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Please note I haven't listed any prices here. This is because the links will take you to the relevant entry in the amazon.co.uk catalogue, which will give the up-to-date price (usually substantially discounted): this may change at short notice.  

Vine to Bottle : How Wine Is Made

Simon Woods (Photography by Jason Lowe)

Hardcover - 160 pages (May 2001)
Mitchell Beazley; ISBN: 1840003391


Too many wine books set out to educate; too few are actually a 'good read'. It's understandable¾ after all, wine is a ferociously complicated subject. And one of the most complicated aspects is how the stuff is actually made. This is why a book like this is so welcome, because it's about making wine, it's genuinely a good read, and along the way you learn quite a bit.

The concept? Wine writer Simon Woods, accompanied by photographer Jason Lowe, set out to track the course of the vintage at two locations -- Louis Jadot in Burgundy and Domaine de La Baume in the Languedoc. The book that resulted is a mixture of narrative and photography, beautifully laid out and produced in a very elegant format. The photography is quite striking. Lowe has taken some risks and deviated from the standard wine book fare of vineyard shots and bunches of ripe grapes, preferring to catalogue a much more nuts and bolts montage of winemaking imagery. Most of the time this works brilliantly, although a couple of the compositions look a bit dodgy to my admittedly untrained eye.

It's a story told very much in the third person: Woods is strictly an observer and doesn't involve himself at all. But he's consistent, and the text is pretty polished. When he strays onto areas of controversy -- and there are lots of these in winemaking -- a tactful line is taken, and where opinions are expressed they are well judged and balanced.

Overall, I found this a great read, giving some real insight into the process of growing grapes and making wine. Criticisms? Well, I would have liked more substance -- possibly covering more (or different) producers, and scratching a bit deeper below the surface. The book is over remarkably quickly and ends a bit abruptly, leaving me wanting more. But this aside, kudos to the author, photographer and publishers for taking a bit of a risk, and in the process producing a well conceived, good looking and interesting book.

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jrcf.gif (5310 bytes)Confessions of a Wine Lover

Jancis Robinson

Paperback - 384 pages (5 November, 1998)
Penguin Books; ISBN: 0140235299

I have to declare from the outset that from the moment I picked up this book I couldn't put it down again, and I was desperately sorry when I finished it. Jancis shares the story so far of her involvement in the wine trade, progressing from a newsletter editor to her current status as media darling and one of the most universally respected of all wine journalists. It is a beautifully written book, and is likely to prove utterly engrossing for any reader who has been bitten by the wine bug. Jancis scores very highly for getting the balance right between the old and the new. She has a healthy respect for traditions without taking cheap potshots at new developments, and she is a populizer without being a vulgarizer. She proves that it is possible to drink the world's finest without becoming a snob. Best of all she embraces change as a friend rather than treating it as an enemy. As for those who question whether she should be writing her autobiography at all, my response would be that as she has been in the wine trade since the 70s, and she has witnessed a major period of fundamental change over the last 25 years, which she chronicles beautifully. Put this book at the top of your shopping lists.

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simon.jpg (3926 bytes)Wine-tasters' Logic

Pat Simon

Paperback - 205 pages ( 8 May, 2000)
Faber Paperbacks; ISBN: 057120287X


Fifty years in the wine business have equipped Pat Simon with a nose and palate of formidable finesse. His ruminations on how a taster learns to taste, how memory and appreciation are deepened, and how the intensely subjective experience of tasting wine can be communicated meaningfully, are distilled in Wine Tasters' Logic. This wonderfully interesting volume manages to be both a manual of practical instruction in discriminating among the endless subtleties of wine, and a series of elegant pensées on the subject, fully justifying the subtitle "Thinking About Wine and Enjoying It".

