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book reviews part II

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Title: Good Web Guide to Wine

Author: Tom Cannavan
ISBN: 1903282047
Publisher: The Good Web Guide
Price: £12.99 - (buy at amazon -30%)

Covers the full range of online wine-ing. I would not disagree with any of the inclusions. The book is worth it, whatever you spend
Independent on Sunday, Richard Ehrlich.

Title: Grapes and Wines

Authors: Oz Clarke and Margaret Rand
ISBN: 0316857262
Publisher: Little, Brown
Price: £25.00
(buy at Amazon -20%)

I am delighted to have discovered this book: it offers a fresh and fascinating approach to educating and informing about wine, which with so many other books on the subject, is no mean feat. Clarke and Rand's focus is the grape. Luxuriating over 320 full-colour pages in this definitive work, the world of wine is explored from winemaking to cellaring, and from recommended producers to food-matching, but all centered around the raw material of wine. After brief but comprehensive chapters on vine history, geography, viticulture and winemaking, the bulk of the book consists of an exhaustive A-Z of grapes, from Abouriou to Zinfandel. Clarke's easy yet authoritative style works well, and the length of entries is well judged, from a few paragraphs on chorus-line varieties, to a dozen pages on major stars like Cabernet Sauvignon. Conclusions: Though a book like Jancis Robinson's factual, pocket-sized Guide to Wine Grapes is a terrifically authoritative reference, this book uses the grape as the springboard to launch into a beautifully illustrated and lively in-depth view of varietal-centred winemaking of the 21st Century


Wines of Bordeaux

David Peppercorn
ISBN: 1840005505
Mitchell Beazley
Price: £9.99
(buy -20%)

Wines of California

Stephen Brook
ISBN: 1840003936
Mitchell Beazley
Price: £9.99
(buy -20%)

Wines of Italy

Burton Anderson
ISBN: 184000553X
Mitchell Beazley
Price: £9.99
(buy -20%)

These guides are written by respected experts in their field, each of whom has already published definitive text books on the regions concerned. Peppercorn on Bordeaux is the 5th edition of the ever-popular pocket guide for example, and Burton Anderson's "Best Italian Wine" was my book of the month last year. The format of these hard-back books is slightly bigger than pocket sized, yet slim enough to slip into an inside pocket or handbag. Each follows a similar structure, but the authors are allowed some leeway. Peppercorn on Bordeaux includes extensive vintage reports from 2000 back to 1955, which highlight the strengths and weaknesses of each commune. There are all the up to date classifications, and comprehensive guides to Bordeaux winemaking issues. 1,000+ Châteaux are then profiled, with quality and value ratings for each. California author Stephen Brook also wrote Faber's definitive 1999 "The Wines of California" (reviewed below). Obviously much of the research has gone towards this work, though the text appears to be entirely new. Here California is split into sub-regions, and the A-Z of producers includes contact and visiting information. Numerous maps and additional information boxes pepper the book. Anderson on Italy has vintage charts and maps too, but also offers a Food and Wine guides and introductions to each regions complicated DOCs. Cheap, portable and extremely useful.

Title: The Wines of Spain

Author: Graeme Chesters
ISBN: 1901130916
Publisher: Survival Books
Price: £11.95
(buy at Amazon -20%)

There's an awful lot to like about this book, starting with the price. I know it seems odd to talk about value for money in literature, but thanks to the use of only a few colour plates and simple design, the independent publishers of this book have kept to a remarkable price for a large format 350-page book. Chesters is clearly knowledgeable and passionate about the wines of Spain, and he is not afraid to criticise. His research is thorough in this comprehensive guide to Spanish wines from hundreds of producers. All 14 Spanish regions are introduced, and within each all the classified areas taken in turn with a look at what factors shape the wines, then detailed run-downs of all significant producers and notes on thousands of their wines. Tastings notes are generic, i.e. not for specific vintages of a wine, but more a style and quality overview. But nevertheless the opinions seem well-founded, and honesty and enthusiasm mark every page.

