All we want for Christmas is to curl up by the fire with a glass of red and a good read. If this sounds just like someone in your life, hopefully this guide will put you on the right path when it comes to gifting. We had our crack team of Club Oenologique writers leaf their way through a haul of titles being released in time for Christmas, in order to bring you a line-up of books fit for the food-and-drink lover in your life – or for adding to your own wish list, of course.
From memoirs and biographies of famous figures in the industry to cocktail recipe books, guides to wine regions, an in-depth look at Japanese pub food (seriously) and even a graphic novel for foodies. Read on for 16 new book recommendations fit for any food and drink lover this Christmas.
16 top books for food and drink lovers this Christmas
- The Delicacy – James Albon
- The Alcorithm – Rob Buckhaven
- Oz Clarke on Wine: Your Global Wine Companion – Oz Clarke
- Claridge’s – The Cocktail Book
- A Cheese Monger’s Compendium of British & Irish Cheese – Ned Palmer
- Inside Burgundy (2nd Edition) – Jasper Morris
- The Philosophy of Whisky – Billy Abbott
- Taste: My Life Through Food – Stanley Tucci
- Fizz! Champagne and Sparkling Wines of the World – Anthony Rose
- The Oxford Companion to Spirits and Cocktails – Dave Wondrich with Noah Rothbaum
- Bourdain: In Stories – Laurie Woolever
- Fried Eggs and Rioja – Victoria Moore
- On California: From Napa to Nebbiolo…Wine Tales From the Golden State
- Your Home Izakaya: Fun and Simple Recipes Inspired by the Drinking-and-Dining Dens of Japan – Tim Anderson
- Rare Whisky: Exploring the World’s Most Exquisite Spirits – Patrick Mahé
- Eating to Extinction: The World’s Rarest Foods and Why we Need to Save Them – Dan Saladino
by James Albon
£19.50, Top Shelf Productions
Best for: Jaded foodies
This superb graphic novel begins on a remote Scottish island, where brothers Rowan and Tulip have been brought up to disdain technology, money, and just about anything connected to the modern world. A chance inheritance of a house in the south means they can realise their dream of setting up a restaurant, with the gifted Tulip cooking and the green-fingered Rowan in the garden. ‘We’ll bring wholesome food to the starving millions,’ Tulip gushes. So excellent are Rowan’s vegetables (especially some mysteriously delicious mushrooms) and so brilliant is Tulip (now calling himself Danny) in the kitchen that their tiny corner bistro has soon turned an unfashionable part of London into a destination. So begins this Faustian tale, James Albon’s glorious colour palette contrasting the darkness and horror that lies in store for the over-ambitious Danny and his conscience-stricken but inadequate brother.
The story unfolds inexorably: there are some memorably grim moments as Danny sells his soul in exchange for worldly success and the adoration of the fickle public. Albon’s artwork is razor-sharp, his observations of kitchen life (‘Karl: recently paroled, worked in the prison kitchen, can make 300 omelettes in two hours, not sure what sautéeing is’) or gruesome gastronomati (‘Danny, dude, I checked out of rehab just to eat here,’ one tattooed ghoul says) equally acute. Delicacy is a cautionary tale for our times. I read it in one sitting, and I doubt I’ll touch mushrooms again unless I’m very sure of their provenance. (Adam Lechmere)
Anyone who’s taken an online personality quiz will know it’s a narcissistic joy to find out more about your hidden depths; this book does just that. The Alcorithm, the first book from drinks journalist Rob Buckhaven, romps confidently through major flavour profiles, using an ‘if you like…this, you’ll love that…’ philosophy. It’s a light-hearted and informative read, an oenophile’s answer to 2010’s multi-award-winning Flavour Thesaurus, Niki Segnit’s taste-pairing encyclopaedia. A taste-bud-led guide to what drinks you’ll like and why, Buckhaven takes you through the major flavours before detailing the drinks you can find them in.
The book is organised into two basic sections – ‘Flavours’ at the front and ‘Drinks’ at the back – cross-referenced so that you can dive deeper into why exactly your penchant for Granny Smith apples means you’ll love a spätlese Riesling. As a quick-reference guide, the information-packed back section on Drinks is where Buckhaven’s 14 years of wine and spirits experience really shows. It covers everything from wine (the major appellations are detailed) to fruit-based beverages and mixers, spirits and non-alcoholic drinks with specific taste-based recommendations.
