Wine books for Christmas
There isn't much I've really enjoyed more over the past 12 months than reading wine books. Fresh-off-the-printing press, they've landed on my doorstep in abundance, bringing much-needed excitement and extra-purpose to these long lockdown months. Here I briefly discuss nine of them, in the hope you'll find one worthy of Christmas present status.
The Prince of Romanée-Conti
Simultaneously published in French as Le Prince de la Romanée-Conti, this should end up under the Christmas tree of any DRC enthusiast out there. In fact, of any Burgundy lover.
The book narrates the fascinating history of this much-revered Burgundian domain and of its "colourful" 18th-century Prince of Conti, whom the world's most prized vineyard is named after.
It opens with a biographical account of the Prince, to then shift the focus on to the vineyards, its climats and climates, and the Domaine's history.
The book closes with insights into today's Romanée-Conti, with special attention given to the Domain's grand cru climats (including useful maps and data such as acreage, acquisition date, etc).
Aubert de Villaine's detailed vintage report (1996-2019), the complete account of the historic 2014 Rio de Janeiro vertical tasting, and last but not least a remarkable number of beautiful pictures are some of the juiciest features that make this book worth considering.
The writing style is fairly academic and the pages filled with information, so the book requires a bit of commitment, which I'm sure no real Burgundy fan comes short of.
In Climats Veritas
Curated by Youri Lebault
Let's stick to Burgundy for a minute. This book was published earlier this year in both French and English. As the title discloses, it's dedicated to the region's hottest topic, climats. In practice though, the book is a lot more.
Curated by Burgundy guide and enthusiast Yuri Lebault and featuring insights from winemakers, writers, photographers and more (including the aforementioned Aubert de Villaine), In Climats Veritas is a proper love letter to Burgundy.
The first part of the book is structured as a guided tour of the region while the second reveals this work's hedonistic intentions by touching on wine tasting and the tight interconnection between food and wine. It also features a chapter dedicated to the innovative géo-sensorielle (geosensorial) tasting technique, which shifts the focus from "mathematical analysis and snobbish terminology" to elements such as "mouthfeel, mouthwateringness, consistency, viscosity, suppleness, minerality...".
I can really vouch for In Climats Veritas. The author, who was my guide on my latest visit to Burgundy, must be the most genuine champion of the region and his passion clearly translated onto the pages. Plus the photography on the book is exquisite.
€49, Terre en Vues
A Life in Wine
In the wine universe, few lives are as legendary as that of Steven Spurrier, one of the most influential wine personalities of modern times. So I was particularly excited when the Académie du Vin Library (the publisher, funded by Spurrier himself) announced the release of his memoirs.
The book kicks off with Spurrier's first steps into wine, working vintages in Burgundy, Bordeaux and Champagne, then illustrates how he decided to move to Paris and began selling wine to the French.
It's in Paris where he set up the Académie du Vin (the wine school this book's imprint was eventually named after). It's also in Paris that he held the mighty namesake "Judgement" in 1976, the blind tasting that was going to change the wine world forever.
But the "Paris years" are just a small, though highly influential part of the whole Spurrier story: from art to gamekeeping, and from his relationship with Decanter magazine to sparkling winemaking venture, the book features a lot more. This is to be read in one go, by the fire (or whatever is the warmest area of your living room) sipping on a fine glass of Napa Cab.
(A Life in Wine follows the launch of the new edition of Hugh Johnson's seminal The Story of Wine earlier this year. You can check out my interview with Johnson here).
£30, Académie du Vin Library
The Wines of Portugal
A much-needed up-to-date book on Portugal's fast-changing and fast-developing vinous landscape, by an author who's life has been pretty much entirely dedicated to the Iberian country.
The book is intended as a "table-wine" companion to two other publications by the same author: Port & The Douro and Madeira, the Islands and their Wines.
The Wines of Portugal opens with a history of Portuguese wine and wine trade, then moves on to exploring the country's vineyards and grape varieties – over 120 are discussed here.
To discuss Portugal's wines, Mayson adopts a geographical approach. The bulk of the book is therefore split into four macro-regions: the Atlantic coast, the mountains, the southern plains, and the islands (the Azores and the Madeira archipelago). Oddly, in the last two chapters – The rosé wines of Portugal, and The sparkling wines of Portugal – the author reverts to a more conventional approach by style.