Destination Champagne

Author: Philippe Boucheron
ISBN: 0954979907
Publisher: Wine Destination Publications
Price: £18.99
buy at Amazon for £13.29

This imprint offers a touring guide for those visiting Champagne. Philippe Boucheron is a great lover of both the grand marques, and the smaller houses, and this book, presented region-by-region with a focus on which houses to visit, is immensely detailed and very personal. There are also chapters on the logistics of transport, hotels and food in the region, and useful background on Champagne's history and styles. It is a relentlessly upbeat book, peppered with Philippe's sometimes excruciating limericks, that nicely conveys his enthuiasm for the subject. Any visitor to Champagne will benefit from the book's clear maps and precise information, but those who buy into the Boucheron style will get most from it. Also from publisher's website.

Rogov's Guide to Israeli Wines 2005

Author: Daniel Rogov
ISBN: 1592640877
Publisher: Toby Press
Price: £9.95
buy at Amazon for £6.99

Daniel is a very well-known authority on Israeli wines, writing for newspapers and with a long-established web presence. It was a delight, therefore, to see his name on this lovely pocket book dedicated to the wine scene in Israel. Over 1,000 wines are reviewed in depth, with a very honest and down to earth style that pulls no punches, but offers praise where it is due. There are also extensive sections covering the history and current developments in the Israeli wine scene, predictions for areas like the Golan Heights, advice on Kosher wines, a look at wine in Jewish culture, and a series of handy top-ten lists of the best regions, producers, etc. Clearly this is a book for a niche market, but it is presented with flair, passion and consumate knowledge.

Title: Touring the Wine Regions of Western Australia

Authors: Duncan Gardner, Julie Williamson
ISBN: 0957948603
Publisher: Rotherbridge
Price: £14.99
(buy at Amazon)

Some books give an immediate sense that the author is driven by a genuine passion and zeal for their subject, rather than more mundane motives. And so it is with this beautifully presented book, dedicated to guiding the wine-loving tourist through what, by all accounts, is one of the world's most stunning wine regions. The authors settled in Western Australia having toured and lived in the world's best wine regions, and the inspiration for the book was their own experience of trying to get the best out of this huge area from the maps, guides and local knowledge that was available at the time. They have produced a fine wine country guide, with meticulous attention to detail, vivid descriptions, and exhaustive resource sections of maps, data and addresses. There is a lavish use of colour photography throughout, and all 247 winery cellar doors of the region are profiled, with knowledgeable introductions to their wines. City destinations are covered too, with restaurants, hotels, shops and attractions an integral part of this touring guide. It's nice to see that web and email addresses for the hundreds of destinations are included, as well as address and telephone numbers. Conclusions: Unfortunately I haven't yet made it to Western Australia, but I confidently predict that this book would be indispensable for visitors, and is useful general introduction to one of Australia's fastest-developing wine regions.

Title: The New Italy

Authors: Daniele Cernilli & Marco Sabellico
ISBN: 1840001801
Publisher: Mitchell Beazley
Price: £25.00
(buy at Amazon -20%)

Following on from Burton Anderson's excellent guide to the best wines of Italy, this large format work takes a much more luxurious tour through modern Italian wine and winemaking. In a lavish, coffee-table format, the book is gorgeously illustrated with full-colour maps and stunning photographs showing Italy at its best, as well as the characters and vineyards which are its subject. There's no lack of substance however, and the Italian authors are both specialists (writing for Gambero Rosso amongst others) who present a compelling picture of the Italian wine scene at its revolutionary best. There is a terrific introductory section on Italian grapes and winemaking, before the book considers each of Italy's 20 regions in turn. Conclusions: another thoroughly up to date book that offers a standard reference for the best of modern winemaking in the new Italy.