From describing a ‘fragrant thwack of jasmine rice’ in your local Thai restaurant to the profile of Sancerre or Peruvian pisco, Buckhaven’s writing drifts from the accessible right through to the high-end and off-beat. It might not offer a hard-and-fast formula to finding your perfect drink, but you’ll emerge from its pages brave enough to try that bottom-of-the-menu cocktail. (Louella Berryman)
Oz Clarke on Wine: Your Global Wine Companion
by Oz Clarke
£30, Academie du Vin Library
Best for: Lovers of a good yarn
As an editor, whenever I’ve wanted to commission Oz Clarke to write an article, I’ve found the best approach is to arrange a meeting in a convivial spot, bring a Dictaphone, and simply allow him to talk. I then go away and transcribe the chat, trim out the gossip, defamatory statements and swear words, and hey presto, I’ve generally got the best article I’ll publish all year.
I’m not sure if that was the approach of the editors at Academie du Vin Library in this wide-ranging work, but the tome certainly has a conversational feel. The length and span of topics also suggests that Clarke was given free rein (editing him down is always the hardest part, such is his depth of knowledge and generosity of spirit). The book is actually a revised version of the previously published Red & White, with new material on the topical issues of the day. It is, to say the least, all encompassing – sprawling, even – covering off all the major (and some minor) wine regions and grape varieties, and tackling plenty of adjacent topics, too.
But so fast-paced and congenial is the text that it’s a breeze to read. Short, snappy sentences, suffused with lightly worn knowledge mean that before you know it, you’ve taken on board insights into biodynamic viticulture and the indigenous grape varieties of Greece without feeling like you’ve had to concentrate too hard. There’s a lovely balance of opinion and reflection, all interwoven with personal insights, anecdotes and opinion. Long a pioneer, Clarke isn’t afraid to tackle thorny issues – a section devoted to the impact of climate change is alarming but practical.
The amateur photos on the inside covers, from various stages of his career and even childhood and student days, mirror the personal nature of the text. More pictures would have been nice, and indeed the overall layout is basic at best. But this is not a biography (now, that will be fun) – just a comprehensive overview of the wine world told in a highly personal – and entertaining – manner. (Guy Woodward)
Claridge’s – The Cocktail Book
by Denis Broci and Nathan McCarley-O’Neill
£25, Mitchell Beazley (Octopus)
Best for: Classy cocktail completists
Those who’ve recently passed through London’s Mayfair might have clocked Claridge’s getting into the festive spirit, its facade lit up by glittering trees. The early start to such all-out seasonal glamour could be one indication that Claridge’s (which has just reopened after a five-year, multimillion-pound refit) is playing to those pushing the boat out after the disappointments of last Christmas. Another hint is the release of its very own cocktail book, guiding hotel guests through high-end libation creation at home. Of course, it’s luxuriously bound in black and gold, and striking images from food-and-drink photographer John Carey also push this tome into coffee-table territory. But there’s substance behind the style, with no less than 400 recipes in its pages.
While the introduction – a hyperbolic history of drinking at the hotel – might lead you to believe that this collection of recipes is purely sourced from the inside, Denis Broci and Nathan McCarley-O’Neill (Claridge’s director of bars and director of mixology respectively) have used the opportunity to draw from other esteemed venues, too. From drinks dreamed up at The Savoy to creations by the late cocktail legend Dick Bradsell, it spans historic cocktails made in London – but it also incorporates popularised and modern classics from around the world, the original creator credited where possible. Recipes come right up to date, including an alcohol-free concoction by Mr Lyan and a boozy number from New York’s Dead Rabbit.
