To inject a little normality into a bizarre year, my focus now switches onto purchases for Christmas.
Recommendations for the wines themselves start next week but today, I take a look at another tradition – Christmas books.
One of life’s everlasting winter pleasures combines a fireside armchair and a good book but, this time, the possible boredom of Covid “house arrest” provides another reason to read more.
So here are my suggestions for Christmas drinks-related books.
Starting with a long standing favourite
Few can rival the durability or scholarly dependability of Hugh Johnson’s ever popular little book.
Details of a host of wines and growers leap off its pages but it is the ancillary insights and opinions that make this a great and fascinating read.
This year's “supplements” range from a 15 page discussion about terroir to the cutting edge options listed as “Ten wines to try in 2021”.
The Ultimate Authority
Speaking of HJ, there are few wine related questions that cannot be answered within the pages of The Word Atlas of Wine that he produces in conjunction with Jancis Robinson.
In one of those quotes you really wish you had invented first, the Times described that duo as “the Bordeaux and Burgundy of wine writers”.
Now in its eighth edition, this remains the “go-to” source for all that background information that wine lovers relish and that help them join the dots.
Here’s another “Go-to” book
Although perfect as an introductory volume Madeline Puckette and Justin Hammack’s, Wine Folly has something for all wine enthusiasts and supports its content with excellent info-graphics and a helpful “broad brush” approach.
It is especially good at pinpointing what each of the main grape varieties taste like and what to expect from them.
Purists sometimes complain that its admirable simplification sometimes omits details they hold dear but the “person in the street” will find that the book's extensive information and straightforward style easily compensates.
Portugal under the microscope
Richard Mayson’s third book on Portugal is about to hit the streets and the arrival of The Wines of Portugal (around £25 – with its cover pictured at the head of this post) is timely with so much great value wines of laudable quality now emanating from that country.
You couldn’t be in better hands as Richard has progressed from a young enthusiast visiting Portuguese vineyards by bus 40 years ago to the guy who currently chairs the Port and Madeira panel for the Decanter World Wine Awards.
The book charts the progress from Portugal's dull, homogenised fare in the Seventies to wine crafted by the thousands of producers currently working in Portugal – and does so with high calibre expertise that is nicely enhanced by a smoothly elegant writing style.
Devotees of food and wine partnerships will love Wines & Recipes by sommelier and Wine School proprietor Raul Diaz (£30) and the helpfully specific gastronomic alliances it promotes (no catch-all “seven wines to go with duck” generalisations here).
Dedicating as much space to the wines as the recipes, the book suggests food matches for less well known wines like – garganega and godello – and unexpected liaisons (like nebbiolo with aubergine or gewurztraminer with squid) as well as the tried and tested (such as sherry with tapas).
All-in-all a nicely presented, pacy book that turbo charges the saliva glands and will motivate many to dabble with left field supper dishes.
Taking the food question further
Anyone seeking an even firmer grip on flavour combinations will be fascinated by the conclusions that have been drawn from the world of bio-engineering and, especially, from the role played by aromas molecules – leading to astonishing but successful combinations like caviar and white chocolate.
All this is gathered together in painstaking scientific detail in The Art & Science of Food Pairing which puts massive amounts of flesh on the bones of wine lovers' theories that noses play as much of a part in analysing the wine in your glass as taste buds do.
The Newest New World Wine Country
Any Christmas book collection would be incomplete without a contribution from the ever genial but incredibly knowledgeable Oz Clarke – who this year turns his focus to wines from England and Wales.
Despite, in the author’s own words, being “a marginal wine area – an island buffeted by weather systems” the home front is becoming an increasingly important wine area (the million bottles produced in 2012 leapt to 13 million six years later).
In the first third of his English Wine, (£16.99) Oz covers climate, wine styles and, of course, the grape varieties used before providing insights into just over 50 wine operations spread across the two countries involved.
It is perfect for planning visits this summer and for getting a real feel for the way this revolution is progressing whether it be with larger operations like Nyetimber and Rathfinny or the idiosyncratic 2 hectare Leventhorpe Vineyard in Yorkshire.
All that is spiced up with the unmistakeable Clarke prose that will make any winter fireside feel that little bit warmer.
Spot the Stranger
As one who relishes a tasty pint after a “hard day” tasting wine, I cannot close this post without praising a book on beer.
The Third Edition of World Atlas of Beer seems destined to be as acclaimed as its predecessors in celebrating the surge of small creative brewers since – as co-author Stephen Beaumont puts it – “the industrial brewing barbarians who stormed the gates in the mid-20th century” were fended off.
It considers beer from across the planet from Vietnam to Uruguay and from Ethiopa to Traquair House in Peebleshire (surely the first craft brewery of the modern era).
So, cheers everyone!
Subscribers to MidWeek Wines will know that midday tomorrow sees the launch of the Uncorking MidWeek Christmas Zoom Tastings.
Do drop across to the Wine Events Scotland website sometime after lunch to see what this pair of events are all about and to buy one of the tickets.
Back on the day job though, guys, be sure to join us again on Monday when we look at the latest Top Tips and sniff around current promotions at the larger supermarkets
Subscribe for FREE!
Do you want every review I write, direct to your inbox, absolutely free?