Title: A Century of Wine

Editor: Stephen Brook
ISBN: 1840002530
Publisher: Dorling Kindersley
Price: £25
(buy at Amazon 20% off)

There's a definite weightiness about this book. It is a statement of where we are and where we've come from as wine makers and lovers; and atttempt to ground ourselves as we enter the new millenium. This is a serious tome, with a star-studded line up of expert contributors: Hanson on Burgundy; Stevenson on Champagne; Broadbent on Claret and Halliday on Australia for example. It is very nicely put together with fascinating old photographs and a series of intriguing wine timelines that track the development of world wines over 100 years. The body of the book is a restrospectives on each of the world's major regions. The fact that each is penned by a different hand means there are stylistic differences, but each reads extremely well in its own right. The authors are allowed freedom to comment on what they see as the major moments in history. There are also chapters devoted to how wine has developed in terms of drinking habits, politics, economics, transport, science and technology. The final chapter 'Wine in the 21st Century' is an attempt to second-guess what the future holds. This is a rather weak chapter, the discourse on wine and the Internet is almost laughable. Conclusions: despite my niggling criticisms, I have no hesitation in recommending this book with its fascinating insight into the world of wine and its development.

Title: Vine to Bottle (How wine is made)

Author: Simon Woods
ISBN: 1840003391
Publisher: Mitchell Beazley
Price: £18.99
(buy at Amazon -20%)

Like most wine subjects, everything there is to say about wine making has probably already been written. All the new author can hope to do with the subject is take a fresh slant on how complex issues are explained, or present information in a radically better way. Simon Woods' new book boldy attempts to do both, and has been pretty successful overall. The new slant is that Woods and photographer Jason Lowe have created a beautiful diary of the winemaking process in text and images taken from the perspective of two contrasting producers. The presentation is radical in that this is part art-work, with evocative, sometimes abstract images juxtaposed against excellent but more workaday photographs of the winemaking process. From the outset Woods displays a likeable blend of irreverence, humour, scepticism and a genuine desire for understanding. A sprinkling of bubble-bursting humour punctuates the deeper technical subjects just as they threaten to weigh too heavy. Having said that, even highly technical aspects of winemaking are explored and clearly explained, and controversial areas explored. Conclusions: above all this is a highly readable and absorbing book. The personal voice of Woods is evident throughout, giving what is ultimately a text-book a very human face.

Title: The Art and Science of Wine

Authors: James Halliday and Hugh Johnson
ISBN: 1-857-324-226
Publisher: Mitchell Beazley
Price: £15.99
(buy at Amazon)

The thing that Halliday and Johnson so obviously share - apart from a deep love and understanding of their subject - is a wry sense of humour and healthy open-mindedness about the art and science of wine. Make no mistake: this book is erudite and technically specific, but it manages to convey its weighty subject matter with a great deal of panache. Johnson and Halliday offer a conducted tour through the whens, whys and hows of the wine-making process, from the vineyard to the bottle. The book uses beautiful illustrations and striking photographs to make even quite complex processes easy to follow and easy to comprehend. Playfully, the book is dedicated to "the Genie in the bottle", an early acknowledgement that no matter how critically we try to dissect or illuminate the work of the wine-maker, the transformation of grapes into wine still involves a magic that no level of understanding can diminish. Conclusions: this comprehensive look at the pitfalls and pleasures of winemaking offers a fascinating insight on the subject.