It’s easy enough for amateurs to follow, with ingredients for any mind-boggling infusions sitting neatly at the back. Recipes also come interspersed with trivia titbits and tips on hosting at home. However, the luxurious presentation serves as a subtle reminder that ‘Claridge’s is Claridge’s, and everywhere else is everywhere else.’ There’s every chance you’ll be left pining for a seat at the bar instead. (Laura Richards)
A Cheesemonger’s Compendium of British & Irish Cheese
by Ned Palmer
£14.99, Profile Books
Best for: Anyone who thinks they know their British cheese
Palmer’s hugely engaging book A Cheesemonger’s History of the British Isles, tracing Britain’s past through cheese, was a surprise bestseller in 2019, and this is its slightly geekier successor. It lists an impressive 158 British and Irish cheeses divided by style, of which there’s a useful explanation at the beginning of each chapter. I count myself something of a cheese expert and still came across many I’d never heard of including Angigiddy, Renegade Monk and Westray Wife, as well as some hitherto unknown facts about some of my current favourites, Baron Bigod (made in a style that was declared the ‘King of Cheeses’ at the Congress of Vienna in 1815), Ogleshield and Darling, a delicious blue named after Grace Darling, the lighthouse-keeper’s daughter who saved the survivors of a shipwreck off the Northumbrian coast.
Despite his scholarly mastery of his subject, Palmer wears his learning lightly, and his tasting notes are an art form in themselves: a mature Berkswell is ‘savoury caramelised lamb and a hint of rosewater’, Stichelton is ‘sweet like Hubba Bubba bubblegum, malty like Shreddies and savoury like Marmite’, or Old Winchester with its ‘enticing aroma of sweet buttered popcorn’. There’s also a lovely series of essential maps at the end of the book, which shows where you can find all the cheeses found within the book’s pages. (Fiona Beckett)
Inside Burgundy (2nd Edition)
by Jasper Morris
£64, Berry Bros & Rudd
Best for: Burgundy completists
To call this book a work of scholarship is like suggesting the equator is warm, or Ulysses ground-breaking. The second edition comes almost exactly 10 years after the first (published in 2010) and adds 150 pages and many more maps. Morris – as the late Steven Spurrier says in the preface, ‘knows the place literally from the bedrock up’. I like that, as Morris loves his stones – dry-stone walling is one of his hobbies. He wrote about the unpredictability and craftsmanship of this ancient practice, and its parallels with winemaking, in the first issue of Club Oenologique. But Inside Burgundy eschews digressions.
It describes and profiles 1200 Burgundian vineyards, 300 villages and 700 domaines. The detail is more than impressive: the hectarage of each vineyard of each domaine is listed, down to pocket-handkerchief-sized holdings; winemaking regimes are laid out: ‘Jadot have kept their preference for continued maceration after the ferment has finished…’; producers are quoted throughout (you know the writer has spent hours with winemakers at kitchen tables laden with bottles).
The index is exhaustive, the maps are clear and attractive (though it would have been nice to have some gorgeous photography – I’ve always thought the great advantage Burgundy has over Bordeaux is that it’s photogenic). Morris’s style is dry – there are no jokes (at least, I didn’t find them), but he’s a natural writer and has an easy delivery. Complex subjects like premature oxidation are clearly explained, and there are nice vignettes to bring the chapters to life, like the Jules Verne/Nuits-St-Georges/NASA connection, to mention just one example. Inside Burgundy comes with an excellent website if that’s your fancy. In print, it’s a book of incalculable value to the Burgundy lover. (Adam Lechmere)
The Philosophy Of Whisky
by Billy Abbott
£10, The British Library
Best for: The serious whisky lover
There are as many books about whisky as there are distilleries in the world, and – much like single-malt Scotch – there are few bad ones. The bar is high, and it’s difficult to make a dent in such a vast canon (especially on your debut), but Billy Abbott does that.
The Philosophy of Whisky takes the reader on a journey through the basics of the spirit, its history, its production, its cultural impact across American and Irish whiskey, through to Scotch, Japanese and world whiskies. Abbott is a veteran blogger, both for major online retailer The Whisky Exchange and for his personal outlet, Spirited Matters. His writing – informative, authoritative and witty – should appeal to most.
This is not a book that relies on full-colour illustrations to make its point. There are a few black-and-white photographs, and at 100 pages it’s very compact. Abbott’s writing is so full of colour that it doesn’t require glossy sideshows. He has a good store of one-liners: on the subject of who invented whisky, the Scots or the Irish, Abbott writes: ‘I find the easiest way to get people from Ireland and Scotland to come to an agreement on the subject is to suggest that the English invented whisky – the resounding “No” this statement elicits is about as close as we’ll get.’
