It took American writer and Francophile (he has a flat in Paris that he lives in part-time) Jon Bonné eight years to write The New French Wine (Ten Speed Press). That’s hardly surprising when you consider the amount of information processed to create this masterful guide.
“Because we see France as the wine world’s North Star, we often think of it as rigid and unchanging. Nothing could be further from the truth,” writes Bonné, before proceeding to guide us through this new-old land. From the ‘revolution’ happening in Champagne to the rise of Saint-Joseph in the Rhône and the growth in organic farming, there is a lot to hear about.
At around £100 (though it can be found for less), The New French Wine is not cheap but it’s a hefty, quarto-sized work that runs to 850 pages split across two volumes: one, for reading, dedicated to ‘the narrative’; the second, with more of a look-up function, to ‘the producers’. A must-have for any lover of French wines and definitely one for the Christmas wish list.
A more affordable wine book that I would buy for anyone who is a bit nosy about what their nearby English vineyards might be getting up to is Vines in a Cold Climate: The People Behind the English Wine Revolution by Henry Jeffreys (Atlantic Books, £16.99). This is a tremendously gossipy but adroitly helmed examination of where English wine is today and how it got there. Jeffreys is able to bring seamless historical context together with sharp character observations, plenty of opinion and clever use of the vernacular – one chapter is titled ‘The Bloody Awful Weather Years’; another is ‘Not Going Tits Up’.
Oz Clarke is famous but I often feel not well-enough appreciated. His Story of Wine: 8000 Years, 100 Bottles (Pavilion, £30) has warmth and a generosity of spirit that shines through. The book’s premise is to talk about wine’s rich history through 100 bottles.
On to Bordeaux. I wrote earlier in the year about Neal Martin’s The Complete Bordeaux Vintage Guide (Quadrille, £35). It’s a must-have for any claret drinker. Those who like to get a bit more involved in Bordeaux wine and its intricacies will enjoy From Bordeaux to the Stars: The Reawakening of a Wine Legend by Jean-Michel Cazes (Académie du Vin, £35). This wide-ranging memoir of one of Bordeaux’s grandest fromages, who died in June aged 88, is full of history and anecdote.
One of the most curious reports to emerge in wine this year is the coda to the tale of Rudy Kurniawan, whose wine-counterfeiting workshop was raided by the FBI in 2012. He served time and is now apparently hosting tastings where people get to compare his fake wine to the real thing. Sadly, this story didn’t emerge in time for Rebecca Gibb to include it in her book Vintage Crime: A Short History of Wine Fraud (University of California Press, £25), but there is much else to absorb in this interesting book.
Château Liversan Haut-Médoc 2015, France
13%, Waitrose, £10 down from £15.99 while stocks last
If you’re after a Christmas claret for a tenner, here’s a good option from a warm and generous vintage.
Pierre Jaurant French Fitou 2022, France
14%, Aldi, £7.99
If you’re in search of a budget winter warmer of a red, this one is a plummy blend from southern France that does very well at the price.
Magnum of Quinta do Noval Colheita Single Harvest Tawny Port 2009, Portugal
21%, The Wine Society, £130
Roasted walnuts, crème caramel, silky spices... a stupendous present or table centrepiece.