Title: Wine Essentials

Editor: Cordon Blue
ISBN: 1903258138
Publisher: Carrol & Brown
Price: £19.99
(buy at Amazon -20%)

This book tries to do it all: wine appreciation course, buying guide, reference library and food and wine bible all rolled into one. It is lavishly produced and is assembled from the contributions of half a dozen authors. Warning bells immediately sound that the result will be a hotch-potch that falls between all sorts of stools, but happily the book manages to avoid this. It opens with a section on buying and selling wine: everything from understanding labels, to how to construct a cellar. Like all of the book, there is nothing here than has not been covered elsewhere, but the plus point of Cordon Blue's approach is that the information is presented in a very clear, level-headed voice, and the illustrations are bang up to date. Further chapters look at tasting, serving wine (with a detailed look at food and wine as befits Cordon Blue's culinary traditions) and the story of wine. Conclusions: It may seem to be damning with faint praise when I say that this is a thoroughly competent and useful book. It is wide-reaching, written with authority, and expertly put together. Who should buy it? Maybe not hardened wine buffs, but anyone who is serious about beginning or expanding a wine collection will find plenty of excellent information within its pages, very stylishly done.


Title: Wine with Food

Author: Joanna Simon
ISBN: 1-840-001-798
Publisher: Mitchell Beazley (Simon & Schuster US)
Price: £14.99
(buy at Amazon)

A whole book dedicated to choosing the "right" wine and food combinations seems a little like overkill at first, but this stylish compendium has a few tricks up its sleeve that mean there is no lack of substance. This work has a contemporary, punchy style. It is divided into five main sections: Principles (Rules - and how to break them); The Effect of Cooking; Planning: (not so much about matching wine with foods, as matching wine with occasions); Grapes and Wines (each of the main grape varieties is introduced and the character of wines from around the world is examined) and World Classic Combinations. This latter section takes up almost half the 156 pages. The starting point is neither food, nor wine, but countries and regions. So, for example, the cuisine of Southwest France is discussed, with half a dozen classic dishes studied in detail and specific wine matches suggested. Conclusions: The subject of wine and food matching tends to split people into two camps: those who believe that every ingredient needs careful consideration and those who say that if you're eating food that you like, and drinking wine that you like, then there isn't a problem. Simon's book is an excellent resource for those in the former camp, and is thought-provoking for those in the latter.

Title: The Wild Bunch

Author: Patrick Matthews
ISBN: 0-571-19043-X
Publisher: Faber & Faber
Price: £7.99
(buy at Amazon)

The Wild Bunch claims to be "An introduction to wines made because of a producer's personal passion or enthusiasm rather than because they conform to the requirements of the mass market". Personal passion and enthusiasm are evident in Matthews' writing too: this is a man in love with his subject and deeply committed to the cause. The cause is individualism and diversity in wine-making. Anyone who has read my Dumbing Down of Wine essay already knows my feelings on this subject. The whole thrust of the book is on a very personal, human scale. It concentrates by-and-large on small producers. As often as not, these are mavericks who have bucked the trend towards technology in favour of traditional methods, or, at the other extreme, they are the eccentrics with a radical approach to wine-making. Matthews employs his own charming rating scale for their wines: wines are rated from 1 (low) to 5 (high) in 2 categories, "oddness" and "niceness". So a wine might score a 1/4, meaning it is very conventional in style, but it is also very good. A 4/1 means the wine is pretty unusual, but Matthews doesn't find it so nice to drink. You just know that what he is really looking for are 5/5s - wines that are totally off-the-wall and are totally wonderful. Conclusions: A bit of a curate's egg for sure - good in parts, pretty stinky in others - but I loved the book overall.

Title: Jancis Robinson's Wine Course

Author: Jancis Robinson
ISBN: 1-85613-360-5
Publisher: BBC Books
Price: £19.99
(buy at Amazon)

Interesting to compare this with Joanna Simon's "Discovering Wine" below. Both writers express an intention to offer plain-language advice that will increase our enjoyment of wine. It is fascinating that the two books can be so different, yet each achieves its objective successfully. Whilst Discovering Wine is populist, modern, dominated by bold graphic design and illustrations, this book is much more studied, in-depth and wordy. Having said that, the quality of Robinson's writing is high, the advice and opinions impeccable, and the depth of research into the subject most impressive. It is well illustrated too with lovely photographs, maps and charts. The whole feel is of a serious academic reference work for those with a genuine passion to learn. Conclusions: A tremendously authoritative work, packed full of clearly presented information and sensible advice.