At its heart, this is one man’s love letter to whisky, and one that everyone and anyone who shares Abbott’s passion should read. If you haven’t fallen in love with whisky yet, this might convince you otherwise. (Joel Harrison)
Taste: My Life Through Food
Back in April 2020, Stanley Tucci was the beam of Campari-tinged light we all needed when he captured the hearts and appetites of the world with his Negroni recipe video (it was controversially served straight up instead of on the rocks). Now he’s back with a memoir-meets-recipe-book detailing his life through food (and including that Negroni).
Taste takes you through Tucci’s early life in Westchester, New York State, with anecdotes about Italian-American ‘wedge’ sandwiches and summer holiday fridge raids. His relaxed prose is broken up with recipes, introduced with a charmingly bossy tone. When describing his pasta con aglio e olio, he ends his sparse instructions with a bark: ‘Cheese is not allowed.’
Tucci moves from amusing anecdote to loose recipe with ease. My only gripe might be that the book lacks structure in this way, but the author writes with just enough of a wink for all to be forgiven. The book gives us detailed access to the actor’s pivotal and trivial life moments through food, including the magnificent ‘dish cloth shrouded’ Tucci Christmas timpano. A carbohydrate-saturated dream, Tucci takes you through the preparation, serving and savouring of this meat, cheese and egg-stuffed pasta pièce de résistance over the course of 10 full pages.
In terms of gossip, Tucci is unsurprisingly coy about what happens around the dinner table. Those looking for any celebrity revelations will be disappointed, although there’s a slightly risqué anecdote involving Meryl Streep and the suggestive Norman delicacy of andouillette. Visions of that encounter should satisfy any more desire for juicy secrets. (Louella Berryman)
Fizz! Champagne and Sparkling Wines of the World
by Anthony Rose
£35 paperback; £24 Kindle, The Infinite Ideas Classic Wine Library
Best for: Students of anything sparkling
Every publisher – of whatever stamp – is constantly looking for novelty: the eye-catching title, the arresting new angle. Amid the slew of groovy covers and new voices and fresh takes on time-worn subjects, sometimes it’s the classic approach that demands your attention. Anthony Rose, who has been writing about wine since the late 1980s (he’s an expert of sake among other things), has produced a textbook on sparkling wine that is as densely informative as a leather-bound Victorian treatise on crop rotation. This is not to detract from its merits: Fizz! is readable as well as authoritative.
The first few chapters sparkle with historical anecdote, such as the Victorian wine merchant who ‘heard it alleged of the Russians that they keep their windows open when they have a party in order that those in and out of the house may hear the reports of the Champagne bottles, and so become duly impressed by the style of the entertainment’, or (less edifyingly) the fact that during the Dreyfus affair a ‘Champagne Anti-Juif’ was created. Rose takes fizz seriously, from the science of bubbles (he quotes Gérard Liger-Belair, professor of physical sciences at the University of Reims, extensively) to the crown cap (there’s a cross-section detailing its constituent parts). The bulk of the book is a useful gazetteer of sparkling wine-producing regions and their producers, and glossary, appendices and index are comprehensive (nothing shows a book’s serious intent so much as the index, which here runs to 20 pages). This is an academic book which will be of huge value to a student and will please the completist. (Adam Lechmere)
The Oxford Companion To Spirits & Cocktails
edited by Dave Wondrich with Noah Rothbaum
£45, Oxford University Press
Best for: The academic mixologist
As you would expect from OUP, this is a comprehensive guide, an essential addition to the reference bookshelf, to be consulted when researching the history of a spirit, the origins of a cocktail, or indeed when settling a drunken argument on any drinks-related subject, from Cognac to Coca-Cola. The list of contributors runs to a dozen pages, including luminaries such as Sipsmith founder Jared Brown, master mixologist Jim Meehan, and F Paul Pacult, one of America’s foremost spirits experts and author of numerous books.
It includes a timeline of distillation, a section on how to mix drinks, as well as more than 1,000 bite-sized, encyclopaedia-style entries. The educational elements in the book come with a lightness of touch and tone of voice. Of the longer pieces, there’s a full-colour section on styles and shapes of stills – which has naive-style drawings of which David Hockney would be proud – or a readable and informative essay on Prohibition.
