Monday, 20 April 2020

Vinspire recommends wine books to get you through self-isolation

Photo taken under CCL from

Hi all

We haven’t published a blog on here in a little while and, well, things have certainly changed quite a lot haven’t they?! Things that we took for granted two months ago like going to the supermarket or popping to your local pub or restaurant to grab a glass of wine or something to eat are now things that we can’t currently do. The effect of this crisis on our beloved wine and spirits trade is truly difficult and we know that many small business are having to make some very difficult decisions with huge uncertainty about when things will recover.

However, as ever, things aren’t all doom and gloom. Many of our incredible independent wine merchants have slipped smoothly into doing online wine deliveries, which means that as a wine lover you can be a bloomin’ hero by ordering wine from them - you’re supporting a business you care about and you are getting some lovely wine to enjoy at home: winner winner chicken dinner! We at Vinspire would urge you (if you can) to spend some of that money that you’re not spending by going out / eating out and ordering from local, independent stores. After all, if you want them to still exist when all of this is finished you need to support them now!

With that being said, time for the main point of this article. The temptation in these unusual times is to find yourself spending a LOT of time reading up about the news on news sites or on social media and I have (personally) found that this can get a little overwhelming. To counter this I have been trying to use some of the evening time to get some reading done and I thought that I would share with you a couple of wine-related books that I have read recently and would recommend for wine lovers.

“The Wines of Germany” - Anne Krebiehl MW

Had to place this book next to a bottle of Riesling!

The first book is Anne Krebiehl’s book “The Wines if Germany”, which although only recently published is already considered by many to be the definitive work on German wines. This authoritative work starts off by covering the history of German wine, which is, naturally, intertwined with the fascinating history of Germany from Roman times, through the Holy Roman Empire, the Protestant/Catholic wars of the 17th centry, Napoleon’s invasion, the formation of Germany as a nation-state in the late nineteenth century, to the horrifying events of the 20th century. After charting this in an admirably succinct fashion, Krebiehl then takes on the not-particularly-easy task of trying to explain the complexities of German wine law and regulations and put some sense on the Prädikat system, which I think she does a great job of. There then follow a number of small chapters focussing on some of Germany’s best known wines/grapes: Riesling (of course), Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) and Sekt. It is worth noting that Krebiehl devotes time to other wines/grapes (e.g. Silvaner, Frühburgunder) throughout the book at pertinent points, but they don’t get their own chapters.

This is the spot I have mostly been
reading this book from!
After this introductory segment, Krebiehl proceeds to take each German wine-producing area in turn (in alphabetical order - presumably to show no favouritism!) and then presents a canter around each region highlighting some of her personal favourite producers (again in alphabetical order). It is clear from her writings that Krebiehl has studiously tasted her way around a great number of these vineyards and has personal relationships with many of the people that she is recommending. The producers that Krebiehl puts forward are a mix of legendary names that anyone with a passing knowledge of German wine would recognise (Prüm, Haag, Loosen, Molitor und so weiter, und so fort), but she also puts under the spotlight the new generation of exciting and dynamic German wine producers in their 20s and 30s who are too young to remember the dark days of 80s German wine and are now making interesting and innovative wine, embracing both the traditions that they have inherited and modern thinking around wine making. It is great to see that there are also a large number of female producers presented, something that also represents this perception of a generation that is looking forward.

There is a LOT of information in this book, but for me it really does allow one to get a feel for the contrast, variety, tradition, history and exciting potential of German wine. If you are even remotely interested in German wine then this is an absolutely essential book for you to read. However, I don’t think that this is a prerequisite for you to enjoy this book. I found it to be a thoroughly enjoyable book to read, in spite of its erudite nature. Krebiehl’s writing style is very engaging and she uses exceedingly elegant turns of phrase throughout the book - all the more impressive for someone writing in a second (or in her case, I believe a third!) language.

This book is available from The Book Depository for £35.

“Wine - A Way of Life” by Stephen Spurrier 

I’m sure Mr Spurrier would approve of me putting
his book next to a nice bottle of Meursault for this photo!
The second book that I am recommending is in many ways very different. It is Stephen Spurrier’s memoirs “Wine - A Way of Life”. For me Stephen Spurrier has been someone I have been aware of almost from the first days that I became interested in wine. I first encountered him as a contributing editor to Decanter and then I became more aware of him and learned all about the “Judgement of Paris”, a wine competition in 1978 between French and American wines that Spurrier organised, which shocked the wine world to its core as American wines beat Bordeaux at best Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot blends and beat Burdgundy when it came to making Chardonnay. Since I’ve started attending wine events I have met him a couple of times and have now also tried his wines (Bride Valley from Dorset) as he has latterly established a vineyard.

However, from reading his memoirs I have learned a lot more about Spurrier’s life. It really is a fasinacting story and is told with a wonderfully beguiling nonchalance. Throughout the book he drops references left, right and centre to incredible restaurants that he’s visited, wines he’s tasted, people he’s met (my favourite was when he found himself in a room with Jimi Hendrix in 60s London) and places that he’s visited. It’s a truly fascinating story. It must be admitted that Spurrier came from a very privileged background and has had money all his life. Having had money, though, to me gave Spurrier a rather cavalier attitude towards it - and he would be the first to admit that he was never particularly good with it. Throughout the book, the number of business ventures/investments that he enters into is astounding. However, this isn’t the case of someone bragging, Spurrier frequently admits that he invested poorly and was occasionally taken advantage of. In fact in the 80s he was on the verge of financial ruin before Decanter came to his rescue.

This is a very old-school kind of book from an old-school kind of wine chap. It has to be read through the lens of someone who grew up in the time they did, blessed with privilege. There will be some people who read this book and say that it represents everything that is wrong with the world of wine and contributes to its reputation as the stuffy domaine of rich, white men in pinstripe suits. And they may well have a point. Some of the book reads quite painfully through the eyes of 2020; many of the women referenced are characterised by their physical attractiveness, for example. However, despite this I feel that you can’t help be slightly swayed by Spurrier’s generous spirit and, ultimately, his absolute obsession with wine. Spurrier has tasted pretty much all of the important wines there are, knows all the wine royalty and was in attendance for many of the best tastings and events of the last fifty years. It is some tale and represents the important memories of someone who did so much to shape the world of wine that we enjoy today.

I do have one further gripe with this book - I found there to be an unacceptably high level of typos in the print. I very much hope this is corrected in subsequent editions, as they really spoil my enjoyment of a passage.

This book is available from Amazon for £20 (I did try and find a different retailer, but couldn’t!), however it currently seems to be out of stock... 

There you have it, a couple of books that I have really enjoyed reading that you may wish to consider during this lockdown period.

I hope this blog finds you and your families safe and well.

From all at Vinspire. X    

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