A dalliance with wine – the Haynes Wine Manual
Wine has a cultured history which flows like a stream of consciousness from our pre-historic beginnings to the current day. And it is a little bit of this story that I try and tell in the Haynes Wine Manual.
It is the first time I have written about wine – books on beer and whisky were my drinks of choice. And I have to admit that I’ve been on quite a journey as I’ve discovered much about the history of wine and its close links with our culture.
I’ve explored wine in all its colours and styles and found out what a marvellous companion it is not just to food but as an ingredient in its own right and its quite easy to make at home.
Almost, since the first sip of wine was taken it has inspired philosophers, painters, poets, potters and even politicians. It is a drink of great complexity, which can soar with rich flavours and wonderful aromas. Wine is the drink for Kings and Queens and it flows like a river through many of our religions. But, wine is also the drink of ordinary people, an easy going drink often made from fruits foraged the field.
The Egyptians, Greeks and Romans took grape vines with them wherever they went – wherever their cultures touched can be founded traces of winemaking and its consumption.
And so too, when Europeans set off in frail ships to explore the earth and landed in Australia and South and North American, they carried vines. Wine clearly was seen as part of a civilising and civilised life.
It is a drink now made on most continents and in many counties. But, good wine doesn’t just come from faraway places, it can be found here in England too.
Not far from Oxford, there’s the Bothy Winery in Frilford Heath. Here it’s quite clear to see the link between the earth, the rhythms of the seasons and the wine made. Here they link wine with art, as once a year they put some really nice sculptures within their vineyard itself. It’s a fabulous display.
In researching the wine book, I was often asked what is the best wine in the world? What is the best wine you have ever drunk?
I’ve been lucky and visited some of the finest winemakers in the world and sipped on some of the world’s most expensive grand cru wines destined to be drunk at a fine banquet or dinner.
I’ve also drunk fresh wine, straight from the barrel, which the maker is proud to call “vin ordinaire” and say “this is not for storing, it is for drinking.”
Great wines are all about the moment, the company and the conversation.
Recently on a trip to France, I was in the company of one of France’s new wave of innovative winemakers Domaine Bellevue’s Jean-Francois Boras, we decided that we should find a cafe to eat in.
It was a Monday night, in Cadillac, set in the heart of one of the country’s great wine growing areas, Bordeaux. However, we only found one café open – an Italian pizzeria. A style of café surprisingly common in south west France.
So as we snacked on slices of freshly made pizza, Jean-Francois ordered a bottle wine.
Outside the heat of the day, still filled the air, it must have been nearly 30C and as the sun set and church bells tolled, the day seemed to get no cooler.
In the region of France, which produces some of the greatest wines ever made, Jean-Francois ordered a bottle of Italian 8% red Lambrusco. He also asked for some ice cubes.
And so we sat, sipping on our glasses of wine, into which we’d put some of the ice cubes. For that moment, it was the perfect wine. Light and refreshing, it lifted our spirits, took some of the heat out of the day and inspired our conversation.
And as the sky went dark and we could clearly see the planets Venus and Jupiter basking in the sun’s excess in a celestial embrace. I realised, for that moment, I had the perfect wine.
“Wine” says Jean-Francois, “enables us to discover who we are.”
The Haynes Wine Manual cannot replicated the tastes and textures of a glass of wine, it cannot repeat the sheer, pleasure of drinking a glass of wine and it cannot explore every nuance and fact about the thousands of vineyards and winemakers worldwide.
But, the book might just help people find their own perfect moment.
Haynes Wine Enthusiasts’ Manual is priced at £22.99 and available from http://www.haynes.co.uk