Posted on 17.12.18 #67

When your thirst is for knowledge

What to buy a wine lover as a gift? The obvious answer might seem to be ‘a bottle of wine’, but that’s a bit of a risk. Most enthusiasts will already have at least a few cases, and quite possibly a cellar’s worth, so here’s another idea, beyond the bottle, for those in need of inspiration.

… a thirst for knowledge …

Beyond sniffing, spitting and slurping, most wine fans have a thirst for knowledge too, so a good book can make the perfect present.

Every year, just in time for Christmas, there’s a raft of book launches aimed at wine fans, some from famous names, others from relative unknowns, most aimed at the mainstream, with a few focused on niche subjects.

In the ‘well known’ category, you don’t get much bigger than Oz Clarke.

Red & White: An Unquenchable Thirst for Wine (£25) is part auto-biographical – starting with the revelation that he had his first tipple aged 3, as his father tried to rescue his brother drowning in a weir and Oz seized the opportunity to polish off some damson wine – and part educational.

Oz is a polymath, having spent the first decade of his career as an actor, his famously prodigious nose and palate prompting a change in direction, with his stint on Food and Drink making him a household name. He also writes really well. His style is approachable, accessible and – most importantly – lots of fun.

Oz cuts it with the cream of the wine cognoscenti but, unlike many of them, he is also at home with a bunch of enthusiastic amateurs. It all comes down to being a great storyteller. It’s how he conducts his tastings and it’s how he comes across in the book. Whether you’re expert or beginner, this is an ‘unputdownable’ treat.

Oz also knows how to whet an appetite with his words; his enthusiasm for Sherry – “paradoxical, confusing, inspiring, glorious” – had me reaching for the Fino.

As I began collecting wine, I remember struggling to find the perfect ‘text book’.  There’s the legendary Oxford Companion to Wine, a proper encyclopaedia that’s like a bible these days, but very few introductory options that are easily accessible, quick to refer to, and – crucially – visual.

I have been seriously impressed by Wine Folly, Magnum Edition (£25), by Madeline Puckette and Justin Hammock, which manages to be both comprehensive and also easily digestible. There is no assumed knowledge, but neither is it  patronising. I love the careful thought that has gone into the layout, from grape varieties to regions, terminology to wine faults. It’s really well illustrated too, with grabby ‘infographics’.

If you know an enthusiastic amateur, with a thirst to know more about their new-found passion, this could be just the ticket.

… for serious wine ‘nuts’ …

For those with a really serious interest in wine, there are some great recent releases available to order online (or to buy at Brixton’s excellent New Zealand Cellar, in the case of the first one).

Rebecca Gibb is a Master of Wine, with a relaxed, approachable, light-touch style that belies her deep knowledge. She is a New Zealand specialist and has just launched The Wines of New Zealand (£30), a viticultural journey through Aotearoa (the land of the long white cloud). If you love New Zealand (and who doesn’t?) then this is for you.

Amber Revolution: How the World Learned to Love Orange Wine (£30) is billed as the first book devoted to the subject (in very simple terms, orange wine is white wine fermented on its skins, giving it an orange hue). Meticulous research by its author, Simon J Woolf, traces its origins in Georgian amphora winemaking, through to its re-birth at the turn of the millennium. This also happens to be the best-looking book about wine that I have ever seen.

Finally, Jamie Goode, a scientist and early ‘wine blogger’, has just published Flawless: Understanding Faults in Wine (£20). The first book dedicated to the less-than-glamourous world of cork taint, reduction, volatile acidity and Brett, he identifies the tell-tale signs and reveals the reasons for the faults. This sounds like a ‘must have’ for anyone with a cellar full of wine.

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