Top 10 books about wine, beer, and spirits to read in lockdown
Tasting Victory, Gerard Basset
Gerard Basset, one of the most decorated wine professionals of his time, died in January 2019 after a long battle with cancer.
Basset wrote his memoirs while undergoing treatment, detailing “the life and wines of the world’s favourite sommelier.” The book recounts his journey from a small industrial town outside of Lyon and a difficult childhood, resolving to move to the UK after watching his football team, Saint-Etienne, lose to Liverpool in the European Cup in 1977, climbing up the hospitality career ladder in France and the UK, and finally receiving an OBE from Princess Anne at Windsor Castle in 2011.
Called Tasting Victory, the book also charts Basset’s business successes: co-founding and selling the innovative Hotel du Vin chain and founding, with his wife Nina, the much-loved Hotel TerraVina in 2007, a venture which, though started well, was not without challenges.
As Basset writes: “For all the planning we did before we bought the hotel, the one business scenario we didn’t envisage was the likelihood of a worldwide recession.”
Taking in his early days as a kitchen porter and the 2008 economic crash, the memoirs not only tell Basset’s story, but also shed light on how much the UK’s fine dining sector has changed throughout the years.
Tasting Victory is available in Hardback from Unbound.
Beer: Taste the Evolution in 50 Styles, Natalya Watson
Ever wondered why German brewers specialise in lager, or what the first English ale really tasted like?
Natalya Watson’s debut book is a taster’s guide for visual learners.
Each chapter focuses on a different ingredient in beer (malt, hops, yeast etc), and shows through some wonderful illustrations how they have developed throughout the centuries. The book starts in 1600s England, with an exploration of the rather smokey beers we used to drink for nutrition as much as inebriation, to the cacophony of styles around today that cater for all tastes and needs.
One of the wonderful things about beer geekery is the community. To get us through lockdown, Watson, one of our regular Global Beer Masters judges, launched a weekly book club for likeminded beer fans.
A Brief History of Lager, Mark Dredge
Fancy a deep dive into an oddly specific side of beer? Expert Mark Dredge delves into the history of lager, from how it was first brewed to what role was played by German monks and kings in the creation of the drink we know so well today.
The book was shortlisted in the 2019 André Simon Food & Drink Awards, and despite being a pleasant read, is far from a basic introduction to beer, revealing in-depth stories behind iconic brands, and showing how, without one of the world’s biggest brewers, the drink would undoubtedly not be what it is today.
How to Drink Without Drinking, Fiona Beckett
If you’ve found yourself drinking more than you used to before lockdown, you aren’t alone. Around 17% of Brits say they’ve increased their alcohol intake, according to a recent YouGov poll.
But if you’re find yourself reaching for the bottle more than you’d like, or you are part of the quarter of Brits actually want to cut back on their alcohol intake while bars and restaurants are closed, help is at hand.
Fiona Beckett’s book, How to Drink Without Drinking, is a no-nonsense, practical guide to cutting back, with recipes for grown-up serves that will help you recreate the sense of occasion that comes with a good glass of wine or a cocktail. They run the gamut of trendy drinks to satisfy all cravings, from homemade kombucha to reach fro when you want something dry and complex, to punkin spice latte’s to soothe those cravings for a drink to wind down the evening with.
Gold in the Vineyards, Laura Catena
This is one for the oenophiles yearning for a holiday right now.
Managing director of Argentina’s Catena Zapata, Laura Catena, has released a new illustrated book featuring what she believes are the 12 most celebrated vineyards in the world.
Catena said she had been “surprised” by the popularity of the Spanish version of the book in Argentina, and decided to translate it into English.
The book profiles 12 different vineyards, located in both the New and Old World, charting their history and explaining why they have become so well-known. It also comes with detailed maps, infographics and charming illustrations throughout. Perfect for a stealing a moment in the garden, on the balcony, or leaning out of the window of your London flat with with a glass of good claret and pretending you’re somewhere else.
