A Lovely Wine Book for Christmas

I love wine and I love books and I really, really like books about wine, so when my friend Robert Smyth gave me a copy of his excellent new book I leapt into action and little more than a year later I wrote this review.

hungwine2Hungarian Wine: A Tasting Trip to the New Old World
Robert Smyth
ISBN-10: 1905131682
ISBN-13: 978-1905131686
September 2015, Blue Guides

Available in the UK from Amazon.co.uk for £10.71.
Available in the US from Amazon.com for $10.00.

Robert lives in Budapest, lucky man that he is, and he really knows his stuff about Hungarian wine, so it was natural for him to write an English language guide to the wines of Hungary. I say ‘an’ English language guide, but I suspect that this is the definitive guide of the moment.

nagyeged

Vineyards on the Nagy-Eged hegy hill near Eger. Copyright Robert Smyth.

If you don’t know, Hungary really does make superb wines. It isn’t just the sweet whites of Tokaji either. Hungary is perhaps most famous for white wines from regions such as Lake Balaton, Somló, Neszmély, Mór and Pécs, amongst many others, but  there are first rate reds from regions like Villány – in the south near the Croatian border, Sopron in the north west by the Austrian border and Eger in the north east.

If Hungarian wine has passed you by and you want to explore it, either from the comfort of your own home, or by physically visiting the country and travelling around seeing the wine regions and their wines, then this could be the perfect book for you.

At just 351 pages, this handsome paperback is not a mighty tome of reference, but something that you can carry around and read and indeed use to guide your movements on that Hungarian wine road trip. I like the sub-title, A Tasting Trip to the New Old World, because that describes the book perfectly. It really does take you on that trip, whether you physically leave home or not, and Hungary is in some ways the New Old World of wine.

Hungary Map

It’s nicely, but unfussily written and manages to convey the sense of excitement that I know Robert has about Hungarian wine. There is a useful general overview about the Hungarian wine scene and industry, there’s a chapter on the fascinating history of Hungarian wine – don’t skip that bit out, chapters on the wide and wonderful palette of grapes that Hungary grows – most of them are indigenous. Who could resist grape varieties with exciting names like Ezerjó, Hárslevelű, Irsai Oliver, Cserszegi Fűszeres, Királyleányka, FurmintJuhfark and Kéknyelű? I know that I can’t. Even grape varieties we know often have wonderfully exotic names in Hungary, for instance Blaufränkisch is Kékfrankos and Pinot Gris / Pinot Grigio is Szurkebarat.

Once we have enjoyed all that and started to get a flavour of the country,  we come to the real meat of the book. This takes us on a journey around the country, giving us a little background about each region before taking us through all the wineries that Robert recommends from that area. Robert manages to distill a lot of information into these portraits and you feel that you really get a glimpse of these people, their wineries and what they do, as well as what their wines are like. Then there is some information on where to eat and where to stay in each production zone. At the back there is also a section on the wine bars of Budapest – now I know how Robert fills his time.

I loved this book. I have not been to Hungary for a long time and it is obvious from reading this that Hungarian wine has come on even since then – although I thought it was very good at the time. So thank you Robert. You have plugged a good few gaps in my knowledge and whetted my appetite for a return trip to Hungary. I cannot wait and will remember to pack your book.

Robert Smyth’s Hungarian Wine: A Tasting Trip to the New Old World is a really pleasurable wine book and hedonist’s travel guide. It would make a great Christmas present for almost anyone who is interested in good wine and travel.

An invaluable book on winemaking – all the detail, but never dull

The beautiful vineyards of Lavaux.

The beautiful vineyards of Lavaux in Switzerland.

Recently a really useful and fascinating wine book came my way and so I thought that I would share it with you.

bookWine Production and Quality, 2nd Edition
Keith Grainger & Hazel Tattersall
ISBN: 978-1-118-93455-5
March 2016, Wiley-Blackwell

I am ashamed to say that I am not at all scientific. My understanding of science is pretty limited and so my love of wine is much more emotional than technical.

As a consequence I often struggle to understand the more complex aspects of wine.

