The summer always feels like a great time for reading and, particularly if you’re holidaying in the heat of central Europe this year, there’s no better opportunity to sprawl on a lounger or seek refuge in the shade with a good book. And what better topics to enjoy than wine, food and cocktails? We asked a crack team of Club Oenologique writers and contributors to work their way through this summer’s top food- and drink-related book releases – including weighty wine tomes and reference guides, memoirs and histories from some of the most renowned wine and spirit writers, and recipe books with a bit more to them than 30-minute meals. These 10 books on food, wine, spirits and the cultures around them should have any bon vivant enthralled over the weeks ahead.
The Martini is a drink that all will be familiar with and each will have their own preference for how they like it served. Lucky then, that Smith and Rivers have produced this compendium of more than 40 classic and more modern style serves of what they rightly point out is an ‘iconic cocktail’.
It is my opinion that a Martini should not be very large, so that it can be consumed in its entirely while still ice-cold; the size and format of this book make it similarly accessible: it’s little bigger than pocket-sized and easy to digest.
The introduction addresses such classic conundrums as the choice of gin or vodka, or the age-old ‘shaken or stirred’ debate. It’s always been assumed that James Bond was a renegade for his insistence on a shaken Martini, but there’s science behind it: shaking can result in a colder drink for longer, while the stirred-down method is more classic and gives a crystal-clear cocktail. Of course, there are no wrong answers here, and Smith and Rivers set out the advantages from either side of the divide.
Colour photographs guide you through the cocktail chapters of ‘Classic’, ‘Contemporary’, ‘Experimental’, and finally a rather innovative ‘Seasonal’ selection. This is an accessible and fun romp through the world of the Martini. Whether you’re an obsessive or an aficionado, you’ll be sure to find a new twist on this most classic of cocktails. (Joel Harrison)
The New French Wine: Redefining the World’s Greatest Wine Culture
Trying to cram a review of the 850 pages of Jon Bonné’s magisterial – and compendious – The New French Wine into a couple of hundred words brings to mind childhood jokes about how you go about fitting elephants into a refrigerator. Of necessity, therefore, this is a broad brushstroke overview of a book that revels in tiny detail. The New French Wine is divided into two volumes: ‘The Narrative’ and ‘The Producers’. Viewed through the lens of geography and appellation, the latter contains a series of miniature snapshots of those producers which are shaping perceptions of their regions. The selection feels very personal – this isn’t a list of the big hitters in any given appellation, but rather Bonné’s own hand-picked assortment that blends accounts of classic domaines with those of rising stars. ‘The Narrative’ pulls focus from the personal to the regional. There’s plenty of detail about terroir and history, but the essence of this book lies in the way it charts the interactions between tradition and innovation in both viticulture and winemaking. The challenges faced by growers – most notably the struggle with bureaucracy – are given due consideration but really this is a celebration of the elements that ensure that French wines continue to capture the admiration of wine lovers the world over. A worthy companion to Bonné’s excellent The New California Wine, published in 2013. (Natasha Hughes)
Vines in a Cold Climate
Henry Jeffreys specialises in pacy, eminently readable narratives packed with fun facts. Reviewing his previous book Empire of Booze, I said he writes as if he’s just finished an excellent dinner. He hasn’t lost his touch. This is a fine history of how English wine ‘went from joke to world class’ in a matter of decades. It’s about English wine and it’s as English as red trousers or PG Wodehouse (who’s namechecked, along with Andrew Marvell, 70s sitcom The Good Life, William of Malmesbury, Robert of Gloucester… I could go on). It’s also a masterclass in proper journalism. I’d forgotten the fact that Nyetimber founders Stuart and Sandy Moss sold in 2002 not to Eric Heerema (he came later) but to Bucks Fizz svengali Andy Hall, songwriter for the 1981 Eurovision winner ‘Making Your Mind Up’. The author tracked Sandy Moss down in California (Stuart died last year). She told him they took most of the legendary 92s with them – ‘still fabulous’.
