I always thought the Duke of Clarence drowned in a butt of Malmsey wine. After reading 'A Wine Miscellany' I now know that the story came from chronicler Dominic Mancini, writing just five years after Richard the Third's death. I also know that Malmsey, which I had idely supposed to be related to Madeira, actually came from Crete. So next time (if there is a next time) I confront a bottle of Retsina, it'll be with due respect.
For this and much more, I am indebted to Graham Harding, who has produced, rather than a miscellany of wine - a cornucopia. All the usual wine scandals are here, but so too is evidence of a thirst for knowledge and accuracy that betrays the writer's earlier life as a Cambridge history graduate, Here I have to declare an interest. As one of those too, I am naturally going to look favourably on this fellow's work. And as a fellow wine imbiber, I'm not going to ignore the subject matter, either.
But enough of all that; this is a subject you could make unutterably boring, and Harding masterfully avoids the anorak pitfalls. There's fact mixed with scandal on every page - there are enough Chateau D'Yqem price stories (my favourite's the one about Piers Morgan and Marco Pierre White on page 84) to fuel many a dinner parrty conversation, for instance. But did you know that Thomas Jefferson owned the most expensive bottle of D'Yqem ever sold? No, neither did I (it was a 1787). The result is light enough for pick up and put down reading yet solid enough to add to knowledge. It's nicely laid out and illustrated too.
From highest vineyard to lowest wine practice, it's here. At a price which has it firmly among the great value gift books, its 172 enjoyably fact-packed pages should find their way into many a wine fan's Christmas stocking. Enjoy.