Simon Hoggart: Life’s too short to drink bad wine – over 100 wines for the discerning drinker, Quadrille, 176 pages, £14.99,
Revised and updated by Jonathan Ray
Jerry Lockspeiser: Your Wine Questions Answered – the 25 things wine drinkers most want to know, Citizen Press,163 pages, £8.99 on Amazon or £5.99 Kindle edition
The late Simon Hoggart was a journalist and broadcaster, who wrote for the Guardian and Observer for 45 years until he died of cancer in January 2014. He was perhaps best known for his often wickedly funny Westminster parliamentary sketches. He also wrote a regular wine column for Punch magazine.
Hoggart was a wine enthusiast and his choice of 100 wines reflects this. He selects wines that are interesting to drink rather than compiling a list of trophy labels. Life’s too short opens thus: ‘First things first, These are not the top finest wines in the world. Very few of us could affords those. Last time I looked, the 1990 Château Le Pin cost £3,800 Per bottle! The same vintage of Château Petrus was £3,600. I know they say that every single grape that goes into Le Pin is personally inspected by the vigneron, but even so, these prices are ludicrous. Only very rich and vulgar people can afford them.’
‘Instead I have chosen 100 wines which are, in their entirely different ways and at their entirely different prices, delicious.’ Hoggart adds: ‘But I have always believed that you can detect wines that are made from love, as opposed to those that are made to turn a profit. You can do both at the same time – what winemaker wishes to make a loss? – but you cannot fake the dedication, the care and the character.’
This well written and opinionated book is peppered with Simon’s humour and amusing anecdotes. But on occasions, he can make sweeping statements. For instance, in his entry on Savennières–Coulée de Serrant, he claims that: ‘Most white wines don’t age all that well. Even a good one can be a touch disappointing after a year, distinctly off after two, and undrinkable after three.’ Although Simon gives credit to Chenin Blanc to be an exception, it is my experience that a good number of dry white wines can keep many years and gain complexity. This includes some extraordinary Portuguese whites from Bairrada and Colares. It does, of course, depend upon personal taste – some people will prefer fresh youthful flavours, while others will also enjoy those that are more evolved.
This new edition has been revised and updated by Jonathan Ray, son of wine writer Cyril Ray. Life’s too short is an amusing read to be dipped into and prompts you to try an eclectic range of wines from around the world.
Jerry Lockspeiser was the founder and owner of the very successful Bottle Green wine business until he sold out a number of years ago. All the money from his recently published ‘YOUR WINE QUESTIONS ANSWERED: The 25 things wine drinkers most want to know’ will be donated to the Millione Foundation, which Jerry started with Mike Paul and Cliff Roberson to fund primary schools in Sierra Leone.
In the book’s opening answer on Cabernet Sauvignon, Jerry cites that in the UK 26 million of us drink wine regularly buying around 1.7 billion bottles a year for an outlay of £12 billion. Supermarkets have a 75% share of this market. ‘The average shopper spends more on wine in a supermarket than any other category, beating frozen food in second place and fresh meat in third. But despite the huge financial outlay most of us are shooting blind.’
A recent extensive survey involving thousands of wine revealed that 42% of those questioned knew that Chenin Blanc was a grape variety and 50% that Cabernet Sauvignon was also a grape and 28% identified Rioja as a region. ‘Of the thirteen questions only 5% of respondents got more than half right. That means that a whopping 95% were wrong more often than they were right.’
Jerry attacks impenetrable, complicated and meaningless wine descriptions. He gives Berry Bros & Rudd’s description of a Château Miraval Rosé:
« The transparent Ruinart-style bottle allows the evanescent almost luminous colours to tease a gentle pink. The blend is equally shared by Cinsault, Grenache, Syrah and Rolle (aka Vermentino), with the Syrah partially macerated on its skin by the saignée method.
Aromatics of forest floor and wild strawberry with hints of herb, cede to an impressive palate, reassuringly yet deceptively powerful. Flinty, citric notes underwrite a classic red fruit core, all in a subtle minor key but with a resonant, eloquent finish. Ideal to match fruits de mer or salade niçoise. »
Each of the 25 questions are explored in some depth with a summing up at the end – ‘In one gulp’.
Among the questions that Jerry tackles include:
‘Do more expensive wines always taste better? – ‘The results are clear. When they don’t know what the wine is, most people can’t tell which is cheap and which is expensive.’
Which wines have the fewest calories? ‘The calories in wine come mainly from the alcohol, secondly from the sugar. The lower the alcohol the fewer the calories. To reduce calories choose lower alcohol, drier wines, and drink less.
Are heavily discounted wines worth the full price? ‘Interpretation of worth is personal. A wine is worth a particular price if you like it enough, it isn’t if you don’t. The answer is complicated for heavily discounted wines because we ‘taste’ the deal as well as the wine. Many could be sold at an intermediary price all year round. When they are we buy less.’
Good detailed and thoughtful answers here making Questions answered well worth the asking price, especially as the money goes towards building schools in Sierra Leone.