on 25 September 2009
I was given this book for my birthday recently and thought 'What a pretty book' and `What great cartoons.' Then I started dipping into it and realised that the packaging was the least part of it - Simon Hoggart writes about the sort of wine most of us want to drink, in terms most of us can understand, and he's as funny about wine as he is about politicians. Practical, too, as when he recommends prosecco as a wine that can make people feel very merry without actually being drunk. There are 100 wines in the book, only a handful of them outside most people's price range and quite a lot available in supermarkets or Majestic. I'm going to start with Albarino and work my way through to Zind-Humbrecht Gewurztraminer and hope I don't run out of lifetime before I'm finished.
I enjoyed reading this well-written and entertaining book by an obvious wine-lover as opposed to a wine snob. It's an attractive book to look at with lots of colour illustrations of the wine-labels of the author's 100 recommended wines. There are good cartoon illustrations with comical quotes from the author's and other wine-drinkers' writings. There's lots of sensible advice about how to get the best value in your wine-purchases and encouragement to be more adventurous. He's right to say that German wines are neglected: many of them are superb and often with only about 8% alcohol: a clear advantage for keeping ones units down.
One thing that struck me repeatedly with his wine recommendations was that he didn't really deal with the fact that wine from an area or even from a single producer can vary greatly from year to year. For example, 2005 in Beaujolais was a great year: we bought lots and find that the quality is so good it can go with food that would normally require something weightier, whereas 2003 was disappointing. In some years even the famous wines can be relatively poor and you'd do better to buy a less exalted wine from a good year. I absolutely agree with the author that restaurants are not the place to buy fine wine, where a 100 to 400% mark-up applies.
I've imbibed (in moderation) a lot of different wines with my dinners over the last 35 years and one of the most important lessons has been how important it is to match the wine with the food your eating. Like the author I've found that a simple meal can be raised to a feast by having it with a wine that compliments the food. The obverse is also true: a great wine is often shown to best advantage by relatively simply-prepared food, for example, fine burgundy with a rack of lamb and dauphinoise potatoes (yum, yum!).
I suppose the author couldn't deal with every aspect of the pleasure of wine but I think an omission from this book is that there is no mention of what a dramatic difference the shape of wine glasses can make. In 1988 my husband an I were staggered by the effect of the Riedel Sommeliers burgundy glass on our wine from that region and as a consequence have accumulated a range of Riedel glasses of varying shapes designed for different wines. They have greatly enhanced our enjoyment and made us regret all the wine tastings we'd done inf the past using Paris goblets: which are on average do the least for wines! It not just that our wines taste better it's also fascinating to pour a particular wine from one shaped glass to another and back again and discover that the flavour and bouquet switch back and forth. The effect of these glasses is not confined to exalted wines.
Not surprisingly the author points the reader to the Spectator magazine's wine club (he writes the wine column) but I'd also recommend Decanter Magazine that has alerted us to many delicious wines: some of them remarkably good-value.
This is a cracking little book and was fun and easy to read. I'm no wine expert but I think I can pick out a good bottle of wine, but I'm a strictly under £10 person. This book does have a couple of wines along that price point but I found the majority were £10-£40 bottles, some as much as £100+. Unless it's Champagne, I just wouldn't enjoy a bottle costing that much, regardless of how nice it tasted.
The book is aimed at the normal person with a few quid to spend, not solely at the wine buffs, which is good. I did find the advice fairly broad though, like, recommending Chablis as an overall wine rather than a specific bottle that the author found to be good.
Also, the wines recommended are really not available in supermarkets and you won't end up with a specific list of outstanding wines, more a good general pointer towards wine that should be good.
One thing it did open my eyes to, was buying random, no name bottles of wine, even at the sub £5 end of the market. When you understand why some wines are very cheap, it makes you more willing to try them. I bought 10 or 12 bottles of random cheapish wine and almost all were nice, I would never have done that before reading this book.
Worth a read.
This little book too my eye since I do enjoy the occasional glass of wine or three. Now I may have gotten the wrong end of the stick but in suggesting that this is a book of 100 wines for the discerning drinking I had imagined that the wines would be assessable. Now by assessable I mean ASDA, Tesco or Sainsbury since 90% of the run of the mill shopper buys wine from these supermarkets with their groceries. Unfortunately after reading the book, selecting a number of the wines from the suggested producer I found that it would be easier to find a Château Lafite Rothschild rare vintage then the majority of the wines recommended.
Now I should realise that its unlikely that the Wine commentator for the Spectator buys his wines at these supermarkets but it does seem that the title suggests something this book isn't ie a wine drinkers dictionary of 100 affordable and assessable wines.
One last gripe, because i did enjoy the book. I love white Rioja and there is one in the book. But I think its the most expensive wine recommended and I have yet to find it in Waitrose or Majestic Wine and I know from experience that there are some cracking white Riojas out there.
