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.

A Feast of a Book

With Christmas coming I am telling you about some wonderful books that would make superb gifts for others or even a sneaky treat for yourself.

Recently I wrote about an excellent guide to the wines of Bordeaux and now I would like to recommend something altogether more sumptuous.

I am especially fond of Asian food, to my mind the cuisines of the Far East are some of the most exciting and mouthwatering of all. I find it almost impossible to resist the vibrant colours, fragrant aromas and exotic tastes of Asian food whether from Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, China, Korea, Japan, Sri Lanka or the Indian sub-continent. And yet as a wine lover I often find it very hard to find a wine that goes with such food. It is so very easy to limit myself to a narrow range of wines and styles that I know work with Asian food, that I could well miss many more exciting combinations and experiences.

Well, help is at hand. Two friends of mine, Patricia Guy and Edwin Soon have got together and created a beautiful book that deals with this very subject:

Patricia Guy & Edwin Soon researching their book

Wine With Asian Food: New Frontiers in Taste
By Patricia Guy and Edwin Soon
Published by Tide-Mark at $24.95
Also available from Amazon.com as well as Amazon.co.uk and Waterstones in the UK at around £20.99

Partnering Asian food with wine can be tricky and this book starts with an excellent analysis of why. In Europe we often drink wines from a country with food in the style of that country – drinking local with local often works well, Red Burgundy with Boeuf Bourguignon, Sancerre with goat’s cheese or Chianti with a rich pasta ragu. Expanding on the problem Patricia and Edwin tell us that with most Asian meals ‘several dishes are served at the same time and are shared by everyone present‘. This of course is different from the European tradition where there is one dominant dish and means that ‘the wine chosen for such a meal has to be versatile‘.

The other main difference with Asian food, although this is creeping more and more into what we eat over here too, is that the defining characteristic of the meal is not what is cooked, but how it is cooked. As Patricia and Edwin point out, ‘the true flavour of the dish may be determined by the cooking method, the sauce, the use of seasonings or the blending of ingredients. Indeed it may result from combination of any of these elements’.

In a perfect world, as the book points out, ‘when you combine wine with food, you are seeking a balance between these two elements‘. I know from personal experience that for many people this involves simply drinking and eating things that they like. For others, like me, it is a more agonised process of considering the nuances and hoping for a perfect combination.

I can be pretty good at putting food and wine together and achieve some superb matches, but I am the first to point out that this is often as a consequence of inspired guess-work as much as anything else and that is why I am so taken with this book. The authors really have put in a lot of serious experimentation and taken the luck out of the process. There are even experiments that the reader can do. So, in the comfort of their own home they can really get to grips with how wines and food interact and what works with what.

In order to makes sense of the food they have ignored the arbitrary political boundaries and instead studied the flavours in Asian foods to create a sort of sensory map or grid. This divides food up into five basic flavours: Fresh and Herbal, Savoury and Rich, Mild and Spicy and Light Smoky, Spicy & Smoky and Fiery and Sweet.

Similarly, by thinking about flavours, textures and weights of wines they came up with a classification to divide wine into seven categories: 1 – Crisp Juicy Whites and Dry Aromatic Wine, 2 – Juicy Whites, Medium rosés and Light Reds, 3 – Woody Whites and Soft-Tannin Reds, 4 – Light to Medium-Sweet Wines, 5 – Richly Sweet Wines, 6 – Red Wines with Chewy Tannin and 7 – Nutty and Rich Fortified Wines.

These classifications or categorisations are expanded and explained and then the bulk of the book takes the reader through a marvellous array of recipes together with a range of wine recommendations with each one. These are given in a very general way for the experienced food and wine matcher and in a much more specific manner to allow the beginner to get to grips with the system.

The whole book reads well and is clearly the culmination of a great deal of work, by which I mean eating and drinking. It looks lovely and is so richly illustrated with photographs of enticing dishes, bottles and vineyard scenes that reading it is nearly as good as travelling around Asia and experiencing the cuisine. Be warned though, there are lots of recipes together with tempting photographs of the finished dishes, so reading this book can seriously make you hungry.