There’s a cast of wonderful characters, almost all of whom have double-barrelled names – Major General Sir Guy Salisbury-Jones of Hambledon, for example, and Margaret Gore-Brown of Beaulieu House, who sent Napa’s Beaulieu Vineyard away with a flea in their ear when they tried to claim trademark infringement. ‘She informed them they had been making wine at Beaulieu since before America existed. The matter was quietly dropped.’ The book’s bang up to date, as well: Jeffreys devotes a chapter to the county of Essex, that unsung hero of British terroir, where somewhere ‘hides our Petrus’ as Danbury Ridge consultant John Atkinson MW says; he interviews pioneers and mavericks (‘Received wisdom can fuck off’, opines natural wine pathfinder Ben Walgate); he discusses native yeast, rootstock, clones and PiWis (fungus-resistant vines – the newest craze). Witty and erudite, this is the perfect counterpart to the equally peppy New British Wine (see below). (Adam Lechmere)
The Discovery of Pasta: A History in Ten Dishes
It’s natural to wonder how much space remains on civilisation’s shelf for new books about pasta, given how established it is already in the eating habits of myriad peoples around the world. The subtitle of The Discovery of Pasta is the key, as the book’s primary subject is history rather than recipes; Cesari’s motivation is to separate ‘legend’ and ‘historical fact’ in the context of Italy’s signature pasta dishes.
Considering how notoriously dogmatic Italian culture is about the authenticity and conventions of its recipes (no cream in carbonara, no spaghetti with ragu alla Bolognese, etc ad infinitum), this book must feel dangerously iconoclastic, particularly to an Italian author living in Italy. One can only hope the powers that be take the book in the spirit it’s written, as this is an entertaining, fun series of historical investigations into Italy’s most famous foods and, inescapably, a significant part of the country’s cultural heritage.
Cesari encounters recurring themes as the book progresses: an almost comically solemn attitude to recipes at various stages in their existence; an often-snobbish resistance to their evolution; a rigid commitment to versions deemed to be ‘classic’, which are, in fact, often only a few decades old. This and the overall structure mean the book is best enjoyed in chapter-length sittings to avoid a sense of repetition.
The Discovery of Pasta is new for the US market, with the UK edition launched last October as A Brief History of Pasta: The Italian Food that Shaped the World. Full of insights, anecdotes, facts, myth-busting and featuring the odd historical recipe, this is essential reading for lovers of pasta, food historians and anyone searching for weapons with which to battle misplaced gastronomic pedantry. (William Morris)
From Bordeaux to the Stars
In 1971 Jean-Michel Cazes (who died in June aged 88) told his father André he wanted to look after the family property, Chateau Lynch Bages, which his grandfather had bought just before the Second World War. The reaction was unequivocal: ‘You’re crazy! You’re not going to come and live in Pauillac!’ That the northern outpost of Bordeaux was then a backwater and is now a destination for any wine lover is largely down to the efforts of the younger Cazes. ‘Everything was about to change,’ he writes in this engaging memoir, as he gave up his promising career at IBM and moved with his wife Thereza and their four children to the ‘patchwork of dilapidated farm buildings’ in the village of Bages. Cazes was guided by ‘a simple principle’ that every visitor (however rare) ‘was a potential customer’. It was this, and the inspiration of characters like Robert Mondavi and Eugène Borie, that drove him to set about renovating Bages and the neighbouring Cordeillan into a model village, a hymn to the ‘art of living’. From 2002 they demolished what couldn’t be saved, and rebuilt what could. Cobblestones were reclaimed from the renovations in downtown Bordeaux, a bakery was built, and the now-thriving Café Lavinal. Chateau Cordeillan Bages became a luxury hotel, now run by the Relais et Châteaux group. Cazes recounts all this in prose that is all the more engrossing for being matter-of-fact. Every important decision – such as recruiting the young Daniel Llose as oenologist – seems to be made on instinct (in Llose’s case, he was influenced by the fact he’d ‘shone in the local Bègles team as scrum-half’). He recounts the tragic death of his mother in 1975 on an unguarded level-crossing with a spare emotion that makes it all the more affecting: ‘Our father… fell into our arms’. Throughout, there’s a parade of the resonant names of Bordeaux: Mau, Borie, Gardinier, Sichel, Moueix, Lur Saluces, Cruse… Jean-Michel Cazes is one of the architects of modern Bordeaux and this autobiography is, as Jane Anson says in her foreword, a record of ‘a life well-lived.’ (Adam Lechmere)
From Bordeaux to the Stars is available from Académie du Vin Library. Order now and get 20% off, visit academieduvinlibrary.com and add discount code BDXSTARS. Offer valid until 31st July.
