Reading and drinking

One simply cannot have too many books about booze. I’ll even read those books about supermarket wine with titles like Easyquaff and Fruity! that were all the rage a few years ago. In particular I like ones from second hand bookshops by old buffers whose entry for California simply say ‘apparently some enterprising colonial types have planted vines. The wines are not undrinkable.’ See my post on Faugeres. Sadly today new wine books are in short supply. Faber & Faber dropped their list years ago and Mitchell-Beazley’s range is not what it once was. The last great wine book they published except Hugh Johnson’s Atlas was Andrew Jefford’s The New France. Here are a couple of books that I cannot do without plus a few newer ones that have caught my fancy. It goes without saying that all them are better sampled with a small glass of tawny port.

The Wild Bunch: Great Wine from Small Producers by Patrick Matthews. This one is out of print but thanks to the internet you can easily get hold of it. I reread it once a year and always notice something new. It was published in the mid 90s and examines the hidden wine revolution of small dedicated growers making their own wine outside the classic regions. In his quest for idiosyncratic wines, Matthews preempts the whole natural wine movement by a decade. If you want to know why wine is so exciting, read this book. The author’s curiosity makes him great company; as a reader you feel that you are learning with him rather than being lectured. The prices makes me a little melancholy: Ch. Musar at £9, Tahbilk Marsanne at £5.79. I wish an enterprising publisher would commission Matthews to write an updated version.

The Oxford Companion Wine by Jancis Robinson and her team of wine elves. If you are even slightly serious about wine you need a copy of this book.

Newer books:

The Quest for Wine and Love or How I saved the world from Parkerisation by Alice Feiring. Ignore the awful title, cover and the attempts by the publisher to turn this into an Eat, Pray, Love of wine, there is a brilliant book here fighting to get out. Feiring is furious about the increasing homogenisation of wine. If you wonder why premium wines are often undrinkable and Rioja isn’t what it used to be, then you should read this book. I am looking forward to what she does next.

Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book. The best of the wine guides.

Whisky books:

101 Whiskies to try before you die by Ian Buxton. This looks like a Megaquaff book for Scotch but it’s actually an opinionated, engaging and witty guide to the diverse whisky world.

World Atlas of Whisky by Dave Broom. If the Buxton book is the 12 year old malt that whets your appetite then this is the 18 year old aged in oloroso casks and packaged in a wooden box that marks the start of a serious whisky habit.

General Booze:

Cooking with Booze by George Harvey Bone. Top recipes interspersed with anecdotes from the author’s eccentric family.

The Hungover Cookbook by Milton Crawford . Inspired by P. G Wodehouse and Kingsley Amis this is an amusing guide to what to eat the next day after a night on the Bristol Cream.

Publishers and authors, please let me know if there are any that you think I have missed. I would love to be proved wrong about the lack of quality wine books out there.

About Henry

I’m a drinks writer. My day job is features editor at the Master of Malt blog. I also contribute to BBC Good Food, the Spectator and others. You can read some of my work here. I’ve done a bit of radio, given some talks and written a couple of books (Empire of Booze, The Home Bar and the forthcoming Cocktail Dictionary).
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12 Responses to Reading and drinking

  1. Pippa C says:

    I realise this isn’t exactly what you mean, but “What Did I Do Last Night? A Drunkard’s Tale” by Tom Sykes the best book about booze I’ve ever read.

    It isn’t a booze appreciation handbook but a funny and unflattering memoir of Skyes’ time as a nightlife reporter in New York. He gets himself into the kind of pickle I would if I was paid to drink for a living.

  2. Anne says:

    Henry, you make me want to be a better wine drinker! I am so constantly depressed by supermarket selections (perhaps not Waitrose) and find the whole experience of buying something decent quite traumatic at times. I think I need to read one of the above, but worry that the books will refer to wines that can only be bought from specialists – is that the case? The nearest thing I have near to me is a Sainsbury’s – is all hope gone?

  3. Henry says:

    Sadly most are only available from specialists. Patrick Matthews’ book was written at a time when chains like Victoria Wine, Bottoms Up and Unwins were around but these sadly no longer exist.

    You can get nice wine from supermarkets. Larger Sainsburys have a good selection and their own label French stuff tends to be good, same with Marks and Spencers. It is worth subscribing to writers such as Tim Atkin who suggest widely available treasures.

    Majestic are also very good and delivery if you buy 12 bottles. Soon I am going to recommend mail order wine merchants who I think offer good value for money.

  4. parrish says:

    101 whiskies is a fantastic little book, also agree with you on the world atlas of whisky. But if you really want an in depth look, you can’t beat “Appreciating Whisky” by Phillip Hill. Another good read on the subject is ” Raw Spirit” by Iain Banks, this is part travelogue, part memoir, part whisky book, & very funny.

  5. parrish says:

    Been thinking about this and thought that for those Bourbon lovers, a good book to get is Jim Murray’s ” Classic Bourbon Tennessee & Rye Whiskey”.
    Enjoyed your post, made me think about one of my favourite subjects.
    Ps. Found you via Stu at winstonsdad

  6. Henry Goulding says:

    Best wine book, by a street, is Kermit Lynch’s Adventures on the Wine Route. Slightly maverick, doesn’t bore you with science but, like Real Wine, yearns for honesty and reflection in the glass of what comes from the ground. Happily leaves the bean counters of Bordeaux more or less alone, instead focusing on the true guardians of the art in Burgundy, the Rhone and the Loire. Oh yes, and he has a thing for Tempier in Bandol. I think he even mentions Alquier in Faugeres who, I completely agree, produces wine way above its (perceived) station.

    Otherwise? For a 20’s/30’s feel, In Search of Wine, a road trip round France by Charles Berry and his chauffeur. CB had fought in the trenches, I think, and something of the perspective he must have learnt comes through. It’s such a detailed itinerary it would make a wonderful road trip one day. And Bouquet, by Gladys Stern, travels around France, two couples, no swinging, but a gentle Bordeaux/Burgundy battle in a world less filled with competition and absolutes.

    • Henry says:

      Just read Adventures on the Wine Route. Thank you for the recommendation. It is indeed marvellous, powered by Lynch’s anger at what is being done to the wines he loved in the name of progress. I’ve written an article about it and the Wild Bunch in the forthcoming issue of Will try and put some of it online.

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