According to Rothbaum, the book was seven years in the making. If so, it’s been worth it. He and Wondrich have marshalled a huge amount of knowledge to provide a pivotal point of reference. They should be lauded and applauded for their fine work. (Joel Harrison)
Bourdain in Stories
by Laurie Woolever
Best for: Those for whom Bourdain never died
Anthony Bourdain was early for everything. Despite his carefully-nurtured rock star image, he would turn up 30 minutes ahead of schedule for meetings. That’s just one surprising, shared snapshot of the late chef-turned-author/documentary maker in this twist on the biography. It’s been pieced together by Laurie Woolever, Bourdain’s long-time assistant, who has interviewed almost 100 of those closest to the Parts Unknown star.
It’s nice to think that Bourdain – a publisher of some more experimental titles in his later years – would have approved of this refreshing, oral history format. It’s a clever way of profiling such an enigmatic man. Almost all tell of an awkward, shy and introverted character behind that larger-than-life on-screen persona.
Kitchen Confidential fans will get a kick out of first-person accounts from the chefs behind the pseudonyms of the book that catapulted Bourdain to fame. Those who traced his travels will enjoy recollections from the film crew. Former collaborators Eric Ripert, David Chang, Roy Choi and Nigella Lawson are among those from the food world offering astute observations – all edited into chapters that mostly follow the chronology of his life.
The narrative flow unravels towards the end as Bourdain enters deeper into depression. At points, it feels as if his nearest and dearest are still searching for answers they’ll never find. One thing they all agree on, though, is his brilliance. As with that signature punctuality, all attest that Anthony Bourdain was a raconteur ahead of his time. (Laura Richards)
Fried Eggs and Rioja
by Victoria Moore
£12.99, Granta Books
Best for: Food-and-wine-matching sceptics
I should start by saying I’m a bit of a sceptic when it comes to food and wine matching. Chablis and oysters is all well and good, but which Chablis? And what type of oyster? There’s no dish nor wine that offers a one-size-fits-all identity, so putting the two together is a lottery.
But there are some rules, of course – and Victoria Moore is the one person I’d trust to narrow my odds. Despite the practical, consumer-friendly format of this book, with each food listed alphabetically with suggested matches, Moore’s is the very antithesis of a dictatorial, blanket approach. For a start, the writing is snappy and sassy. But it’s also well-argued, with rationale and reason (well-done beef calls for younger, juicier reds, to counterbalance the dry meat; rare meat needs tannic, er, beefier wine – why has this never occurred to me before?).
Much of it makes a lot of sense, even to this curmudgeon. The book will undoubtedly serve as a godsend to the many home cooks looking for simple solutions to a subject that many foodies worry about. For wine lovers, meanwhile, the inverse approach that Moore turns to later – by grape variety/wine type, with the flavours and dishes with which they work outlined below – is arguably even more valuable (if underserved).
There’s the odd bonus recipe, and a few overarching guidelines, but sadly no photos; published by Granta (the book is an offshoot of Moore’s acclaimed Wine Dine Dictionary) the accent is on the cerebral not the visual. My greater concern, though, is for Moore’s physical well-being – she must have indulged in a LOT of research for this… (Guy Woodward)
On California From Napa to Nebbiolo…Wine Tales from the Golden State
£30, Academie du Vin Library
Best for: California dreamers
What a delight this book is. The 13th volume in the Academie du Vin Library, an imprint which isn’t yet three years old, is a historical compilation of essays and articles on California, from Harry Waugh to Randall Grahm and beyond. A disclaimer: AdVL is a sister company to Club Oenologique and IWSC, and one of my articles is in it. I don’t include that one in the ‘delight’ encomium, but otherwise, as Warren Winiarski says in his preface, this is a ‘lyrical array’ of fine writing.