The Ice Book: Cool Cubes, Clear Spheres, and Other Chill Cocktail Crafts
American drinks writer Camper English has long been obsessed by ice. Not just any old ‘been at the back of the freezer with the odd frozen pea in it’ ice, but proper, clear, professional grade ice. The sort of stuff bars order in at great expense and uneducated millennials on TikTok complain is taking up too much room in their drinks.
The reality, and the reason English has penned this book, is that ice is a major part of most mixed drinks, and therefore the quality of the frozen water in your glass is paramount. But what if you aren’t a top-end cocktail bar but you want to use great ice at home? English has been working on the solution for nearly a decade, and has let you into his secrets with this book: how to make professional grade ice in the comfort of your own abode. This includes such tips and tricks as repurposing old cooler boxes for making large and impressive blocks of clear ice, or simply using filtered water for fewer impurities.
However, this is not just a book on ice, as along the way English peppers the text with cocktails such as a ‘Negroni Sbagliato, served in a ‘Clear Ice Punchbowl’, or a ‘Godfather in Ice Shot Glasses’. You might ask how a book on ice can run to over 140 pages but the author’s passion is as clear as the ice he wants us all to make, and the cocktails are accessible and flavourful. A special mention must be made of photographer Allison Webber and stylist Nan Allison, who have made this book as special to look at as it is to read. Bravo! (Joel Harrison)
New British Wine
If there was any doubt about how downright exciting the wine scene in the UK is, Abbie Moulton puts it to rest with this wonderful, timely and extremely cool book. ‘British wine is radical, curious, creative and supremely delicious,’ Moulton writes in her introduction, and then goes on to prove it. The evocative old Anglo-Saxon names roll off the tongue: Walthamstow, Hackney and Margate, Enfield, Wrington, Fulham; Bodmin, Battersea, Levershulme and Rye. A parade of beards and Blundstones marches across the pages (beautifully illustrated with Maria Bell’s photographs); a cornucopia of post-modern labels and cloudy pet-nats; moonlighting DJs like Dominic Smith of Luca, grizzled old pirates like Cliff Roberson of London Cru and Bob Lindo of Camel Valley, young entrepreneurs and beaming restaurateurs. Moulton doesn’t shy away from old-fashioned explanation of how the winemaking and viticulture actually work (there’s a decent glossary), she has a nice way with words, and she’s tramped the vineyards, the cafés and the urban wineries from Edinburgh to Cornwall.
This book is both radical (the very title cocks a snook at tradition – good heavens, we breathed, doesn’t she know it’s called English wine?) and a celebration of what’s gone before. So Gusbourne, Nyetimber and Ridgeview are rightly lauded for what they achieved in the 1980s, and Tim Wildman is given a chapter on his rediscovery of old British vineyards. But above all, it’s about the now: what a ragtag band of wellington-booted pioneers are discovering about the potential for wine on our rainy, beleaguered island. As Ben Walgate says as he tends his kvevri (themselves from a 3000-year-old winemaking tradition): ‘It began with the soil’. If you have the tiniest inkling of an interest in wine, buy this book. (Adam Lechmere)
Of Cabbages and Kimchi
A growing awareness of the gut microbiome and increasingly stern words from scientists about the effects of ultra-processed foods on our health make the publication of a practical guide on how to concoct probiotic fermented foods at home seem particularly timely.
James Read’s first foray into this world was as a chef, getting hooked on kimchi (a traditional Korean dish of pickled and fermented vegetables) while making it for a pop-up restaurant. He went on to sell his creation commercially and become CFO of The Fermenters Guild, an organisation one assumes is essentially a lactic-loving version of the Freemasons. He’s now written an accessible, user-friendly and, most of all, fascinating guide to making foods that naturally fizz and bubble.