The World Atlas of Wine, Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson MW
This should be on every aspiring Master of Wine’s bookshelf. Now in its 8th edition, the tome pioneered the use of wine-specific cartography to give wine a sense of place, and has since the first edition published in 1971 sold 4 million copies in 14 languages.
It won the Drink Award for the André Simon Food & Drink Book Awards 2019, which tells much of what you need to know about how highly the culinary world regards this work.
Wines & Recipes, Raul Diaz
What have you been cooking at home lately? Bored of the recipes you’ve already mastered, and need some new inspiration?
London-based Chilean sommelier, Raul Diaz, launched a wine-focused cookbook last year that matches 50 original recipes to specific grape varieties from around the world.
Diaz created the recipes taking inspiration from his travels – having worked as a sommelier on cruise ships for six years, the somm has visited over 100 countries.
Rather than matching the wines to the recipes, with each new recipe Diaz began with a specific grape variety in mind, and created the dish to pair with it.
Among the food and wine pairings in the book are Champagne and prawn salad; Alvarinho and salt cod; Garnacha and chickpeas with chorizo; Nebbiolo and a pumpkin fritter; Sauvignon Blanc and mango ceviche; and Sauternes and clotted cream-stuffed poached apricots.
So, if you needed a better reason than “Wednesday” to cave in and open that fancy bottle of Sauternes on your wine rack, this book should be right up your street.
The £30 book is due to be published at the start of June, so you’ll have to wait another month, but let’s face it, you will probably still need it then.
Britain in a Bottle: A Visitor’s Guide, Ted Bruning & Rupert Wheeler
Take a staycation from the comfort of your sofa with this delightful exploration of Britain’s drinks industry.
Britain in a Bottle is a colourful go-to guide to over 340 breweries, cider mills, vineyards and distilleries across Britain. From small single-man producers to large, world-famous labels, expert authors Ted Bruning, previously of the Good Beer Guide, and Rupert Wheeler, previously of Whisky Magazine, have brought them together in a book which celebrates their craftsmanship, describes who they are and what they do, and provides detailed information about how to visit and sample their wares.
The book also includes special features on everything from malt and yeast to sparkling wine, botanicals and orchards.
Britain in a Bottle is available from Foyles.
10 Great Wine Families, Fiona Morrison MW
Looking for a thorough introduction to the wine world hierarchy? The beautifully written second book from Steven Spurrier’s revived Academie du Vin series sees Fiona Morrison spend time with the Frescobaldi, Gaja, Torres, Perrin, Thienpont, Knoll, Niepoort, Palacios, Müller and Liger-Belair families, to see what makes them tick and drives their passion for viticulture.
Originally published in Flemish, the book has now been brought to an English-speaking audience to offer, “a viewpoint no other writer, as far as I know, has ever possessed: a seat at the heart of the action,” according to Spurrier.
10 Great Wine Families is available from the Academie du Vin.
Sangiovese, Lambrusco, and Other Vine Stories
One for the true viticulture geeks. Written by Attilio Scienza and Serena Imazio, this book seeks to challenge the established idea of “native” grapes that forms an important part of European winemaking tradition, not to mention the laws and regulations on appellation labelling.
It aims to demystify the origin of Europe’s famous grape varieties by analysing accounts of migration, conquest, and cross-cultural exchange that have formed an important part of wine commerce and viticulture for centuries.
Focusing on the history and ancestry of vines that are cultivated in Italy such as Sangiovese, Ribolla, Primitivo, as well as Moscato, Malvasia, and Lambrusco grapes, the book also includes international varieties such as Chardonnay, Merlot, Syrah, and Pinot in the conversation, highlighting cross-currents and contamination.
The work blends together genetic research on grapes’ DNA, ampelography and botanical studies, anthropology, the history of ancient civilisations, linguistics and literary studies, and questions whether we can call any grape variety indigenous to a specific country or region.
Sangiovese, Lambrusco, and Other Vine Stories can be purchased on Amazon Italy for €18,90 and on Amazon Kindle for US$9,99 (€ 9,02).