My Round: Reading between the wines

From rum to cocktails, it's been another vintage year for books about drinks - so long as they don't come from a vineyard

The only thing more pleasurable than refraining from saying "I told you so" is giving in to temptation and saying exactly that. Last year I opined that Dave Broom's Rum (Mitchell Beazley) was one of the best drinks books of 2003, and now it's my solemn duty to announce that I wasn't the only person who thought so. The book has just been named Glenfiddich Drink Book of the year, edging out Dale de Groff's The Craft of the Cocktail (published by Proof Publishing, and mentioned several times in this column) and Richard Mayson's The Wines and Vineyards of Portugal (Mitchell Beazley).

I cannot claim to be a disinterested observer here, as I was one of the judges in this year's awards. What I can offer, by way of compensation, is the gratifying news that this was by no means an easy decision to reach. Last year was not a mega-vintage year for specialist wine books, but it was a good year for drinks books in general, and we judges had a great time reading through them. Of Broom's book I wrote late last year that he "takes us with immaculately rendered detail through the production process, and through the producing nations and distilleries. He appreciates each country's rum as a distinctive local expression, and is sensitive to the political as well as the technical dimensions of a drink about which he is manifestly passionate." I still agree with myself.

Any of the books on the shortlist could have taken top prize, and have done just that in other competitions: Mayson's, for instance, had won the vote at the André Simon awards. Not only that, but the winner in the year's other major booze-book awards, the Prix Lanson, was one that didn't feature in either of the other two shortlists. The book in question is Simon Woods's I Don't Know Much About Wine... But I Know What I Like (Mitchell Beazley). This fine little volume represents a newish sub-genre in the literature of alcohol, the unashamedly populist book aimed at people who don't care much for the technicalities but care a lot about informing their taste-buds. A book like this needs an author like Woods, who could, if he chose, pack your skull with information about trellising and oak staves, but who knows when this kind of information is de trop. I Don't Know... is for people whose interest in wine is at its initial stages. It's bite-sized and succinct, written with good humour and irreverence: "As for other wine paraphernalia, like thermometers, drip stops, port tongs, and decanting cradles? You don't need them. Spend your money on wine instead."

Woods's book, like the others of its sub-genre, aims at eliminating wine-snobbery in all its forms while fully respecting the fundamental truths. He would never pretend, like some soi-disant wine populists, that a £4.99 Chilean Merlot can be just as good as a great Pomerol. But neither does he pretend that the pleasure in wine drinking lies solely in exalted experiences. And this is a quality that he shares with the Glenfiddich winner. In Rum, Broom is not concerned with pointing out the unique excellence of this or that rare bottling which no one can buy. He wants to bring in new drinkers to the understanding and enjoyment of this hugely complicated drink.

So why, you may ask, did we at the Glenfiddich Awards not agree with our counterparts in judging the other prizes? It is partly because no single book just stood out in a class by itself, as sometimes happens. But it is also because there is always a certain amount of subjectivity in these things. And more important, last year's crop of books illustrates the diversity of approaches to drinks writing - and the diversity of readerships. It is a pleasure to see both readers and writers get the attention they deserve.

Top Corks: Three off-dry apéritifs

Albert Mann Pinot Blanc Auxerrois 2002 £7.99, Oddbins Honeyed and floral, but tastefully restrained on the palate and with refreshing acidity to cut through the peachy, creamy fruit.

Moscato d'Asti £3.99, Marks & Spencer Sweet Italian fizzies are not to everyone's taste. But when well made, like this one, they're a jolly mouthful of grapey refreshment. One glass will do.

Tesco Finest Mosel Saar-Ruwer Riesling 2003 £4.99, Tesco Entry-level Mosel Riesling, hinting at the greatness of its region without scaring off the penurious. Another good bet for fish.

Comments