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The best of this book comes at the bottom of the glass
on 25 November 2009
In this book Scruton seeks to combine his interest in philosophy with his love of wine. He laments the passing of the Greek "symposiums" where wine was drunk and important issues discussed. The book is certainly interesting, but it is not the jolly, "good humoured antidote to the pretentious clap-trap" that the publishers promise. At least not until the appendix where he suggests what to drink while reading major philosophers' works which is very funny and well written.
He begins by recognising two people influential in his own discovery of wine, which read a little like appreciative retirement speeches. He then moves on to discussing in detail French wines and then more briefly other wine regions. Here Scruton's knowledge and enthusiasm are evident, but he is something of a wine `buff' and there is plenty of wine-speak in evidence. Thus he suggests that `the best accompaniment to a bottle of fine old white Hermitage is a clay-baked hedgehog' and if you `roll the name Maillol in your mouth while imagining well-shaped buttocks and well-matured wine, and you won't be far from the taste of Collioure'. Not much of the promise of `an antidote to clap-trap' evident here, then. Overall, this half of the book is hard going.
In the second half, things get more interesting as he turns to philosophy and the role of wine and the implications of certain ideas to wine. Scruton is one of those writers who lets much of their character and opinion infuse his writing. He is unashamedly right wing, pro-France, anti-EU and largely un-`PC', and at times his views may cause mild offence to the more sensitive reader (the anti-fox hunting and modern Islamic views on alcohol both get particularly short shrift), albeit with some nice dry humour in parts (he suggests that the rich contribute to the well-being of the world by consuming the most expensive wines and converting it by natural processes to something that will benefit the soil). As you would expect, his knowledge and insights in philosophy are frequently interesting - although a good grounding philosophers will certainly help as this isn't a beginner's book on philosophy.
But the greatest joy of this book is the appendix where he suggests what wines to drink with different philosophers' works. It is irreverent and funny, but at the same time, wise. This, finally, fulfills the promise of the publisher's jacket notes. I would unreservedly award this chapter a five star rating.