For a long time now I have sought to solve this problem by finding a book that explains everything. So far my purchases have all seemed far too daunting and scientific for me to get to grips with and enjoy.

Luckily for me though, it now seems that help is at hand. Fellow Association of Wine Educators and Circle of Wine Writers members Keith Grainger and Hazel Tattersall, have recently published a book called Wine Production and Quality. It’s a handsome volume, well laid out and very readable.

Keith & Hazel 2

Hazel Tattersall and Keith Grainger.

I say volume, but actually it is two of their previous books, Vine to Bottle and Wine Quality: Tasting and Selection, updated and brought together in a single edition.

Part 1 concerns with wine production from the vineyard to the bottling line.
So if you want to understand degree days or grasp the differences between various soil types, this book might prove useful to you,

It crams a great deal into its 300 odd pages. There are chapters, or sections, dealing with everything you need to know, from the basics to the niggly little details that everyone except me seems to understand when winemakers mention them.

This was the most useful section of the book for me and I was glad to be able to get to grips with topics like yeast nutrients, the different methods of extraction, must concentration, reverse osmosis and oxygenation, whether micro, macro or hyper. The chapter on oak certainly extended my knowledge too – for instance I had never heard of the 205 litre Pièce Champenoise and feel enriched for having now done so. Also, and I don’t really know what it says about me, but I found the section on fining, filtration and stabilisation to be strangely fascinating.

Part 2 covers the arcane art of assessing wine quality, so a large section deals with wine tasting in real detail. This would be an excellent guide for someone just starting out in wine and can even provide some good revision for the rest of us.

It goes on to study the PDO system, classifications, ISO 9001, yields and planting density, wine faults and flaws and all manner of subjects that are incredibly useful and yet it is so hard to find them defined in a straightforward way.

I feel better informed for having read the book and comforted that it is on my bookshelves ready for when I need to refer to it. What I particularly like about it is that the book is divided up into manageable bite size chunks. They are never very long, often just a single succinct paragraph and so are very east digest.

Be warned though, they are quite moreish, so it is very easy to look something up and then to find yourself reading a few other interesting nuggets of information.

Anyway, I am happy – or at least as happy as I can be post Referendum – because now I can get to grips with details of wine production that I sort of know, but want to understand in greater detail.

So, thank you Keith and Hazel, you have filled a gap in my book collection that really needed to be filled and hopefully you have also filled gaps in my knowledge to give me a better understanding of the scientific and technical aspects of wine.

I highly recommend this book if you want to get more technical in your appreciation of wine, or if you just want to be able to look up all those niggly little things that people often mention when talking about wine. I, for one, will find this book extremely useful.

Wine Production and Quality, 2nd Edition is available from Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com and Wiley-Blackwell.

 

2 books to enjoy this Christmas

Most of us who love wine are either armchair hedonists from time to time, or know someone who is, so books about wine, food and food and wine travel usually make perfect Christmas presents. So, I thought I would tell you about a couple of books that have come my way recently.

Firstly a wine and travel atlas of Piemonte

The beautiful rolling hills of Piemonte.

The beautiful rolling hills of Piemonte.

Paul bookPiemonte Wine and Travel Atlas
by Paul Balke
Published by Château Ostade at €49.50
ISBN: 9789081376914
Available from the author here

Firstly I should tell you that Paul Balke is a friend of mine and earlier in the year I spent a very informative and pleasurable week in his company touring the Monferrato area of Italy’s Piemonte region, which includes Gavi. If you ever need to know anything about Piemonte wine or the wine regulations of the region, then Paul is your man. He is a very nice and knowledgable man and a real Piemonte insider who escorted our little group to some wonderful wineries and places, introduced us to the right people and took us to some memorable restaurants. Well, now he has written this handsome book about the whole region too – oh and as if that isn’t enough, he is a fine piano player as well. Talented people make me feel so inadequate!

