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Upgrading your wine knowledge from as little as £8

No wine drinker wants to appear (if you will forgive the double meaning) as a plonker, so getting advice and extra information from reliable, well written and entertaining books is a Christmas activity that keeps on giving.

Admittedly, it is a poor second to drinking the stuff but reading about wine is a very agreeable way to spend a cosy winter’s evening.

Here, then is my annual review of recent wine books that will make the process even more enjoyable.

Painstakingly detailed and brilliantly illustrated

Regular wine drinkers and newcomers alike will enjoy the visuals, superb maps and detailed grape variety profiles in Wine Folly by Madeline Puckette and Justin Hammack (£18.99, Michael Joseph).

Neatly it challenges readers to sample wine from 12 countries it highlights (and describes in depth) while embellishing everything with a profusion of facts that will guide recent wine converts yet also amaze some older hands.

Who, for instance, knew that the world’s second biggest producer of carmenere is China?

Much, much more than a media star

Picture from Pavilion Books
Picture from Pavilion Books

One man who probably did know about carmenere and China, however, is Oz Clarke.

With his affably engaging media personality, it is easy to forget that Oz is also a brilliant taster and significant wine authority.

Enjoy then, Grapes & Wines by Oz Clarke and Margaret Rand (£25, Pavilion Books) with its detailed portraits of varieties from Albarino to Zinfandel and insights into wine production itself.

It also illustrates Oz the raconteur and – sticking with the carmenere link – describes how Chilean producers did wonderful things with the grape variety while firmly believing it was something else.

Getting authoritatively behind the froth.

Of all wine styles, possibly the most difficult to penetrate and to make judgements about is champagne but the task is made so much simpler by The Champagne Guide 2016-2017 by Tyson Stelzer (£25, Hardie Grant Books).

As well as advice about spill-free opening (six half turns of the wire on the cage but also holding the bottle at 45°), it gives detailed scores and analyses for 400 champagnes.

Pleasingly , he lauds the “unwavering consistency” and “enduring longevity” of the seriously underestimated gems of Gosset (more about their wine in a later post).

He also gives a top four place to a wine you may never have encountered but which sells from £40 a bottle – answer at the end of this post.

Tongue in cheek as well as in glass.

Look out too for the wisdom, irreverence and humour in I Don’t Know Much about Wine but I Know What I Like by Simon Woods (£7.99 at www.simonwoods.com).

While Woods airily dismisses wine investors as “the worshipful company of bottle fondlers”, he has much to say to drinkers prepared to experiment.

“All I ask”, he proclaims “is for a pinot grigio free week ….. where you bypass your preferred tipple” and perhaps sometimes spend just a little bit more – all the reasons why you should are simply but unpretentiously spelled out in the book.

Not to forget beer.

Moving on from wine, I am also impressed by the depth and style of The Beer Bible by Jeff Alworth (around £15, Workman Publishing).

It carefully summarises the stories behind 100 types of beer in a clear cut but easy to read style.

Midweekers in Scotland, for instance, will recognise the “the rich malty body and kiss of fruitiness” he attributes to Wee Heavy while others will be impressed by the three full pages he devotes to London’s Fullers Brewery.

…… Or whisky.

The classy coffee table book – Famous for a Reason by Charles Maclean (£35, Birlinn) chronicles the Famous Grouse whisky story and, of course, its roots in the wine trade too.

In the process, it delights readers with The Angels’ Share’s hero, Charlie Maclean’s, authoritative, meticulously researched and elegant writing style – and shows exactly why the Sunday Times called him “Whisky’s finest guru”.

So, what to do next

The next step is to defy current thinking and print off this page but carefully annotate one of the books -“must buy this after Christmas”.

Now leave the printed page lying around where those who love you cannot fail to find it.

And that top level champagne:

One of only four champagne houses awarded a 10/10 perfect score was the Montagne de Reims based Egly-Ouriet and here is a highly regarded online supplier .


This is a substantially extended version of a recent article I wrote in Scotland on Sunday

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