you are starting out on the road to wine geekdom, I can think of no better book to guide you on your way.

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pmath.jpg (7229 bytes)Real wine: the rediscovery of natural winemaking by Patrick Matthews. Hardcover - 288 pages (14 October, 2000) Mitchell Beazley; ISBN: 1840002573.

Patrick Matthews ploughs a different furrow to other wine writers. He's a thinker -- and a bit philosophically inclined. While most wine books aim to simplify the complicated subject of wine for the general reader, Matthews isn't happy to take this well trodden path. Instead, he takes a complex subject and makes it even more complicated. He established his reputation as someone prepared to grapple with the thorny issues surrounding wine in his previous book, The wild bunch: great wines from small producers, and Real wine follows in a similar vein. However, while The wild bunch was an impressive book, Real wine is even better. It's a brilliantly conceived book that makes gripping reading for anyone intrigued by the deeper issues of wine and its production.

In essence, this book addresses the question of how to go about making a 'real wine'. This provides a thread of continuity that ties together each of the chapters. These embrace some of the most contentious yet vital issues surrounding wine today, including site selection, planting the vines, organic and biodynamic viticulture, choice of grape variety, wine making techniques, what constitutes a wine fault, and making money. Finally, there's a fun but rather quirky appendix aimed at helping interested readers to actually make 'real wines' themselves.

At the heart of this book is the tension between the old and new world approaches to making wine. On the one hand there are the traditional vignerons; on the other the new world technology-driven winemakers. But Matthews skilfully avoids the usual generalizations and clichés surrounding the old world/new world debate by focusing mainly on California, where winemakers reflect both traditions, and there is currently a swing back to 'natural winemaking'. It's a good read, and pretty well researched. Matthews gives the impression of going in open-minded, and even where he has chosen to take a stance, he avoids being preachy.

A lot of credit has to go to publishers Mitchell Beazley, first of all for being brave enough to publish something so far off the beaten track, and secondly for the attractive and innovative design: the book has been produced in a squat, almost square format, rather reminiscent of a religious publication (perhaps a prayerbook?), which is appropriate for such a philosophical book. All in all, it's a compulsory purchase for any thinking wine lover or wine professional.
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French Wines by Robert Joseph. Paperback - 240 pages (4 November, 1999) Dorling Kindersley; ISBN: 0751307939.
Attractively produced and beautifully illustrated, this handy-sized guide is a useful introduction to the varied wines of France. Joseph writes well and the book follows the now well worn path of a few general introductory chapters (history, how wine is made, soils and climate, wine tasting, glossary, food and wine) followed by a survey of wine regions, one by one. If this sounds a bit dry and predictable, the snappy text and lavish illustrations bring the subject to life, and innovative touches, such as suggested driving tours through each region, keep things fresh. From time to time Joseph isn't shy about expressing opinions, and where he's done this, I think his judgement is pretty sound. Of course, any book this size that attempts to deal with every French wine region will inevitably be a little superficial in its coverage, but I'd gladly recommend this book to anyone looking for a readable entry-level guide to French wine, or even to more experienced wine geeks wanting to enliven their perspective on arguably the most fascinating of the wine-producing nations.
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gwebg.gif (13670 bytes)The good web guide: wine by Tom Cannavan. The Good Web Guide Ltd, London (www.thegoodwebguide.co.uk) 2000. Nicely packaged and very well written, this is a great resource for any UK-based wine lovers wanting to discover what wine-related material the net has to offer. The latest in the series of subject guides from these innovative publishers, it's a user-friendly survey of the best of the wine sites, broken down usefully into categories such as wine appreciation, regions, wineries and magazines. Some 100 of the best sites are given an extended description and rating, and although the guide is already somewhat out of date, the publishers promise to make available regular reappraisals and updates from the author. A CD-rom is included with the book, which greatly increases its utility. Is £12.99 too much to pay for what is in essence a glorified link list? Not at all, if you are fairly new to the web and/or want an authoritative appraisal of which of the many sites out there are worth your attention.   
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Zin: the history and mystery of Zinfandel by David Darlington (Paperback 304 pages, 20 February, 2001, Da Capo Press; ISBN: 0306810298) (Originally published as Angels' Visits in 1991)
ne of the most interesting and well written wine books I have read. Darlington tells the story of Zinfandel, California's 'own' grape variety, and takes us through his own personal quest to get to grip with its mysteries. Beginning with a well researched account of the origins of Zin, he then gives a detailed but readable account of his in-depth research into the special place occupied by Zinfandel in the California wine scene today. A polished writer, Darlington focuses on two of the leading players, Joel Peterson of Ravenswood, and Paul Draper of Ridge, and, with just a little journalistic license, uses their differing personalities and approaches to shed light onto just what it is that is special about Zinfandel. He is obviously sympathetic to both, but cleverly avoids taking sides when controversies are raised. Candid and honest, the whole book is professionally assembled and makes an easy read. Even if you are not a Zin fan, this book is compulsory reading for anyone with more than a passing interest in the US wine scene. The good news is that it has just been reprinted (albeit under a less imaginative title than the original), after several years out of press. Well worth buying a copy.
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Drilling for wine by Robin Yapp. Faber & Faber, 1988 (ISBN 0 571 14760 7)
This is Robin Yapp's account of how he converted from dentist to wine importer. It's told in a jovial, very British style, and overall is a pleasant, well written read. There are plenty of anecdotes of Yapp's rather hair-raising experiences in French wine regions to entertain us, but rather less about the actual wines themselves. I was particularly amused by one of his experiences at a wine fair where he had to down a bottle of wine in one. Indeed, given the amount of hard drinking that seems to have taken place in the pages of this book, it is a wonder he's lived long enough to write it. Overall, worth finding a copy just for the window it offers on the wine trade, but as an anorak, I wish there had been more about the wines.

