By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 26 March 2022
This year I was privileged to be the Drinks Judge at the Andre Simon Food & Drink Book Awards.
Whilst this might sound fun, my job entailed reviewing no less than 36 drinks books. Lucky I enjoy reading…in fact it was a pleasure as so many of the books on gin, beer, whisky, cider, cocktails, champagne and wine were beautifully illustrated and well-presented.
The challenge for me was to whittle the entrants, all published in 2021 and sent in by publishers from around the world, down to a shortlist of just four books. I then had to choose two winners: one for the best ‘Drink Book of the Year’ and another for the ‘John Avery Award’.
The criteria I was looking for was a book that broke new ground offering a fresh interpretation on a subject with original research, which was also a joy to read and could stand the test of time. This year the wine selection was particularly impressive with all four shortlisted books on this subject, but all very diverse and highly original.
This year’s winner of the Drink Book Award was Inside Burgundy by Jasper Morris MW (£65 BBR Press) which is without doubt the best book in the world on Burgundy – and perhaps the best ever written on this famously fragmented region.
Morris lives in Burgundy – and is part of the wine community experiencing its ups and downs. His understanding and knowledge of the region is unsurpassed and this new book takes us ‘inside’ the region with Morris’ personal astute insights throughout.
As he rightly says Burgundy’s prices are getting so high for leading premier and grand crus, winelovers may be considering abandoning the region altogether – so he cleverly guides us to ‘beautifully-made wines from less expensive appellations’.
What I really enjoyed about Morris’ book was the minutiae of detail and its superb intricate maps, illustrating vineyard location and ownership from northerly Yonne to southern Maconnais. Morris also offers insights into Burgundy’s geology, inter-marriages, prominent families, land prices and its future. This is a valuable informative guide written by the world’s leading expert on Burgundy. There is no doubt we will still have this book on our shelves in ten years time.
The winner of the John Avery Award was a very different, strikingly colourful tome. The South America Wine Guide by Amanda Barnes (£35 www.southamericawineguide) is a trailblazing quirky self-published book. A highly impressive first book from a young writer with beautifully descriptive prose and breath-taking images highlighting the raw beauty of this dramatic continent – it heralds a new era in ‘wine travel’ books.
Barnes’ coverage of 10 countries across South America is ground-breaking both in depth and range. Her 40 new artisan wine region maps (some of which have never been mapped before), her new insights into Peru, Bolivia and the Criolla grape family make this book so original and compelling. I particularly loved her description of the old vines wrapped around the trunks high up in the pink peppercorns trees of Bolivia.
Having lived in South America for a decade, this astonishingly beautiful book is the culmination of Barnes’ journey – and she includes local foods, wines and cocktails along the way – as well as handy travel tips on where to stay, toilet talk and coping with altitude. This is a magical personal visual journey from a passionate explorer with plenty of input from her fellow ‘amigos’ – winemakers and sommeliers.
The two further shortlisted books were also on wine – and very diverse.
Foot Trodden: Portugal and the Wines that Time Forgot by Simon J Woolf and Ryan Opaz (£25 www.foottrodden.com) is another highly impressive self-published book with an eye-catching cover, exquisite pen and ink map of Portugal on the endpaper with stunning photography throughout and insightful chapters.
It lifts the lid on Portugal’s past and present – offering a unique series of regional snapshots highlighting chosen maverick winemakers. I loved the chapters on Alentejo’s ‘talha’ pot producers, intrigue within the Madeiran community and Portugal’s style police highlighting alienations between winemakers and conservative classification board which – according to Woolf and Opaz – is ‘holding Portugal back’.
Woolf is a brilliant storyteller with a journalistic style which is so easy to read and very inspiring – and this book is so beautifully produced with a clever format it could perhaps be the start of a new series by the dynamic Woolf/Opaz duo.
The final shortlisted book was Matt Walls’ Wines of The Rhone (£35 Infinite Ideas). Undoubtedly one of the best books I have read in the Classic Wine Library series. To achieve his goal covering this huge French region, Walls went to live in the Rhone with his family to research and write this book – and it really shows with his indepth exploration.
We have needed a good book on the Rhone for some time – and here it is - a highly impressive book. With his highlighting of current issues from climate change, bush vines v trellising to whole bunch fermentation – this book is essential reading for all wine students – and all offered in a digestible format which would suit the wine consumer.
What I particularly liked about Walls book was his focus on the underdog. He takes us to the smaller lesser-known appellations and artisan producers we so rarely hear about – and his great value tips are particularly valuable for Rhone wine lovers.
Join Rose’s in-person & virtual wine tastings www.rosemurraybrown.com