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The Romance of Wine  - H. Warner Allen
Ernest Benn Limited, London, 1931
Review by David Farmer

'When the Portuguese are really enjoying themselves, they sing and dance to a noise resembling that of a heavy bombardment, and in a festival in the mountains at Amarante I was completely deafened by the unceasing roar of about sixty sheepskin drums beaten furiously, broken by violent dynamite explosions.'

This is Warner Allen’s picture of the locals in the Douro region who enjoy letting off rockets with sticks of dynamite attached when celebrating. Any book that discovered a tradition like that has something interesting to say.

Since this book was published we know infinitely more about making wine and we have the perspective of looking back over 75 years of the wine trade, yet it is a surprising forerunner of today’s wine books. It includes maps of some wine regions and unusual ones like Jerez and the Douro, and simple, even primitive though these are, the realisation is there that they impart information quickly

As well the author appreciates that while he has consumed many great wines there is nothing like visiting the (wines origins) regions from which those wines came to fill out the taste picture. From this we get two valuable wine-travel essays on the Douro and Jerez and an interesting but lesser overview of the German vineyard regions.

Today’s wine writers know much more about the finer points of making wine and have a world wide knowledge but what most lack is what this author has in abundance; the understanding and perspective that comes from a prolonged exposure to the worlds great wine classics.

As for describing those taste experiences, the best writer today does not match the flair for description that Warner Allen displays. The chapter titled ‘Great Wines and Their Virtues’ is a sustained piece of writing of the highest level with lyrical passages of great beauty.

The six or seven pages dealing with the last of the pre-phylloxera clarets, the vintages between 1864 and 1878 may be the greatest passage ever written about wine.

The following passage illustrates the power of his writing although it has been chosen because for once Warner Allen is left speechless by the beauty of the wine.

“Chateau Lafite ’64 acknowledges no superior and, indeed, no equal. In magnum it may still be described as the divine idea of Claret in the Platonic sense, and, even in bottle, though the brilliance of its texture may just have begun to fade, it still defies criticism…..The beauty of Lafite ’64 is particularly hard to set down in words, because it holds so closely by the definition of the ideal Claret in which the general harmony of all qualities counts equally with the degree of excellence of each separate quality.”

Or consider this description of a Tokay Essence 1811. “It might be compared, almost without exaggeration, to the harmony of the sunset colours. Its extraordinary intensity belongs to a veritable attar of grapes, a quintessence of their most precious qualities. It can boast a Tithonus-like longevity. Nearly one hundred and twenty years old today, it should live another half century or more. The bottle can be opened and left indefinitely without apparent injury to the wine which has a radium-like power of emitting particles of perfume without exhausting itself.”

This book comes from an era when it was possible to know all the great wines. Table wines came from France or Germany and fortifieds came from Spain and Portugal and in some books madiera. The spirit after the meal was cognac. Nothing could upset this order and while mention is made of other regions these are really curios that are best sampled when travelling. As for cocktails they are a disease that has spread from America. Thus there is a limited range of wines that are the noble wines and coupled with this is the view that great wine means great age.

Books of this time had chapters devoted to fortifieds and cognac whereas today they get at most a few brief paragraphs or are not even mentioned. Cognac for example has been dropped from the current edition of the ‘World Atlas of Wine’.

This would surprise Warner Allen as the gods had set in place, he would feel for ever, what were the wines to drink. Despite incredible wine knowledge this is all contained within a finite boundary. Later in the book he turns to a favourite theme and devotes a chapter to the ‘Wines of Ancient Rome’ and like the rest of the book this is entertaining. It does not make him ask though if these wines could again be made in Italy, and is there a chance that great wine may come from other countries.

Another feature of this book is the display of erudition which takes the form of quoting poetry, references to Greek mythology, Latin and Greek prose, and numerous references to classical scholars. This was also quite common in wine books of this time and shows the small restricted audience they were written for and at times you get the feeling that likely buyers would have been well acquainted with the author.

As for the current wine writers view of relating wine back to terroir, the word is given two mentions both unflattering; the first is about the curious, unpleasant, terroir taste of a German wine, the other about the terroir taste of a cognac with its ‘curious rather earthy tang’.

The romance of wine is alive in this book and it’s imbued with the idea that wine is indeed the nectar of the gods and it is our privilege to have it given to us; at its best wine is an art and as such it may be for the best if we do not understand everything.

Well we never took that advice as we dissect every aspect of the wine business. What we have gained and lost is a bit early to say. There is no question the wine we drink on average is infinitely better but the mystery has gone and has been replaced by ‘The Idiots Guide to Wine’. We have though erected several other mysteries, or even religions, called ‘terroir’ and ‘bio-dynamic’ farming which should keep the unfathomable and romance going a little longer.


