Forget the Roederers and André Simons (well, you don’t have to but…), no panel of eminent jurors, no politics, just one crazy guy who reads way too many wine books.
There’s no doubt that 2014 was a good year for wine writing, with blogs multiplying, Tweeters twittering profusely and wine forum wisdom pouring forth in ever increasing word counts. It seems as if the world of wine talk has taken another great leap forward this year. But there is still a place for the humble book. Indeed, in a wine world where people’s horizons are broadening, there’s an even greater need for good books on the uncovered regions (a book on Beaujolais and more interest in Switzerland in 2015 please!).
Before introducing my WBOTY, I really ought to mention briefly those writers that impressed me nearly as much. It just so happens that there are three books I’ve read this year that cover other paths less well trodden. Technically the first was published in 2013 but I’m claiming it as I read it this Year. Jon Bonné’s The New California Wine highlights the growing band of growers and winemakers there who are producing wines of finesse, elegance and restraint. Post-Big Flavour, to coin his description. If you’ve tried the wines, many available from Roberson in London, then try the book. Informative and enjoyable, and full of great recommendations.
Another near winner was Stuart Pigott’s love letter to the greatest white grape on the planet, Best White Grape on Earth – The Riesling Story. Pigott is one of the greatest authorities on the grape, and combines a deep knowledge of both European and American producers. In fact the coverage of North America is only frustrating for the fact that I can’t get hold of many of his recommendations, but that doesn’t make the book any less of a good story, for that is how it reads. And it reads easily too, a great little addition to the genre.
I also got much pleasure out of Isabelle Legeron’s Natural Wine. I should say that Legeron’s book might frustrate some readers. Aside from her obvious fundamentalism, albeit born out of genuine passion, the book is a bit light on details about where exactly some of the producers she profiles are based and have their vineyards. But Natural Wine is a phenomenon which seems to be almost ignored in the wine press. This book brings to our attention a genuine movement. Some of these producers are making world class wines whilst others are making some of the most gluggable, refreshing vins de soif I have ever drunk. Despite its shortcomings in describing the place where these wines with a thorough sense of place specifically come from, this book is an essential read for any Real (pun intended) wine lover. The passion shines on the page.
A couple of other mentions must go to Noble Rot magazine, a real tonic to read among the more serious perspectives on all things wine, and to an emerging talent perhaps, Anne Krebiehl MW. Anne is a prolific Tweeter, and you can find her words in World of Fine Wine and many other places. I’ve never met her, but anyone who wrote their MW dissertation on “The Future of Premium German Pinot Noir” is someone I’d like to share a bottle of Friedrich Becker with. I look forward to more of her wise and entertaining words in 2015.
So, to the worthy winner, Wink Lorch’s Jura Wine. This book was funded on Kickstarter with the help of a dedicated bunch of Jura fanatics, and self-published by Wink. She has distilled decades of knowledge into what is much more than a wine book, a paean of praise to this bucolic region of hills and pastures, of France’s best cheeses, some of her best gastronomy, and certainly her finest chocolate. She is aided in this by the stunning photography of Mick Rock (Cephas).
The book begins with many of the usual introductory chapters you’d expect, on the region, what the wines taste like and so on. But the historical and cultural material is detailed and highly readable. There’s a wonderful chapter about individuals who made a difference, from Pasteur and Henri Maire to Jean-Paul Jeunet and Pierre Overnoy.
Yet the meat of the book is a highly detailed profile of the majority of the wider regions’s vignerons, both the old timers like Macle and Puffeney and the young couples with their two or three hectares. The latter illustrate just what a hotbed of innovation and committed wine production Jura has become. The book also has a short section on sights, places to stay, and places to eat. Arbois itself has enough interesting restaurants, from the two-star J-P Jeunet to the natural wine hangout Bistro des Claquets and several in between to keep me going for a week.
Jura Wine really cannot be recommended highly enough, even if you’ve only a passing interest in this quiet region nestling between Burgundy and Switzerland. Some decades ago I just wandered over during a week’s visit to Meursault, and I was hooked. If you, like me, enjoy eating and drinking well and then paying penance with some lovely long walks, I’m sure you’ll go back again and again, and I’d not go without this book.
The next book on the pile? Kerin O’Keefe’s Barolo and Barbaresco, another long awaited subject and then two come along almost at once.
Oh, the chocolate – Hirsinger in the centre of Arbois, possibly the finest chocolatier in France.