It really is a lovely book and invaluable as a work of reference, Paul certainly knows the region. It’s good on the history and the geography of Piemonte as well as the wines themselves, so the reader can just read it, or dip in to it from time to time, or use it as a reference book. As you might imagine from his surname, Paul is Dutch and very occasionally you get the sense that the writer is not writing in his native tongue, well he isn’t, but it’s still very readable and informative.

The man himself, Paul Balke entertains.

The man himself, Paul Balke entertains.

The book is lavishly illustrated with photographs, many by Paul himself, that bring the place alive and show you exactly what he is talking about. Of course, the book is also an atlas, so there are plenty of maps that make sense of the complex and overlapping wine regions of Piemonte, as much as it is possible to do so anyway. You certainly learn how complicated the DOC and DOCg’s of the region are. What’s more Paul does not limit himself to Piemonte, but includes sections on the neighbouring Valle d’Aosta and Liguria regions.

There is lots of good stuff to read here, from fascinating detail about the history of the towns and the people of the region, to separate sections about areas, towns, buildings or local tradition or myths of special interest. There are also highlighted sections that give mouthwatering asides about local gastronomy, so we can learn about the link between Gavi and Ravioli for instance, or the chocolate shops of Turin

All in all this is a terrific book to dip into when you fancy a bit of armchair travel, or use it for reference, or as your guide for that long promised wine trip to Piemonte. However you use it, it will certainly open up the delights of Piemonte to you as never before.

My second book is a book about cheese

A fabulous cheese shop in Bordeaux.

A fabulous cheese shop in Bordeaux.

Cheesemonger_tales_1024x1024The Cheesemonger’s Tales
by Arthur Cunynghame
Published by Loose Chippings at £14.99
Available in the UK from Amazon @ £14.78
and on Kindle @ £12.86
ISBN Hardback 978-0-9554217-0-9
ISBN eBook 978-1-907991-04-2

Like most wine people I love cheese, but I do not know much about it, so for me this book was a good primer, as is a sedate stroll through the world of cheese by someone who really knows the subject. Arthur Cunynghame is the former owner of Paxton & Whitfield and before that he spent 18 years as a wine merchant and he brings this experience to play in this light, breezy and pleasurable book.

Arthur goes in to detail about how a handful of classic cheeses are made and goes down all sorts of byways exploring the history and styles of cheeses as well as some of the wines that he thinks partner them to perfection. In fact there is a whole section on partnering wine and cheese and very rewarding it is too, as it successfully challenges the widely held belief that red wine goes with cheese. The truth is far more complex than that, but personally, if I had to generalise, I would say that white wine is usually better with cheese than red.

The author also takes a look at food policy and how food is treated in the UK, and is quite happy to give us his views as well as the benefit of his experience and one thing he says really resonates with me. When he writes that we should ‘treat food as important’, I felt it really summed up the enormous advances in food that have happened in Britain during my lifetime and they have only happened because people increasingly feel that food is important and worth thinking about, talking about and enjoying properly.

I recommend this little book as a fun, light read, a good introduction to cheese and a lovely stocking filler for the hedonist in your life – even if it’s you. My only quibbles are the quality of the maps, which are truly terrible – as a cartographer myself I wince when I see them – and the photographs are too small, but these are details that do not undermine the book’s qualities.

Both of these books are full of lots of useful and interesting information and can be treated as books to read, or books that you refer to from time to time, and both would make great presents.

Books for wine & food lovers

Books are one of my great passions, so books about wine, food or travel always excite me. Here are a couple of books that may well interest some of you as Christmas presents, for the foodie in your life – even if it’s you.

Firstly a work of fiction

It constantly amazes me how few novels are set in and around the world of wine. So many of us enjoy wine that it seems to me to be natural subject matter for a novel, especially when you think how beautiful and exotic most wine regions are. However, few publishers seem to agree, so there are only a handful of novels set around wine and I am always on the lookout for more – perhaps I should write one? This piece details a few as do the responses.