The book, on the upside, is well written and interesting with some good anecdote and cartoons. But I am still looking for abook about good, easy accessible affordable wine.
on 18 November 2009
Enjoyable and often funny, Hoggart's book is a compendium of short pieces: in 100 cases, these are about one of his favourite wines: interspersed with those are ten features about wine-related things e.g. reading wine labels, the judgement of Paris etc.
For those who don't know, it's informative and for those who do, the stories are wittily told.
His "100 wines" aren't exactly that because in some cases, he's talking about a specific chateau e.g. Chateau D'Angludet in the Medoc, in other cases, he's talking about an appellation e.g. St Chinian and in one case, an entire country, e.g. German wine.
But you can kind of see why he does it: that's how wine drinkers see the world, and this never grates.
His basic thesis is that it's worth being a connoisseur, but not a snob, and that the world is full of fabulous wine well beyond the 'big names'. In a typical example, he recommends not buying Puligny Montrachet as it may be great but it's overpriced: rather, try St Aubin, which is the next door village and whose wines are about as good at half the price. This isn't ground-breaking stuff, but he has other tips which are.
You really get the feeling that he knows his stuff and he's very funny about the wines, the moments he's had a chance to drink them, and throws in various juicy titbits. He also sticks to his guns: it would have been much trendier to name a Lebanese chateau other than Chateau Musar (e.g. Massaya or Kefraya) but he reckons Musar is still the best and I suspect he's right to think so.
One little point, though, is that he'll often make great play about finding a bargain, and affordability when it isn't really affordable for most people: granted, Chateau Climens may be "a fraction of what you'd pay for Yquem" but what Hoggart doesn't tell you that it will still set you back £50 for a half-bottle.
A lot of his 'bargains' are only bargains for those who have a considerable income. Thus, I reckon that fewer than 10 of his 100 wines could be bought for under a tenner, and when he says, "very reasonable", what he means is £15 to £20.
This is fine, as long as it's what you're expecting.
So yes, this is really enjoyable and also informative, and this would make a great Christmas present for an uncle who likes wine. But don't give it to anyone looking to trim back their lifestyle.
I really enjoyed this book. It's written in the engaging style that Hoggart's readers in the Guardian and elsewhere will be used to. As you might expect from him, it's very unstuffy. This is definitely not a book for wine snobs. However, the word 'discerning' in the title is apt. If you get your Jacob's Creek from Tesco, this book is not for you. True, it contains pages on some wines I'm never remotely likely to drink - Cote Rotie, for example, might be sublime wine, but at such a sublime price that it would deter most people. Hoggart does though include wines available at reasonable rates in places like Majestic or Waitrose and he lists suppliers of all his selections at the back, which is very useful. There's a lot of debunking here as well - not least of the French, though he also reveres some of the best Burgundies, which he clearly prefers to Bordeaux. He explains the hierarchy of the latter quite well. I have two niggles and neither would appear to be Hoggart's fault. One is to do with editing - there's a lot of repetition which should have been sorted. Secondly, someone's decided to take a random sentence in each review and highlight it in a grey bold, which I found intensely annoying. It achieves absolutely nothing positive. In the one page where it's omitted, where he's waxing lyrical about Tuscany, the whole page reads so much better.
I loved the drawings! There are colour images of the wine labels which I thought a good idea. Hoggart does try to get us to think that a really decent bottle costing perhaps £60 might be well worth shelling out for on a really special occasion and when you think that about 70,000 people paid way more than that to get into Twickenham this Autumn, you begin to think that they'd have been far better entertained by one [or more] wines from this book!
This is a book that gently and eloquently attempts to nudge the average wine buyer toward the larger, slightly scarier and more expensive world of wine buying outside of their local friendly supermarket. It stresses that these are personal choices, so by definition there are many others that readers would possibly prefer, but it's strength is the infectiously warm and witty way that it guides the reader through the huge variety of wine now available in Britain.
It might be summarised as:
(1)venture somewhere other than a supermarket to by your wine
(2) be prepared to spend a little more than you usually would
Nice (and appropriate) gift for Xmas.
This book hardly needs another review, let alone endorsement, but here it is: full of information about interesting wines, some you might know of, others you aspire to know and a few little known gems, it is tantalising. A good read by itself, it becomes something else when you discover some of the wines in the supermarket: Albarino, out of sight on the top shelf at Tescos or a Rheinfalz in Lidl of all places, making it a textbook on a voyage of discovery. I have certainly learned something from this book and discovered a few new favourite wines that I might not, otherwise, have looked for or tried: wholly enriching.
A nice easy to read guide. Good thorough description of flavours and made me think a little bit more about which wines I might in fact prefer. A nice gift for someone who loves wine but doesn't necessarily know much about what they are drinking, history etc.
Simon Hoggart wants to explode the myth that wine experts are snobs. Unfortunately he does the opposite in a book laden with name-dropping and showing off about exotic drinking locations. Dull and boring.