The first of its two parts, "Thinking About Tasting", comprises a series of meditations on key topics such as balance, tannins, taste versus aroma, and the qualities of soil and terroir. There is a fair quantity of chemistry in this part, not all of it equally accessible, but even non-chemists will come away appreciating the differences between "green-apple" malic acidity and the less "mouth-puckering" tartaric. Context nearly always makes clear the sense of apparently opaque statements, such as "the alkalinity of the saliva should take quite a few of the anthocyanins past the isoelectric point of tannin, so that they flocculate and come out of solution". (In fact this describes what happens when a wine is "chewed" and acquires a texture in the mouth--precipitated tannin particles.) It's worth persevering, for the rewards and insights are many. The second part, "Practising Tasting", shows how this carefully acquired knowledge can be translated into the skills of the wine taster. The copious anecdotes Pat Simon offers from his own wine education reinforce the impression that many beginners must have: the whole discipline is so endlessly complex that you'd give up in despair if it weren't also endlessly fascinating. --Robin Davidson

This work is divided into two parts - Part one explores such ideas as balance, finish, aroma and tannin, guiding new and experienced tasters through the concepts of wine-tasting. Part two is a practical guide to developing expertise, including discussions on tasting glasses and keeping records.

Book Information
Such a wide variety of wines is produced, with so many flavours, and from so many parts of the world, that the newcomer to wine might well be daunted. Pat Simon, on entering the trade in 1948, recognised tasting to be an almost impossible task, and decided just to lift the glass and enjoy its contents. Over the years, however, patterns emerged and the author discovered he could remember more and appreciate more deeply. He learned that wine can strike the drinker in many ways, both physically and mentally--tastes and smells can trigger memories and emotions, while noble vine varieties have a magic ability to draw elements from soil and subsoils, telling us stories about where the wine comes from, and when and how the wine was made. Pat Simon has written this unique book in the hope that it may help others to find as much enjoyment in wine as the last half-century has brought him.

The book is divided into two parts: Part One encourages the reader to think about tasting, and explores such ideas as balance, finish, aroma and tannin. It guides both new and experienced tasters through the many and varied concepts behind wine-tasting. Part Two is a practical guide to developing expertise, including discussions on tasting glasses, keeping records and decanting wine.

Illustrated with reminiscences from an earlier age of the wine trade, as well as suggestions for new thinking in the currently developing world of wine, this search for a logical base for wine-tasting will enhance the pleasure derived from wine by every reader.

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wild.gif (15682 bytes)The Wild Bunch : Great Wines From Small Producers

Patrick Matthews

Paperback - 326 pages (20 October, 1997)
Faber and Faber; ISBN: 057119043X

In this book Patrick Matthews sets out to explore the 'ureported wine revolution' as he calls it - the increasing number of small producers who are taking wine back to its regional roots, and in contrast to the legion of bland international-style wines that have flooded our supermarket shelves, are producing wines with real personality and flavour, often at quite reasonable prices. It is a laudable aim, and I for one am fully sympathetic to his cause. Matthews has done his research, he's well informed, and many of the chapters make gripping reading. I especially liked one of the later chapters, 'Cutting out the middle men', which gives a fascinating insight into the machinations of the UK wine trade. The book can also be applauded in that it is pioneering: in contrast to many wine publications it doesn't just go over the same old ground. My main criticism, however, is that The wild bunch feels somewhat unfinished: the writing style is at times quite hard work, and the transition from one subect or chapter to the next is jerky, lacking continuity. The copyediting is pretty poor too (see e.g. the footnote on page 11). If the author had just spent more time re-writing and polishing the book, and had the services of a good editor, I think he could have made it into a classic. As it stands, it is worth reading solely on the basis of the excellent concept and fascinating snippets, even if they are not laced together too carefully. A useful additional feature (which unfortunately will cause the book to date faster) is that each chapter comes complete with a list of recommended wines and their suppliers in the UK, which greatly enhances the utility of the book. A useful addition to any winelovers bookshelf

In this survey of what the author calls "the unreported wine revolution", he meets a new wave of growers and producers who are taking wine back to its regional roots and are concerned with authenticity and purity, rather than technology and marketing. Details of where to buy the wines are included.