So I was excited to be sent a review copy of:

PinotEnvyLargeCorrectedPinot Envy
by Edward Finstein
Published by Bancroft Press at $21.95 / £18.50
Available in the UK from Amazon @ £15.80
and on Kindle @ £6.91
Available in the US from Amazon @ $18.28
and on Kindle @ $11.02

First off this is a light read, a fun thriller type of book that aims more at amusement that suspense – if you think male Janet Evanovich that gives you some idea of the tone. Other reviewers have likened this to ‘noir’, more for the Pinot Noir joke I expect as I cannot imagine what sort of noir they have read.

No this is a caper more than anything else, being gentle, fun and even amusing every now and again. It is set in San Francisco and Napa Valley in that very alien – to me – wine world where everything is swanky with private wine collections and people only drink the finest wines, even our supposedly normal hero.

Woody Robins is that hero and he has a similar job to me actually, I liked him – he loves wine and cats, so what’s not to like – and we first meet him midway through investigating a missing bottle of wine. Not just any bottle either, but a double-magnum of Le Chambertin that once belonged to Napoleon Bonaparte before he became Emperor – quite a MacGuffin.

I cannot tell you that this is a great book or even particularly well written, but it is great fun and the part that deals with Woody’s life has a promising array of characters to enrich future instalments. I would happily read more books about Woody, but would hope for either more suspense or laughs as well as a tighter grip on the writing. Every now and again a clumsy phrase is used to get lots of information across and it does spoil the flow somewhat.

However, I am being fussy, as I should be, Pinot Envy is a good fun read that adds to the all too small library of novels set around wine and anyone who likes wine or a caper would enjoy reading it.

My second book is very different

final-front-cover-460x596The Great Cornish Food Book
by Ruth Huxley (editor)
Published by Cornwall Food & Drink at £17.99
Available from Great Cornish Food 

If the British food revolution has passed you by, then this book is a great place to start. I defy anyone not to fall in love with how this book looks and feels. Designed to resemble a scrapbook, every page is a joy, rich with photographs and content. It would be torture to read it while hungry!

There are chapters on Cornish seafood, telling us all about sardines, curing fish, filleting fish, the effect of Rick Stein on the county and much more as well as some wonderful recipes – the crab sandwich looks delicious.

The photographs make me salivate!

The photographs make me salivate!

Then there are sections on foraging for food like wild garlic and wild strawberries, as well as more coastal treats like samphire, laver and sea beets. Frankly there is a wonderful surprise on every page , the chapter on Cornish cheeses in particular had me salivating, while the Cornish pasty recipe made me really want to have a go.

Not sure that I could resist!

Not sure that I could resist!

Rather wonderfully it isn’t all about food either, Cornish wine, beer and cider also get a look in, so there really is something for everyone.

This book is a constant delight and would make a great present for anyone who loves food. It would also be a wonderful gift for anyone who does not realise how good British food now is and how seriously food is now taken in this country, so any French friends or relatives – anyone got Jacques Chirac’s address?

So there you are, two book ideas in good time to go on your Christmas gift list.

Inventing Wine – the history of wine debunked

Ancient amphorae at Domaine Gerovassiliou in Greece

Ancient amphorae in the wonderful wine museum at Domaine Gerovassiliou in Greece

I love history and part of the pleasure I take in wine comes from this interest. Anyone who has attended one of my courses or tastings – and if you haven’t you really are missing out on something – knows that to me wine is closely intertwined with history. It has always seemed to me that there is a cultural identity and rationale for all wines and wine styles. This is by definition stronger in Europe where wine making has been a part of the landscape for far longer than it has in new world regions.

A glimpse of how it was - Priorat 1997

A glimpse of how it was – Priorat 1997

For a long time though I have questioned whether we get it quite right and if these identities are as strong as we like to believe. In the wine world we take for granted that there is a continuum from the Ancients to now. Wine originated somewhere near Georgia, Transcaucasia, and spread from there to the Greeks and Romans who took the vine and wine making to other parts of the Mediterranean and, more importantly France.

But in truth I know how great the improvements in grape growing and wine making have been in my time in the trade. So, I wonder how true this continuum really is? I have suspected that wine in the past was very different from how it is today. I am certain it is riper, cleaner, fresher, fruitier and technically better than at any previous point in history and many developments have made it that way.