Title: Discovering Wine

Author: Joanna Simon
ISBN: 1-85732-264-9
Publisher: Mitchell Beazley (Simon & Schuster US)
Price: £16.99
(buy at Amazon)

Presented in easy-to-digest, bite-sized chunks with an emphasis on design and ease of use, this could seem a bit sinister (see my essay "The dumbing down of wine"), but in fact this book is a model of its type: whilst approachable and user-friendly, the information is of high quality and the breadth and depth of coverage is admirable. The book splits into 3 parts: a guide to wine tasting, storing, serving and food-matching; an explanation of the factors that affect the style and quality of wine and part 3, a region-by-region guide with excellent maps, vintage charts and photographs. It is thorough on both traditional and emerging regions. Conclusions: An innovative and very successful approach to the subject. Of high quality throughout in terms of both design and content.

Title: Côte d'Or - The Great Wines of Burgundy

Author: Clive Coates
ISBN: 0-520-21251-7
Price: £50
(buy at Amazon)

Running to over 1,000 pages, the book is a mix of hard facts and opinions/arguments. It is composed of an introduction to the area and its wine, then 3 main sections: The Villages: with very good maps showing location and size of the vineyards, descriptions of the area and the wines, recommended producers and a brief, no holds barred, run down of all the major domaines. The Domaines: 61 top domaines are covered in depth, with detailed notes on history, vinification methods and philosophy of the producers, as well as Coates personal opinions of the wines. The Vintages: every vintage from '96 back to '79, then all the better vintages from '78 to '45. Good technical information on vintage quality and maturity. Whilst the notes are excellent, the scarcity of many older Burgundies means the vertical tasting catalogue is a little bit patchy. Conclusions: I like this book a lot. It is very well indexed and cross referenced, well laid out, and offers a good combination of fact and opinion. It majors on high-end stuff and, of course, covers only the Côte d'Or and not the "lesser" Burgundy districts.

Title: Burgundy

Author: Anthony Hanson
ISBN: 0-571-193-895
Publisher: Faber & Faber
Price: £25 hardback, also available in paperback

The definitive text book on Burgundy and its wines. Hanson has Burgundy under his skin, and the passion and eloquence of the arguments in this fascinating book are always convincing. This is a book for the real Burgundy lover who wants facts, figures and informed comment, rather than a simple overview or collection of tasting notes. At times you have to take a deep breath and cope with the minutiae of clonal selection, sub-soil types and obscure appellation laws, but Hanson's authority and deep-felt love of his subject carries the reader along nicely. Hanson offers plenty of opinion and isn't afraid to voice his concerns. The second part of the book takes each appellation in turn and gives a thorough and evaluative introduction to the area, producers and wines. Conclusions: As I say, the definitive text book. Endlessly fascinating for the Burgundy aficionado, wonderfully comprehensive, indispensable.

Title: Wines of the Rhône Valley

Author: Robert Parker
ISBN: 0-684-80013-6
Publisher: Mitchell Beazley/Simon & Schuster (USA)
Price: £25.09
(buy at Amazon)

This book splits the Rhône into the traditional North/South regions and takes each appellation in turn, suggesting general characteristics and then a profile of each of the major domaines, along with extensive tasting notes. Love him or hate him, unless you have absolutely no respect for Parker's palate, these guides are really indespensible for wine lovers. Conclusions: How can you fail to find this a useful work? I respect Parker's opinion on the wines of this region, so I am happy to use it as a decision making tools on purchasing Rhône wines. If you like Parker, this won't disappoint.

