Paul O'Doherty reviews the latest crop of wine books.
The World of Sicilian Wine
Bill Nesto and Frances Di Savino
University of California Press
This is written by an inseparable husband-and-wife team of Italian-American writers with a long love affair with Italy. Nesto has written the chapters on the Sicilian wine industry from the late 18th century to the present day as well as the tasting notes, while Di Savino has looked after the historical and cultural dimensions of Sicilian wine. So, for the most part, we get two distinct voices telling the one story that covers, inter alia, Greek mythology, the arrival of the Romans and Muslims, a glance at Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa's The Leopard, British influence, and the impact of phylloxera. The chapter on the modern Sicilian wine industry begins in the 1950s and deals with European legislation, the rise and fall of the cooperative movement, over-production, the bulk-wine phenomenon, the impact of Giacomo Tachis ('father of Supertuscan wines', and the man behind Sassicaia, Tignanello and Solaia), Diego Planeta's entrepreneurial genius (from Settesoli, the biggest co-operative in Sicily), and the showcasing of indigenous varieties. With sections on the region's geography, vine varieties (indigenous and international), the viticulture and oenology specific to the area, and profiles of Sicilian winegrowers, Nesto also covers the challenges facing the Sicilian wine industry from the inevitable end of subsidies to the cultural identity that is blind to collaboration and coordination. Overall, this is a fascinating, well-written study of an area by an accomplished duo who bring Sicily and its wines to life.
My Favourite Burgundies
University of California Press
Following on from his previous books on the region, Côte d'Or (1998) and The Wines of Burgundy (2008), Coates focuses in this edition on his favourite wines with a decent biographical background to each vineyard to start with followed by a vintage-by-vintage analysis of the memorable years with copious tasting notes. As he clearly points out in his preface, this is not a text book on the wines of Burgundy. There are no chapters on the history or geography of the region. Nor does he explore the villages nor offer a comprehensive vineyard analysis. Instead, what we get is a personal view enriched with Coates's expertise laid out in a number of sections including vineyard profiles, domaine profiles and vintage assessments. Packed with tasting notes, a selection of maps and much of Coates's encyclopaedic knowledge of the area, some would say at times it's a little padded out. For instance, while discussing the arguments for and against the half-bottles, do we need to know the ins-and-outs of finishing off one such half of Domaine Grivot's Clos de Vougeot 1964 while doing the washing up? At its best, however, it's a really good companion piece to Coates's The Wines of Burgundy or Jasper Morris' Inside Burgundy that will be of value to a variety of readers, novice or connoisseur alike.
Cognac - The Story of The World's Greatest Brandy
Nicolas Faith, formerly a senior business editor with The Sunday Times and The Economist and a regular contributor to the Financial Times, has been synonymous with cognac for 30 years, while also writing on Champagne and Bordeaux. Having already written Cognac as part of the Mitchell Beazley Classic Wine Library, and a glossier follow-up edition a few years later under the same title, Faith now publishes a similar study of the region with Infinite Ideas, effectively an updated edition of his previous books. Anyone familiar with previous editions will recognise a lot of what they've already read, although, there are slight changes. The format for the most part is the same, outlining how cognac is made; what is unique about its personality; and how its Roman origins, the salt route, its closeness to the sea, the influence of Dutch traders, religious persecution, the purity of the region's waters, the French revolution, the Napoleonic years, phylloxera, fraudsters, German invasions, and 'Les Trente Glorieuses' (the glorious 30 years from 1945 to 1975), among other phenomena, all influenced its history. In between, there are panels on luminaries and significant aspects of the cognac world including Richard Hennessy, Limousin and Troncais oak, classic older vintages, the big four producers, cognac's secret ingredient, Jean Martell and Michel Coste, among others. The last section offers an overview of what's enjoyable about cognac with a biographical summary of the best producers in the region along with short snappy synopses of what to expect from the various house or brand styles. This is a well-written, informative page-turner that's definitely worth the (not inconsiderable) investment, particularly if you haven't come across Faith's work on cognac before.