Adventures on the wine route: a wine buyer's tour of France by Kermit Lynch. Bodley Head, 1989 (US version: Farrar, Straus & Giroux 1988) (ISBN 0 370 313623)
American wine importer Kermit Lynch takes us on a tour through the wine regions of France. This is a superb book; beautifully written (Lynch has a way with words) and nicely poised. Head and shoulders in terms of literary quality above the majority of books written about wine, this is the sort of book I am happy reading again and again. You may not agree with Lynch's philosophy of wine -- I for one think he overstates his case somewhat, and balk a bit at some of the undercurrent of  thinly veiled American imperialism -- but he writes so well, these sins are entirely forgiveable. This modern classic is a must read.   

The wild bunch: great wines from small producers by Patrick Matthews. Faber & Faber, 1997 (ISBN 0 571 19043 X).
In this book Patrick Matthews sets out to explore the 'ureported wine revolution' as he calls it - the increasing number of small producers who are taking wine back to its regional roots, and in contrast to the legion of bland international-style wines that have flooded our supermarket shelves, are producing wines with real personality and flavour, often at quite reasonable prices. It is a laudable aim, and I for one am fully sympathetic to his cause. Matthews has done his research, he's well informed, and many of the chapters make gripping reading. I especially liked one of the later chapters, 'Cutting out the middle men', which gives a fascinating insight into the machinations of the UK wine trade. The book can also be applauded in that it is pioneering: in contrast to many wine publications it doesn't just go over the same old ground. My main criticism, however, is that The wild bunch feels somewhat unfinished: the writing style is at times quite hard work, and the transition from one subject or chapter to the next is jerky, lacking continuity. The copyediting is pretty poor too (see e.g. the footnote on page 11). If the author had just spent more time re-writing and polishing the book, and had the services of a good editor, I think he could have made it into a classic. As it stands, it is worth reading solely on the basis of the excellent concept and fascinating snippets, even if they are not laced together too carefully. A useful additional feature (which unfortunately will cause the book to date faster) is that each chapter comes complete with a list of recommended wines and their suppliers in the UK, which greatly enhances the utility of the book. A useful addition to any winelovers bookshelf. £7.99.

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jrcf.gif (5310 bytes)Confessions of a wine lover by Jancis Robinson. Viking (an imprint of Penguin), Harmondsworth, 1997 (ISBN 0 670 87812 X).
I have to declare from the outset that from the moment I picked up this book I couldn't put it down again, and I was desperately sorry when I finished it. Jancis shares the story so far of her involvement in the wine trade, progressing from a newsletter editor to her current status as media darling and one of the most universally respected of all wine journalists. It is a beautifully written book, and is likely to prove utterly engrossing for any reader who has been bitten by the wine bug. Jancis scores very highly for getting the balance right between the old and the new. She has a healthy respect for traditions without taking cheap potshots at new developments, and she is a populizer without being a vulgarizer. She proves that it is possible to drink the world's finest without becoming a snob. Best of all she embraces change as a friend rather than treating it as an enemy. As for those who question whether she should be writing her autobiography at all, my response would be that as she has been in the wine trade since the 70s, she has witnessed a major period of fundamental change over the last 25 years, which she chronicles beautifully. Put this book at the top of your shopping lists.... £17.99 (paperback now out at £7.99)

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The art and science of wine by James Halliday and Hugh Johnson. Mitchell Beazley, London, 1992 (ISBN 1 85732 422 6).
This is a superb book! Written by two of the world's leading wine writers, one English and one Australian, it provides a scholarly yet readable account of how nature, art and science combine to make the wonderful diversity of wines there are in the world today. Possibly the greatest strength of this book is its balance between the old and the new, technology and tradition and respect for both art and science. Reading this book is a great pleasure, partly because it is beautifully illustrated and laid out, but also because it is well written and highly informative. 232 pp., £14.99.

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New classic wines by Oz Clarke. Mitchell Beazley, London, 1991 (ISBN 0 85533 911 X).
Another superb book! Oz asserts that the world's finest wines no longer come from the traditional classic regions of France. This book contains individual pen pictures of the wineries and producers that are producing some of the 'new classics'. Beginning with an overview of the classic tradition and the making of wine, there are 23 portraits of wines and winemakers from the USA, 24 from Australia, 8 from New Zealand and then a surprise final chapter with 15 emerging wineries from the old world who are doing the new world sort of thing. Oz finishes with a look forward to the state of the wine world in the year 2000. Hugely entertaining. 272 pp.

Jancis Robinson's wine course by you've guessed it, Jancis herself. BBC books, London, 1995 (ISBN 0 563 37098 X).
Intended as a companion to the BBC TV series, this book actually has little in common with the programmes, which were Jancis' imaginitive and personal snapshots of the different grape varieties, each episode focusing on a different grape by looking at the region that achieves the best with that variety. Instead, the book is a comprehensive introductory wine course that gives the wine novice a thorough grounding in the basics. If this all sounds a little dry, it isn't—Jancis in print is much as she is on telly; witty, sophisticated and eloquent. However, to anyone who has read around the subject of wine a bit, the book covers a lot of familiar ground. An ideal starting point in your reading about wine. 320 pp, £19.99.

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