I certainly like the idea of being in touch with the ancients when I drink wine, that feeling of beeing at one remove from the Roman tending vines in Campania or the monks of Clos Vougeot when we drink a modern wine from those same slopes, but how true is it?

The original wine press at Clos Vougeot, still in occasional use

The sixteenth century wine press at Clos Vougeot, still in occasional use

I do wonder, given how recent many of the things are that we think of as traditional. Fish and chips and eating chocolate only appeared a few years before my grandfather was born while Indian food must have been entirely different before Portuguese sailors brought the chili to Asia and Italian cuisine must have been similarly unrecognisable before the tomato arrived in Europe. As for wine traditions, I am well aware that contrary to the dry examples we expect today, Entre-Deux-Mers and Savennières were sweet until the 1950s.

Recently I discovered a wonderful new book on the history of wine. It questions many things that marketeers want us to believe and constantly made me look at many aspects of wine afresh:

Inventing Wine Cover ImangeInventing Wine: a new history of one of the world’s most ancient pleasures
by Paul Lukacs
Published by Norton at $28.95 / £20.00
Also available from Amazon.com as well as Amazon.co.uk and Waterstones in the UK.

Reading Paul Lukacs’s book has reinforced my suspicion that in reality there is very little link between wine as we know it and what was consumed in the past. Nowadays we choose wines for different reasons and we expect different things from them compared with wine drinkers of yesteryear.

Paul Lukacs points out that today’s well made wines in fact have very little in common with the rudimentary liquids our forbears drank. Central to this fascinating book is the realization that for most of history wine has not been drunk out of choice at all but nessecity. What’s more there has been little to chose between wines from individual places as they would all taste unpalatable to our modern palates. Indeed unless one was lucky enough to drink it very soon after harvest, all wine would have tasted sour and unpleasant throughout much of history. As Paul Lukacs says, wine was simply “a source of nourishment and inebriated escape.” Therefore it was not until quite recent times that wine came to be enjoyed for its taste, but for what else it could provide. Wine was mysterious, early man could not understand how it was made and so it was widely believed to have magical powers and to be a link to the gods, a view that persisted for thousands of years. What is more water was largely impure and dangerous to drink, so wine was the safer option, whatever it tasted like.

The evolution of the wine bottle was crucial to the development of wine as we know it today. These are at Domaine Gerovassiliou in Greece.

The evolution of the wine bottle was crucial to the development of wine as we know it today. Before wine could be bottled and sealed with a cork it was a race against time to finish the cask before the wine turned completely sour.These examples are at Domaine Gerovassiliou in Greece.

The mention of Pliny as being more a connoisseur of resin than the actual wine was a fascinating insight into how awful ancient wine must have tasted for the flavourings to be so important. Pliny’s writing about the characteristics of the different resins though did put me in mind of how we discuss oak today – and although it does other things, surely most oak is merely a flavouring for most modern wines?

Lukacs makes a pretty convincing argument that true modern wine as we understand it has only emerged from about 1660 onwards when Arnaud de Pontac began selling his wine as the product of a single estate. This wine was Château Haut-Brion and Samuel Pepys tasted it on Friday 10 April 1663, memorably recording in his diary; “drank a sort of French wine, called Ho Bryan, that hath a good and most particular taste that I never met with.”

Another glimpse of the past, vino rancho ageing outside in demijohns, Castille 1997

Another glimpse of the past, vino rancio ageing outside in demijohns, Castille 1997

It was only handful of wines though that could become such vins fins, as they needed to command a high price and be sold to consumers who were happy to pay that price. Most consumers had little or no choice about what they drank until many hundreds of years later when technology was finally applied to even the most ordinary wines – I well remember how basic Jumilla wines tasted during the 1970s and would not like to experience them again. Broadly speaking until quite recently, in historical terms, a high quality wine was one that had few or no defects. Only relatively recently did it come to be seen as one with “particularity and provenance” – the concept that came to define vins fins. It was these different characteristics – or particularity – that made some wines more famous and sought after than others.

