The annual André Simon Awards for best food and drink book were awarded a few weeks ago. The drinks winner was Wine Grapes: A complete guide to 1,368 vine varieties, including their origins and flavours by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz (Penguin, £120). The others shortlisted were good, but it would have been shocking if any had beaten this extraordinary feat of scholarship, years in the making. No one will ever attempt to write a competing work; they won’t need to.
Books like this cater for one extreme of interest in wine: those who want to study the subject with academic rigour.
At the other extreme sit those who want to pick up some basics so they can have a better practical understanding of what they’re tasting. People like this are often intimidated by the mystique (a load of hooey) and terminology (some of it silly but some of it essential) in which wine-speak is presented.
For these wine lovers, a new book offers help. The Bluffer’s Guide to Wine by Jonathan Goodall and Harry Eyres (£6.99) is a revised edition of a book originally written by Eyres. It purports to tell you how to impress people with wine knowledge you hardly possess, but that is a disguise for an excellent introduction to wine appreciation. It’s done with good humour throughout, again using a light-hearted tone as a wrapper for making serious points. Such as: “Italian wine is so complicated and disorganised that even Italian wine experts are bluffing.”
There are couple of gaps however. Of Romania, Goodall and Eyres say only that the country’s pinot noir is worth buying “when you’re hard up”.
With respect to the writers, I beg to differ. Soli Pinot Noir 2009 (£9.95 from Swig.co.uk) is a pinot that you would quite easily mistake for a high-level burgundy, but at only a fraction of the price. Snap it up.
Nor do Goodall and Eyres have very much to say about that other Black Sea country, Bulgaria, but they might very well have if they had tasted Paparuda Pinot Noir 2012, Cramele Recas, a youthful and vigorous example at an incredibly good price — £5.21 from Adnams (cellarand kitchen.adnams.co.uk) if you buy an unmixed case.
Two unexpected finds from unlikely places. And about that, I am not bluffing.