Wine can be a crushingly boring subject, but not in the hands of the likes of Waugh and Grahm (whose erudite footnotes fill a good third of almost every page), Hugh Johnson, Jon Bonné, the excellent Esther Mobley, Oz Clarke and many more. Each brings the subject to life, whether it’s Karen McNeil describing the missing thumb of a vineyard foreman, Kelli White noting that the Victorian boffin Eugene Woldemar Hilgard was taught by the chap who invented the Bunsen burner (although ‘Bunsen’ is spelt wrong), or Johnson’s miniature portraits of the great wine regions: ‘Burgundy, already chilly by harvest time’. Napa isn’t allowed to dominate – there’s much on Paris 1976, obviously, but you can bypass that; Sonoma, Edna Valley, Santa Ynez and all California points in between are covered. There’s a good index (all too rare nowadays) and the whole book is nicely produced. If you know a wine lover, there’s your Christmas present sorted. (Adam Lechmere)
Your Home Izakaya: Fun and simple recipes inspired by the drinking-and-dining dens of Japan
by Tim Anderson
£25, Hardie Grant
Best For: The fun-loving, adventurous cook
If your shelves are already groaning, you might well think the last thing you need is a book on the pub food of Japan, which must occupy the smallest niche ever in the cookbook world. But if you’re a fan of Japanese food – and drinking food – think twice. Anderson, an American and former Masterchef winner who owns the London restaurant Nanban (also the title of his first book) is not only a terrific writer but an inventive cook who obviously thinks rules are there to be broken, judging by recipes such as nasu dengaku (glazed aubergine with miso) with moussaka flavours and udon carbonara with bacon tempura. But it also includes invaluable mini-essays on how to make a classic oden or ‘master stock’, how to cook Japanese rice and – close to my heart – drink pairings for every recipe. Bear in mind that if you buy it as a gift, you may want to keep it yourself. (Fiona Beckett)
Rare Whisky: Exploring The World’s most Exquisite Spirits
by Patrick Mahé
£45, Octopus Books
Best for: Globe-trotting whisky aficionados
Patrick Mahé offers an insightful take on the extreme end of the whisky market, a place where individual bottles can cost the same as a small car or a family house. This is a book that – like so many others of this size and weight – should be a simple showpiece item. The format would have made it easy to simply provide mouth-watering photography of some of the most unobtainable whiskies ever released. Yes, there are details on bottlings that fetch incredible sums at auction, but there are great stories peppered throughout, too, as well as recommendations on what to read and where to drink, and focused articles on individual bottles and brands.
The author’s passion for his subject is evident: in his quest to enhance the subject-matter he cites sources as eclectic as French 17th-century philosopher Blaise Pascal, or Hollywood movie Lost In Translation. Where it would be easy to focus on the headline-grabbing prices of Scotch or Japanese malts, he is even-handed in exploring whiskies from India, Taiwan, Australia and other emerging markets, as well as blends and standard releases. Scotch whiskies distilled in the early and middle parts of the last century, such as the legendary Macallan 1926 and Bowmore from 1964 are covered, through to modern-day releases from the likes of Australia’s Bakery Hill distillery or Danish newcomer Stauning. (Joel Harrison)
Eating to Extinction – The World’s Rarest Foods and Why We Need to Save Them
by Dan Saladino
£25, Jonathan Cape
Best for: Food lovers of the arcane, the recondite and the rare
The relationship the Hadze people of Tanzania have with the honeyguide bird goes back thousands of years. The Hadze value honey above any other food, but it is hard to find. The honeyguide loves honey as well, and knows how to find it, so it leads hunters to the nest where they pacify the bees with smoke, take the honey, and leave the rest to the bird. There are hundreds of ancient food cultures like this under threat, from the skerpikjøt wind-dried fermented mutton of the Faroe Islands to the fabulously expensive pu-erh tea of China, Herefordshire perry, Albanian highland cheese, the black ogye chicken of the Gyeryong Mountains of South Korea…and Dan Saladino has tried them all (skerpikjøt fat can be slightly rancid, ‘It’s a twisted taste but a good taste,’ he’s assured). He’s climbed baobab trees with the Hadze, crushed pears in Herefordshire, and peered into the disused military tunnels where they store their cheese in Albania.
The joy of this excellent book is Saladino’s journalistic eye for detail (he’s a veteran BBC reporter and producer) and his optimism. This could be a depressing litany of breeds and skills and ancient knowledge extinct or on the brink of extinction, but we are introduced to farmers and hunters – Tom Oliver rescues threatened pear trees, Lee Seung Sook’s black ogye chickens thrive – who keep the flame burning. Saladino doesn’t pull his punches and we’re left in no doubt that factory farming and deforestation and all the other horrors we inflict on the Earth are probably unstoppable. But in the end, this is a hymn to the wondrous ingenuity of humanity and our relationship with our world. Let’s hope it’s not an epitaph. (Adam Lechmere)
For even more recommendations on books for food and drink lovers this Christmas, visit our guide to the top book releases this summer 2021.