The beauty of the book, aside from the whimsical drawings by illustrator Marija Tiurina, is in the thorough introductions to each of the chapters, which focus on a particular type of fermented food. A stated aim of Of Cabbages and Kimchi is that readers will be ‘inspired to tinker and play’ with its recipes; there’s a recognition that an understanding of the science and principles behind the methodology is key to anyone doing so. Read provides a range of other information, from a food’s origins to its uses and nutritional quality, plus tips when you attempt the recipes, including common setbacks and their remedies. He also outlines the potential health benefits too, while taking care not to overreach or exaggerate.
Mercifully, the days of perfecting homemade banana bread are firmly behind us and Of Cabbages and Kimchi introduces a type of food you may never have considered making yourself. From sauerkraut, kimchi and kefir to soy sauce and kombucha, there’s plenty to learn and master in this book. Most importantly, regardless of the potential health benefits, these are foods capable of adding an extra dimension to familiar dishes and are strangely delicious on their own too. (William Morris)
Have You Eaten Yet? Stories from Chinese Restaurants Around the World
‘Take a look behind every kitchen door and you will find a complicated history of cultural migration and world politics,’ says Cheuk Kwan, author and ‘card-carrying member of the Chinese diaspora.’ Approximately 50m ethnic Chinese live outside mainland China, in more than 150 countries. If you’re seeking to understand more about the Chinese diaspora, look no further than this book, where documentarian-turned-author Cheuk Kwan travels the world to interview Chinese restaurateurs across 15 countries and five continents – from Trinidad & Tobago to Mauritius and Norway.
This is a fascinating look at how Chinese culture – initially via food – has become interwoven into the various cultures of multiple countries, regions, cities, towns and villages across the planet. It begins with Noisy Jim – a ‘gregarious and charming’ character and the proud owner of the ever-popular New Outlook Café in Outlook, Saskatchewan, Canada. He came to Vancouver in 1939 aged 12, with the identity papers of a dead Canadian called Chow Jim Kook, during the height of Canada’s Chinese Exclusion Act – legislation which banned virtually all Chinese workers from entering the country for 24 years.
Cheuk Kwan’s other interviewees include Lee Ho Shau in São Paulo, who embarked on a four-hour ‘swim to freedom’ in 1967, or Foo-Ching Chiang in Argentina, who at the age of seven was sent to live in Nanjing shortly after the Nanking Massacre; the brutal murder of more than 200,000 Chinese civilians by Japanese soldiers during the Sino-Japanese War in 1937. For a book seemingly focused on culinary endeavours, it goes much deeper, shining a light on the fascinating stories of Chinese immigrants living around the world – each with their own unique journey out of China. Food is merely the conversation starter. (Tristan Wynne)
The Complete Bordeaux Vintage Guide
What a strange and compelling book this is. When you read that it was a lockdown project, as Neal Martin says in his introduction, everything slots into place. Somehow it has the flavour of that weird, claustrophobic time. This is the history of every Bordeaux vintage from 1870 to 2020, with detailed notes on weather (1910 was ‘ghastly from start to finish’), harvest times (in 1883 ‘pickers went out into the vines around 27 September’, yields and verdicts. This is both a work of scholarship, and intensely personal. Martin draws on his extensive notes of ancient wines tasted – a ‘briny’ 1858 Latour and an ‘ethereal’ 1842 Gruaud Larose are two among many – but also delves deep into the archives. He quotes the likes of Saintsbury, Maxwell-Campbell and André Simon with the ease of familiarity (but he modestly claims only a fraction of their erudition), and this adds to the authority of the book.
Less compelling are the bolted-on historical, musical and film references. That the Beach Boys’ ‘God Only Knows’ and Antonioni’s ‘Blow-Up’ came out in 1966, or that Scarface was released in 1983, or 1984 in 1949, I can find out from Google in a keystroke. I can’t see what effect those events had on the wines (unless the cellar workers dashed out to their nearest Odeon or record shop and neglected the racking).
But these are cavils. There’s much to love about this book, from the concise, interesting introduction to the groovy retro cover, the attractive and unfussy page layouts and the witty captions (I enjoyed the one about the cook searching for the egg whisk that a beefy cellar-hand is using to whip up the whites for fining). This is an erudite if eccentric book from a writer whose acknowledged expertise on his subject gives it rock-solid authority. A worthy addition to any Bordeaux bookshelf. (Adam Lechmere)