Philip Williamson and David Moore’s Wine behind the label (5th edition) was judged Best Drink Book of 2007 in the André Simon Memorial Awards announced last week.
This is the book of which purple pager Neville Blech is an editor and to which he has ceaselessly drawn our attention – quite rightly since it is a terrifically useful 756-page compendium of succinct, informed and impartial profiles of producers all over the world with star ratings of (undated) individual wines.
Williamson and Moore, who cut their teeth compiling Oz Clarke’s Wine Guide CD Rom, have been publishing this guide themselves since 2001 – all based on their own travels and dedicated tasting programme. (Moore missed the Awards event in favour of Vinisud, the Montpellier wine fair dedicated to the wines of the south of France.)
Their entire lives are currently dedicated to this noble enterprise – or rather to assembling it rather than promoting it (a phenomenon familiar to this website proprietor). This and the fact that they are modest chaps is perhaps why the book has so far been slightly under-publicised – by me anyway - even though it won the inaugural Louis Roederer Award for annual wine guides 2006 and best wine book in last year's Glenfiddich Awards (currently being 'rested' by Glenfiddich's owners William Grant). If Williamson and Moore were loudmouths rather than open mouths the book might have sold more copies, although it might not have been so good. Its strengths are France, Italy, Germany, California, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa – not a bad list!
The next, 6th edition of Behind the Label was published last November at the reduced price of £19.99 in the hope that volume sales will outstrip those of the 2007 edition whose price was £27.50.
The wine book awarded a Special Commendation in the André Simon Awards was also self-published. Husband and wife team Charles Metcalfe and Kathryn McWhirter’s The Wine and Food Lover’s Guide to Portugal is another dense, information-rich guide, although liberally illustrated in this case with full colour photographs and attractive maps. At the Awards reception I was very sorry to hear that the generic promotion of Portuguese wines in the UK, one of its most important markets, no longer seems to be the high priority it was when I wrote Portugal – how to convince the rest of the world in 2006.
Best Food Book of 2007 was Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall and Nick Fisher’s The River Cottage Fish Book, another beautifully produced compendium. A Special Commendation also went to Delizia!, John Dickie’s epic history of the Italians and their food.
The André Simon Memorial Awards (www.andresimon.co.uk) are held annually to commemorate the eponymous bon viveur, wine merchant, prolific author, mentor of Hugh Johnson and founder of the Wine & Food Society. The winning books “must contain original research, be educational, pleasurable to read and well produced.” The winners each receive a cheque for £2000 with £1000 for special commendations.
Every year the Trustees of the Awards (disclosure: they include my husband Nick Lander whose sister is secretary of the Awards, which I have been lucky enough to win before their era) are helped by a specialist assessor: this year author and broadcaster Simon Parkes for the food books and wine writer Stephen Brook, wine writer and twice former winner of the drink book award, for the drink books. He told me he was somewhat miffed to realise that this meant he couldn’t submit his recent magnum opus on Bordeaux.
The Wine and Food Lover’s Guide to Portugal by Charles Metcalfe and Kathryn McWhirter (£16.75 Inn House Publishing www.innhousepublishing.com)
Feb 26 - David Crossley of Brighton, who drew my attention to the newer edition, of Behind the Label points out “This guide is a masterwork and a ‘must buy’ for all serious wine lovers. It also has the largest number of typos I've ever found in any book (dozen upon dozen) - in one entry in Provence (for La Badiane) it suggests that this domaine's vineyards appear on the cover whereas the 6th edn actually portrays Sant’Antimo in Tuscany, and even the odd wine region is spelt incorrectly. However, the guide is so good that even these rectifiable annoyances do not detract from its value."