The Bluffer’s Guide to Wine

‘Tea and toasted buttered currant buns, can’t compensate for lack of sun’                              The Kinks, Autumn Almanac

Perhaps tea and buns can’t help us through the winter but what Ray Davies really should have tried was fortified wine. I read a lovely article a few years back exploring this phenomenon in the Financial Times by Harry Eyres:

“The varied styles of sherry seem to me one of the most humane ways ever discovered of shepherding human beings through the changing seasons, and especially through the hard change to winter.”

Eyres does what few wine writers even attempt and melds history, wine and personal reflection into his article. Since then I’ve always looked out for his writings. He was wine columnist for the Spectator in the 1980s and has written a series of books on the subject. I was delighted when his publishers sent me an electronic copy of his latest, The Bluffer’s Guide to Wine. Normally I’d avoid a book with this sort of title but as it’s by Eyres, I thought it’s sure to be a quality product. It’s not entirely by Eyres though. This edition is written in conjunction with Jonathan Goodall whose work I am not familiar with it.

A book like this must succeed on two levels: 1) it must be funny 2) it must be accurate – if you’re going to bluff about wine you need a very firm based on which to bluff from. I wrote in an earlier post about the Les Dawson rule, in order to make playing the piano badly funny, you have to be a very good pianist.

So is it funny? Well I didn’t disturb my wife with snorts of hilarity but there are some funny bits:

‘An unfeasibly long and narrow strip of land. . . . Chile might seem a silly shape for a wine-producing country, certainly when compared with the no-nonsense square shapes of leading producers France and Spain’

Both nicely surreal and informative, this is a good wine joke. The tone of the book is light and witty and rarely descends into facetiousness. I abhor facetiousness! Unless I’m doing it, of course.The book opens with some general information about wine and wine tasting, moves logically onto grape varieties then takes a gallop around the world of wine and ends with a short section on wining and dining. The book is really just an amusingly written introduction to wine but scattered in it are tips to impress and to justify the bluffers guide title. Some of these are actually rather useful and on the nose such as recommending chilling some reds because it makes you look like you know what you’re doing (it does though it can also cause a furore in certain Spanish restaurants on Charlotte Street.)

Is it accurate? Again up to a point. The grape variety chapter initially seems a bit scant but there’s a very useful section where the authors not only tell us which wines are made from which varieties but also what they are often blended with.  The authors manage to distill quite complicated concepts accurately and their simplifications, on the whole, work. As a pedant, however, I was delighted to notice a few mistakes. This is probably the biggest one:

“the grand crus or top villages of the Cotes de Nuits include Gevrey-Chambertin. . . .” Grand Cru is not the same thing as top village. Gevrey-Chambertin is a village not a Grand Cru

Mistakes such as this one mean the reader has to be careful when bluffing from these pages. As Morrissey once sang: “there’s always someone somewhere, with a big nose who knows and trips you up and laughs when you fall.” I think I approached this book with the wrong expectations given it was co-written by someone of Eyre’s talents. On it’s own terms, it’s enjoyable and would make a good gift or something to read on a cold winter’s night with a roaring fire and a nice old amontillado.


About Henry

Henry Jeffreys was born in London. He has worked in the wine trade, publishing and is now a freelance journalist. He specialises in drink and his work has appeared in the Spectator, the Guardian, the Economist, the Financial Times, the Oldie and Food & Wine magazine. He was a contributor to the Breakfast Bible (Bloomsbury 2013) and his book Empire of Booze: British History through the Bottom of a Glass was published in November 2016.
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2 Responses to The Bluffer’s Guide to Wine

  1. Alison Finch says:

    I want to make bloody Mary’s for my breakfast party this Sunday – what sherry do you recommend I buy to use in It – I would like one that I can also enjoy drinking on its own.

  2. Henry says:

    Perhaps Manzanilla la Gitana or the Waitrose own label mazanilla with the fancy swirly label. Both lovely and about £9 a bottle. Breakfast party sounds fun.

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