I found it especially illuminating that the word terroiris actually a recent one, certainly less than a hundred years old and not the ancient term that I had always assumed. Which begs the question if the concept existed before the word and if so, how did they explain it?

What is more wine does not exist in isolation, so this book touches on social history generally. The urbanisation and secularisation of Europe, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, beer, spirits, tea, coffee and chocolate and the industrial revolution all play their part in the story, as do more modern developments in wine making and globalisation.

A modern winery in Bordeaux 2012

A modern winery in Bordeaux 2012

This is no holiday book for the average consumer, you need to be interested and it leans towards an academic style – indeed I much preferred the content to the writing, but Paul Lukacs’s story of how fine wine – vin fins as opposed to vin ordinaries – slowly developed in various places from the seventeenth century onwards is a fascinating read. I certainly feel enriched and better informed for reading this book. It seems to have something new to say on every page and puts a great many things into context that have perhaps been falsely romanticised for too long.

Port and the Douro – perfect for Christmas

In my quest to tell you about some great wine books this Christmas I am currently reading the third edition of Port and the Douro by Richard Mayson. What better subject is there to read about at Christmas?

Richard Mayson

Richard Mayson

Port book coverPort and the Douro
by Richard Mayson
with illustrations by Leo Duff
Published by Infinite Ideas at £30.00
Also available from Amazon.com as well as Amazon.co.uk and Waterstones in the UK at around £27.00.

It is a sadness to me that I do not drink very much Port as I am very fond of the stuff and find it fascinating. I also regret the fact that as yet I still have not visited the Douro, although I hope to put that right very soon. In the meantime I will have to experience the region through Richard Mayson’s eyes and writing.

Luckily I am in capable hands. Richard clearly knows his subject and writes well in an authoritative and almost learned style.

Much to my surprise I greatly enjoyed the first section which gives a general history of Portugal as it relates to Port and the Douro, her wars, politics, culture and gastronomy – my only quibble would be the reference to Oliver Cromwell as a ‘Puritan’, which he certainly was not – but that aside I had learnt a great deal of interesting stuff by page 6.

Given the seeming long history of Port drinking and how closely it is associated with the British in our minds, I found it fascinating that Baltic and Hanseatic merchants actually got the trade going before we Brits arrived – even the Scots beat the English to it in the years before the Union.

I was also astonished by the fact that Port was a dry wine until well into the Eighteenth Century and had the English nickname of ‘black-strap‘. As this term is nowadays associated with molasses I had always understood it to be an archaic colloquial word for Royal Navy rum, but apparently it originally referred to Port.

The development of the wine bottle and of the style of Port we know today seem to go pretty much hand in hand and it seems that it was not really until the beginning of the Nineteenth Century that Port as we know it appeared on the scene. The first recorded use of a Port house name – Croft – as a brand did not occur until 1810 and the practice was not commonplace for another eighty years or so – so only around the time my grandfather was born.

After all this wonderful background Richard settles down to inform us about the geography and geology of the region together with sections that detail the grape varieties that they use. There are maps too and profiles of all the estates marked on them.

The chapter that deals with how Port is made is endlessly interesting – the throw away line about the return to the use of lagares in the the 1990s, after they had been pretty much unused since the mid 1970s, and what that has meant for quality I found very illuminating. Surely it can be no coincidence that this overlaps with something of a Port renaissance.

The chapter on Port Types – referring to the wines rather than the people –  is endlessly fascinating fleshing out details on types of wine that I thought I knew and detailing odd little facts on the classifications and all the styles from Tawny to Rosé and Colheita to Vintage by way of White Port and Moscatel do Douro.

Vintage Port enjoys such fame that it deserves and receives a chapter to itself with vintage details going back to 1844. There is also a directory of Port producers and shippers, which I for one will find invaluable.

Add in sections that deal with the Douro’s table wines of the region, the storage and service of Port and what the future may hold for this great wine region, then I think Richard has done the Port proud and may well have produced the definitive book on the subject.