Title: How to Enjoy Your Wine

Author: Hugh Johnson
ISBN: 1-840-000-740
Publisher: Mitchell Beazley
Price: £9.99
(New edition - buy at Amazon)

This slim (144 pages), colourful volume is very much a beginners guide. Packed with good photos and clear illustrations, it covers every aspect of enjoying wine from buying and opening a bottle, to matching wine with food. Because of the authority of the author, it really is very, very good of its type. Whilst chapters such as "Decanting and Serving" and "Judging Wine" are fairly simple in their presentation, they are never patronising and the advice is invariably rock solid. Conclusions: An ideal gift for those starting out on a more serious interest in wine.

Title: Wine Lover's Companion

Authors: Herbst & Herbst
ISBN: 0-8120-1479-0
Publisher: Barron's Educational
Price: £8.99
(buy at Amazon)

"Comprehensive definitions for more than 3,500 wine-related terms" says the jacket and that just about sums it up. A bijou little reference guide, with alphabetical entries for wine terms. Covers the lot, from regions, growers and grapes to wines and wine-making techniques with solid definitions and brief pen pictures. For each term there is very handy phonetic pronunciation too: who hasn't stumbled over their first sight of Chassagne-Montrachet or even Weingärtnergenossenschaft? Conclusions: Well researched, easy to use and comprehensive.

Title: Notes on a Cellar-Book

Author: George Saintsbury
ISBN: 0-333-00592-9
Publisher: Macmillan
Price: Out of print

This book is a legend. First published in 1920, it is a collection of the words and wisdom of Oxford Don, man of letters and wine-lover extraordinaire, George Saintsbury. It is in fact a series of reminiscences inspired by the notes Saintsbury made on the wines in his cellar between 1884 and 1915. So, for example, memories of a Richebourg from 1869 lead on to the merchant in Pall Mall where it was purchased, and the genial and wise old Scotsman who recommended it. The last chapter of the book is a series of menus from the strange but magnificent dinners Saintsbury hosted, along with the fabulous wines served. One of the lovely things about the book is comparing what has changed in a hundred years, and what remains exactly the same. Conclusions: This book is probably not for everyone. It's not the easiest read, with copious footnotes and archaic use of English. It is fascinating however, especially if you share Saintsbury's almost spiritual devotion to wine.

Title: Confessions of a Wine Lover

Author: Jancis Robinson
ISBN: 0-140-235-299
Publisher: Viking Press
Price: £7.99

Not so much an autobiography as a collection of wine-related anecdotes and musings from one of the world's least pretentious and most talented wine authorities. The book spans her life in the male dominated world of wine from the late '70s, when she stumbled into wine to the massive operation that was compiling the Oxford Companion. Many of the stories are not really about Jancis Robinson at all, but are about intriguing characters in the world of wine. Often the story is told in such a way that the author drops only hints to her own opinions, leaving you to draw your own conclusions on the right and wrongs of the various viewpoints represented. It is an enjoyable read, with escapist glimpses of fabulous wine cellars and banquets with the rich and famous, gritty stories from the vineyards and a large sprinkling of humour throughout. Conclusions: An extremely readable and entertaining book. Highly recommended. (appears to be out of print)

Title: The Wine Men

Author: Fiona Beeston
ISBN: 1-85619-051-x
Publisher: Sinclair-Stevenson
Price: Out of print

Jancis Robinson's book above reminds me of it a lot in the fact that it is a very gentle, meandering, almost philosophical look at the world of wine, as seen through the eyes of 15 or so disperate characters. What these men have in common is a heart-felt passion for wine and wonderfully idiosyncratic views. Fiona Beeston says : "...his book is purely is not intended as a balanced guide...through getting to know the men, you are getting to know the wines...". Her subjects include well known names like Bruno Clair and Leonard Humbrecht, and wonderful lesser known characters like Jean Baptiste Besse, the octogenarian Paris shopkeeper whose shop is graphically and beautifully described. Conclusions: As you might guess, I love this book. It has a real "feel-good" factor, is fascinating and refreshing and makes for a delightful read.

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