For December, my focus switches to the upcoming festivities rather than on the usual great value entry point wines.
Since even slick or authoritative websites never really supplant the joy of a good book and a fireside armchair on a winter evening, what better time then for a look at Christmas wine books?
Excellent pointers to everyday wine
As one who recommends entry point wine almost every week of the year, I have enormous admiration for the new version of the genial and dependable Ned Halley’s perennial best seller The Best Wines in Supermarkets 2017 (Foulsham – £8.99).
Twenty four wines secure the maximum score (10) this year with a quarter of them under £6 – and, better still, there is an associated website that updates things through the year.
Modestly Ned says “Taste, as everyone knows, is very personal” but – as one who treads much the same path as he does – I find myself nodding in agreement with many of the assessments his book contains.
Great writing and a range of great wines
Moving to broader coverage, do take a look at Life’s too Short to Drink Bad Wine (Quadrille – £14.99).
Sadly, life was indeed too short (full stop) for the original author – the brilliant journalist Simon Hoggart who died in 2014 – but his work has been lovingly revised and updated by Jonathon Ray.
Recommendations, which range from Torres Vina Sol to Pol Roger Champagne and many places between, provide unerring pointers to quality and distinctive wines – many of them offering really tasty alternatives to wine with big ticket prices.
Memorable phrases spring from many pages like one borrowed from Raymond Chandler and used to describe claret at its best as “making a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window”.
Teaching yourself how to understand and choose wine
From receiving wine based recommendations to being able to make the selection yourself is the journey behind Andrew Jefford’s Wine Course (Ryland, Peters & Small – £16.99).
It begins with a tutorial on the tasting and assessment process itself because, as the book says, “The taste of wine is like the sound of music: limitlessly various” and unravelling those variations is substantially aided by the book’s detailed analyses and background on over 50 grape varieties.
Finally comes a richly enlightening procession through wine regions spread over five continents.
The tone for each leg of that journey is set perfectly by well-chosen introductory words such as these about Italy which praise the “easy, effortless role of wine in daily life” there and the “poise, energy, thrust and depth of character” of its reds.
Digging into the details
Building on our increasing recognition of the crucial importance of terroir, a new coffee table book – Canadian John Szabo’s Volcanic Wines: Salt Grit and Power (Jacqui Small Publishers – £30) goes further in two ways.
First, it extends work already done on the effect, for example, of limestone and granite based vineyards to explore the (so far, neglected) effect of volcanic materials.
Secondly it provides practical insights into volcanic wine areas right across the world looking, for instance, at the physical and chemical influences of sand, pumice, ash and rock vineyards of Santorini.
Nearer home, it outlines the wine based ramifications of the Vosges Fault Line in Alsace and how parts of the region’s multiple geological formations affect, for example, pinot gris and riesling.
Finally, to the master wine writer himself
No one bridges the divide between raconteur and analyst (or one who enthuses compared to one who educates) better than Hugh Johnson.
So for a rapt evening of reading and pleasure go, I suggest, for HUGH JOHNSON on Wine: Good Bits from 55 Years of Scribbling (Mitchell Beazley – £18.99).
It is hard indeed to express the enigma and allure of the Cȏte d’Or better than the passage in the book that speaks of the “contradictions in great burgundy: body that is round and supple but also tense with tannins and alive with acidity; aromas that evoke soil and undergrowth but also flowers and fruit”.
What to do next
Please feel free to use this web post as a prod (subtle or otherwise) for whoever is in charge of present buying this Christmas.
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