The author, Patrick Matthews patrick_matthews@compuserve.com, 29 July, 1999
In The Wild Bunch I was looking for a fight. Too often, wine writers seemed to me to steer people towards the kinds of wines that make easy money for supermarkets rather than what I felt were 'real wines' -- handmade rather than industrially produced, free of additives and technical manipulation and with enough concentration to age. Such wines are available if you look for them and they're often surprisingly cheap. Of course it's the wine writers who get called on to review wine books, and I might have expected to be critically pummeled. Instead the experience was of being killed with kindness, and The Wild Bunch actually won the top award of 1998, the Glenfiddich drink book of the year. Generously, they were actually glad to see a colleague being allowed some freedom from the usual wine book formats, and they rather warmed to the book's enthusiasm for the quixotic obsessives who make wine because of passion for an (often) obscure region rather than because it seems financially prudent.

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pmath.jpg (7229 bytes)Real Wine: the rediscovery of natural winemaking

Patrick Matthews

Hardcover - 288 pages (14 October, 2000)
Mitchell Beazley; ISBN: 1840002573

Patrick Matthews ploughs a different furrow to other wine writers. He's a thinker -- and a bit philosophically inclined. While most wine books aim to simplify the complicated subject of wine for the general reader, Matthews isn't happy to take this well trodden path. Instead, he takes a complex subject and makes it even more complicated. He established his reputation as someone prepared to grapple with the thorny issues surrounding wine in his previous book, The wild bunch: great wines from small producers, and Real wine follows in a similar vein. However, while The wild bunch was an impressive book, Real wine is even better. It's a brilliantly conceived book that makes gripping reading for anyone intrigued by the deeper issues of wine and its production.

In essence, this book addresses the question of how to go about making a 'real wine'. This provides a thread of continuity that ties together each of the chapters. These embrace some of the most contentious yet vital issues surrounding wine today, including site selection, planting the vines, organic and biodynamic viticulture, choice of grape variety, wine making techniques, what constitutes a wine fault, and making money. Finally, there's a fun but rather quirky appendix aimed at helping interested readers to actually make 'real wines' themselves.

At the heart of this book is the tension between the old and new world approaches to making wine. On the one hand there are the traditional vignerons; on the other the new world technology-driven winemakers. But Matthews skilfully avoids the usual generalizations and clichés surrounding the old world/new world debate by focusing mainly on California, where winemakers reflect both traditions, and there is currently a swing back to 'natural winemaking'. It's a good read, and pretty well researched. Matthews gives the impression of going in open-minded, and even where he has chosen to take a stance, he avoids being preachy.

A lot of credit has to go to publishers Mitchell Beazley, first of all for being brave enough to publish something so far off the beaten track, and secondly for the attractive and innovative design: the book has been produced in a squat, almost square format, rather reminiscent of a religious publication (perhaps a prayerbook?), which is appropriate for such a philosophical book. All in all, it's a compulsory purchase for any thinking wine lover or wine professional.

Book Description
Real Wine begins in the late 1960s, when members of the hippy generation travelled deep into rural France, where they discovered - and helped to preserve - the great tradition of hands-on winemaking. 'Natural' wine production has become, in the late 1990s, a movement that is displacing the technological, chemists' approach that until recently threatened to engulf the wine world. Within this chronologically-structured story, Patrick contrasts the 'natural' and 'hi-tech' options of every stage of wine production. For example, in the vineyard he contrasts the traditional approach of planting vines closely together with the industrial trend for planting vines widely apart; in the winery he compares the pros and cons of treading grapes by foot or by machine. Real Wine is a story about people and wine, about how 'natural wines' are produced. It is a comprehensive, informative volume, but above all it is a gripping story about the evolution of modern wine.

+ Identifies and explores the rise of 'natural wines' and why these are often the best wines in the world.
+ Profiles the winemakers who are producing these 'natural wines'.
+ Explores how artisan winemaking methods are now being reintroduced to classic wine regions.
+ Explains traditional winemaking methods and how each type influences modern wines.

In the world of wine, high-tech is going out of fashion and great wine estates are going back to simple, non-interventionist techniques, banishing chemical sprays from the vineyard and additives from the cellars. Patrick Matthews describes the alternatives to mass-produced "McWine", and shows how 20th-century wine connoisseurship had its roots in a crusade against fraud and adulteration.

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