I have only seen an E book version and not the real thing, so have not felt it or flicked through it as I normally would and therefore have no idea if the book is has that undefinable lovely, tactile and pleasurable feeling that a good book should, but I did like the contents very much.

It is an excellent and beautifully illustrated book that covers Port and the Douro in depth and detail. It’s not a light read, but a serious volume for people who are genuinely interested in the subject and those who need a reference book on this fascinating subject.

 

For the Love of Cheeses – a lovely guide to buying Cheese & Wine in London

Doctor Samuel Johnson famously said; ‘when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.’

As a Londoner I think he got it spot on, it is a great city, vibrant colourful and teeming with life and it has got better and better over the forty odd years that I have known it. The things to see and do have improved, as have the shops and especially the food. There are restaurants the equal of anywhere, casual cafés that remain little local secrets and gastro-temples with world-wide reputations. There are wine shops, food shops and delicatessens that keep Londoners supplied with good things to eat and drink. Some of them are famous to all of us, while others remain known only to the people who live in the part of London that it serves. That is the thing about London you see, it doesn’t really have just one centre, but is in reality a group of villages joined together and lots of enjoyment can be had exploring these mislaid corners of the UK’s capital.

So, if you are a foodie, how on earth do you keep track of all the best places in London to buy your wine and cheese? Other than heading off to the well known Harrods Food Hall, John Lewis’s Food Hall, Borough Market or Whole Food Market in South Kensington it isn’t always easy.

Well, now you can relax as help has arrived. Recently I have been telling you about some rather lovely books about wine and food that I think will make great presents for Christmas and here is another:

The London Cheese and Wine Guide
Published by Allegra at £11.95
Also available from Amazon.co.uk and Waterstones in the UK at between £9.10 and £11.95.

Even if you don’t want to buy any of the things they mention this is a beautiful little book whose contents cannot help but make your mouth water. The publishers claim that it is the ‘definitive guide to the best places for cheese and wine in London‘ and to me that is a very exciting prospect indeed. I love wine shops, book shops, food shops and cheese shops. Time spent rooting around in any of those is never time wasted and I have certainly become aware that London is home to more and more cheese merchants of late, I have just not known where many of them were. Now I can just flick through this guide, drool over the photographs and head off to wherever they recommended.

Even if you never use it to buy anything it is a lovely book to own, if you like cheese and wine that is. It is beautifully designed and feels strangely tactile and satisfying to hold while the photographs get me salivating every time I dip in.

The book is more of a guide for reference than one to read, although I have whiled away a few happy hours with it, and it is well laid out and easy to navigate your way around.

The first section deals with cheese, including how artisan cheese is made, followed by a chapter listing London’s best specialist cheese shops. They are each given a page with opening hours and contact details together with the owner’s name, an idea of how many cheeses they stock. There is a pricing index too as for each shop we are given an idea of the price they charge for Brie de Meaux, Mature Cheddar, Parmigiano-Reggiano and Stilton.

It isn’t only cheese that goes with wine though, so the next chapter covers London’s best delicatessens in exactly the same way. Then just when you think the possibilities for buying artisan cheese must surely be exhausted you reach a section on London’s food markets. This brief chapter outlines the cheese specialists at Borough Market while a market directory and cheese trader grid tell you who sells good cheese in every London market.

We have now arrived at the mid-point of the book and it moves on to wine. An excellent chapter gives specialist wine merchants similar treatment to the cheese shops, some of them are pretty well known, but many are tucked away and might not have sprung to mind before. Then just to give even more food for thought, this is followed by a really exciting chapter on London wine bars and one on restaurants who offer a particularly good selection of cheese and wine.

Then just when you are feeling utterly stuffed they provide a section on the correct way to taste cheese and how to pair cheese with wine – which is a lot more difficult than most people imagine.

Any Londoner, or visitor armed with this book, will now be able to track down all these wonderful, but tucked away, little cheese and wine shops as well as the perfect places to enjoy cheese and wine together.

It’s not a big book, but it is bursting with  lovely things and will give you, or the person you give it to, a great deal of pleasure.

Photographs by kind permission of Allegra.