Ten Company Histories and Biographies of Our Wine Pioneers  - *(see note for details)

Review by David Farmer

In the wine business 50 years is too short for reflection while one hundred years spans several generations and covers a wide variety of trading conditions. Companies that are still family owned and trading after 100 years are the rare survivors and it was at this point that most of them commissioned a company history. Many great contributors to the Australian wine history, and to single out one, Alexander Kelly's Tintara, did not survive for long and we know little about them. more...


Bouquet  - G. B. Stern
Alfred A Knoff, New York, Second printing, 1928 (First published June, 1927)
Review by David Farmer

I cannot recall how I got to know about Bouquet. I purchased a copy from a dealer on Amazon for $30.00. I read books like this to gain a better idea of how wine was thought about prior to say 1950-1960, before it exploded in popularity in the English speaking countries and turned perhaps a simpler pleasure into the scientifically studied beverage of today. more...


The House of Mondavi  - Julia Flynn Siler
Gotham Books, June 2007
Review by David Farmer

To build two large businesses in a lifetime is quite a feat but to do it in the wine business where it can take generations to become established requires outstanding talent. more...


What Can You Learn from Seven Centuries of Trade.
Sherry
 - Julian Jeffs
Faber and Faber Limited, London. First Edition, 1961. A revised second edition was published in 1970.
Review by David Farmer

Why would you want to read a book on an unfashionable drink like sherry? What would I find coming back to a book I first read in the mid 1970's? At the time of release it was much praised and subsequent editions came out in 1970 and 1978. more...


Notes on a Cellar Book  - George Saintsbury
Published in 1920 with numerous reprints. Reissued 1978 (Macmillan)
Review by David Farmer

This short book had an enormous impact on wine writing after publication in 1920 and was quoted extensively for the next two decades and was still referred to by wine writers in the 1960's. It may be seen as a forerunner of later books that taught you how to enjoy wine by personal reminiscing about wines and in this way guided readers through the maze of wine types and wine lore. more...


The Heartbreak Grape, A Journey in Search of the Perfect Pinot Noir  - Marq de Villiers
Harper Collins, 1993, Toronto, Canada
Review by David Farmer

Pinotphiles is the name given to consumers who are dedicated to the mysteries and flavour of pinot noir. No other grape variety has such a band of promoters and to satisfy their needs a dozen or so ‘pinot celebrations’ are held every few years in the old and newly emerging pinot regions. more...


The Romance of Wine  - H. Warner Allen
Ernest Benn Limited, London, 1931
Review by David Farmer

'When the Portuguese are really enjoying themselves, they sing and dance to a noise resembling that of a heavy bombardment, and in a festival in the mountains at Amarante I was completely deafened by the unceasing roar of about sixty sheepskin drums beaten furiously, broken by violent dynamite explosions.'

This is Warner Allen’s picture of the locals in the Douro region who enjoy letting off rockets with sticks of dynamite attached when celebrating. Any book that discovered a tradition like that has something interesting to say. more...


In Search of Wine, A tour of the Vineyards of France  - Charles Walter Berry
Constable and Company, 1935. Republished in 1987 by Sidgwick and Jackson
Review by David Farmer

In late 1934 Charles Walter Berry undertook an eight week tour through the vineyards of France and In Search of Wine is the record of what is considered a ‘famous’ journey. In the introduction to the 1987 reprint by Jancis Robinson, she notes that, ‘Walter made wine trade history by venturing into the cellars of those who supplied him,…in order to understand better the product he was selling and to survey, in unparalleled depth for the time, the French vignoble.’ more...


Ancient Wine, The Search for the Origins of Viniculture  - Patrick E. McGovern
Princeton University Press, 2003
Review by David Farmer

We do not know when humans first began to enjoy fermented wine beverages. Ancient Wine traces the origin of the deliberate making of alcohol back to the early Neolithic, about 7000 years ago. A seasonal or occasional drinking of alcoholic beverages probably goes back much further as many fruits collected in a container would ferment naturally. The current warm cycle of the ice age commenced about 10,000 years ago and this also marked a change, in a region of the Middle East, when humans turned from nomadic hunter gatherers to the first permanent settlements based around the cultivation of cereal crops. It is suggested that the earliest permanent settlements began in Eastern Turkey in the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. more...


In Praise of Wine  - Alec Waugh
1959, (Cassel)
Review by David Farmer

In Praise of Wine is a book of personal reminiscences about wine and follows the style of the educated amateurs who wrote before and immediately after the Second World War. This book though was published in 1959 and has crossed into an era in which wine books were beginning to contain detailed descriptions of wine regions and technical aspects of wine making, the forerunners of today’s large wine publishing industry. This in turn heralded the end of the amateur commentator. more...