In addition to pages of insightful description of Portugal's best-known regions (e.g. Minho, Douro), the book features some curious geek-friendly discoveries – such as the "Russian" Continuous Method for sparkling winemaking – as well as what's perhaps the most detailed account of Alentejo's talha wines available in English.
With Portugal's wine set to experience significant international growth in 2021, The Wines of Portugal is without a doubt a must-have for any sommelier, wine student or trade professional.
£30, Infinite Ideas
Wines of South Africa
Another title hailing from the very prolific Classic Wine Library. This time from Jim Clarke, who's currently holding the position of Marketing Manager for promotional body Wines of South Africa.
South Africa is, year after year unveiling more and more of its potential to become a fine wine-producing country, and Clarke's insider perspective is ideal to appreciate all the elements that are driving the growth.
Further praise must be given to the author for dedicating ample room to South Africa's dark past, to its societal dilemmas, and to the "needs and issues of agricultural workers", a subject rarely touched on in other publications, as Clarke himself rightly points out.
On the other hand however, Clarke's position within Wines of South Africa raises questions over the author's undeniable conflict of interest, an issue that should have been disclosed and addressed with a lot more transparency in the opening of this book.
The structure follows that of other books within the Classic Wine Library collection, with the first part dedicated to the history of the country, the development of its wine industry, geography, climate, grape varieties and wine styles, and a second part to specific regions, from Cape Town to Beyond the Western Cape. It doesn't focus too much on single producers, but it does cover all those whose fame makes them worthy of a mention.
Overall, and despite the author's clear conflict of interest, The Wines of South Africa is finally filling a literary gap with this long-overdue account of one of the world's most fascinating wine countries.
£30, Infinite Ideas
Wines & Recipes
If you know someone who's just getting into wine, perhaps through a passion for cooking, then Wines & Recipes is definitely going to appeal to them: although wine and food are given even space on the pages, this publication shares much with a classic recipe book.
It opens with what's essentially a 101 guide to wine appreciation, featuring short paragraphs on grapes, climate, terroir, winemaking process, wine storage, glassware, wine and food matching etc.
The following chapters are dedicated to six broad wine categories (sparkling, white, rosé, red, sweet and fortified). Within these sections, relevant wine grapes or wine styles (Champagne, Nebbiolo, Chardonnay...) are each paired with a recipe.
The writing style is simple and unpretentious and features all wine styles you'd want your foodie friends to know about, from Chenin Blanc to Albariño, and Barbera to Agiorgitiko. The recipes are also relatively simple to follow, which means no frustration in the kitchen for those who're committed to giving the pairings an actual try. They're mostly inspired by Chilean cuisine (Diaz's native land), but there's a fair deal of Spanish and Italian influence, as well as ideas hailing from the whole of the South American continent. Spoiler alert: stock up on avocados, limes and coriander....
More books released this year should be on your to-read list this Christmas, but it was just impossible to cover all of them here. That being said, I must highlight three top ones that I reviewed for Imbibe over the past few months (you'll find the review by clicking on the relevant title):
Inside Bordeaux: The Châteaux, Their Wines and the Terroir, by Jane Anson;
Wine and Food: The Perfect Match, by 67 Pall Mall's Ronan Sayburn MS & Marcus Verberne;
and Tasting Victory: The Life and Wines of the World’s Favourite Sommelier, the posthumous memoirs of legendary sommelier Gerard Basset, whose review I report below as it was only published in print.
Tasting Victory: The Life and Wines of the World’s Favourite Sommelier
What should one expect from the posthumous memoirs of one of the world’s most influential somms? An account of how he became one of the first individuals to hold – simultaneously – the authoritative titles of Master of Wine and Master Sommelier? The determination that led him to gain the highly coveted Best Sommelier of the World trophy – despite six, humbling failed attempts?
No doubt this book is all that. But it’s also the recollection of fighting parents, a troubled youth, love for sports – especially football and cycling – and a reflection on how these elements turned him into the resilient, passionate and driven person he had eventually become.
During his successful career, Gerard Basset managed to generously enthuse a countless number of sommeliers and hospitality professionals; his last gift to the world is an entertaining, motivating, and thoroughly moving book that is bound to inspire a lot more.