Stay Me with Flagons  - Maurice Healy
Michael Joseph, 1949
Review by David Farmer

The English wine trade has given us many things, such as wine and food societies, a great depth of literature covering the descriptive and technical aspects of wine and wine regions, notably on French wine, a sophisticated wine auction system and more recently teaching schools such as the Masters of Wine. more...


The New France
A Complete Guide to Contemporary French Wine
 - Andrew Jefford
Mitchell Beazley 2002
Review by David Farmer

How strange to divide wine writers into a wine left or right. It will help you to enjoy the early chapters of this book if you have a soft left interpretation of the world wine industry, and enjoy railing against the globalisation of wine, the sameness of taste, the industrialisation of wine and a future driven by world wide brands. This book takes the proposition that the true way to make wine comes from those who bond with the ground, who work the vineyard night and day, break their backs, and by so doing achieve in almost a religious sense a bonding with the earth, the place and the wine produced. more...


You Heard It Through The Grapevine - Shattering the myths about the wine business  - Stuart Walton
Aurum Press, London, 2001
Review by David Farmer

There are a great many wine books written each year. The problem is that it is hard to come up with a new perspective to make a book stand out. The wine industry evolves slowly which means most books are derivative. In this case it would seem that the publishers asked for a book that reveals the hidden secrets of a business that some may see as being full of mystery, hence the sub title of this book. more...


The Classic Book on Cocktails
The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks
 - David Embury
the first edition was in America in 1948 and Faber and Faber published the first British edition in 1953
Review by David Farmer

Some books give you such pleasure that you always want them nearby. And in my adventures into drinks no book has impressed me as much or given me more pleasure than this masterpiece on the art of making cocktails.

There are dozens of books about making cocktails, rather like there are about food, but few are worth the cover price. None approach the quality of this classic book. more...


Terroir: The Role of Geology, Climate, and Culture in the Making of French Wines  - James Wilson
Mitchell Beazley 1998
Review by David Farmer

Any vineyard owner will tell you that certain areas of their vineyard make better tasting grapes than other areas. Why some areas of vineyards and vineyard districts deliver better grapes and hence better wine is the subject of terroir studies. The Europeans and particularly the French are very interested in this topic. They extend the meaning of the word which we can roughly say is the flavour effects that come from the vineyard location to include cultural ideas which unite man with the soil. more...


Penfolds-The Rewards of Patience  - Andrew Caillard M.W.
(Fifth Edition)
Review by David Farmer

In the simplest term this is a consumers guide to all the Penfolds red and white wines. The tasting notes cover wines made by Penfolds in the 1950's right through to the current releases. There are tasting notes for every wine, apart from the Rawsons Retreat wines, the Koonunga Hill whites and one or two others which I detect the winemakers wish they did not have to make under the Penfolds banner. Others wines such as the Penfolds Old Vine Semillon which were part of edition 4 have been dropped off. more...


Classification of Australian Wines  - Dan Murphy
Macmillan 1974
Review by David Farmer

I’m a bit of a collector of wine books and recently purchased a first edition signed by Dan Murphy and by the great Hunter vigneron Max Lake. It cost $20.00 from the Berkelouw bookstore on Oxford Street, Sydney, where I buy a lot of second-hand wine books. I first read this book in 1975. Back then it was seen as a bold attempt to classify Australian vineyards and wines in a hierarchical system similar to the French appellation classification. It was a very useful book. Thirty years on it acts as a timepiece and is worth reviewing to see how the wine industry has evolved. more...


Real Wine - The Rediscovery of Natural Winemaking  - Patrick Matthews
Mitchell Beazley 2000
Review by David Farmer

This is one of a number of wine books published over the last few years, mostly by English authors, which take the view that there is a correct way to make wine and this is only known and followed by a small number of dedicated winemakers. The core of the argument is that big company winemaking produces ‘industrial’ wines and these lack character, while true wine is made by the artisanal wine maker using tools and methods, often ancient, which reflect the unique character of the site. more...


Ten Company Histories and Biographies of Our Wine Pioneers  - *(see note for details)

Review by David Farmer

In the wine business 50 years is too short for reflection while one hundred years spans several generations and covers a wide variety of trading conditions. Companies that are still family owned and trading after 100 years are the rare survivors and it was at this point that most of them commissioned a company history. Many great contributors to the Australian wine history, and to single out one, Alexander Kelly's Tintara, did not survive for long and we know little about them. more...



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