Wine Books: Beverley Blanning
Beverley Blanning is an accomplished Master of Wine who writes on a wide range of subjects.
Browsing the shelves in a local bookshop, I was somewhat taken aback by the presence of two unusual titles, both from the Teach Yourself range published by Hodder Headline, nestling in amongst the wine titles. Why was I taken aback? One was Teach Yourself Happiness, the other Teach Yourself How To Flirt; I doubt either guide was supposed to be in the food and wine section, although I suppose wine may be relevant to both of these titles. Perhaps they had been placed there by a sales assistant with a quick sense of humour, or perhaps they had confused these titles with one far more appropriate for this section, Beverley Blanning's new addition to the Teach Yourself range, Choosing The Right Wine.
This is my first exposure to this range of self-help guides (I didn't succumb to the Flirting or Happiness titles), and clearly a lot of work has gone into this particular addition to the range. First glance suggests it to be very rich in information, with a focus on words and guidance, presented in a simple paperback format which resembles a summer holiday novel, and is miles away from the glossy, hardback, image-laden coffee table-style that is so common. Delving into the book, looking beyond the cheesy 'self-help' title, Beverley has in fact crafted a really useful guide for the beginner here. It follows an increasingly common theme in guides published today, one that encourages exploration through tasting and comparison, rather than the rather dry discourse, region by region, country by country, that has until recently characterised most wine guides.
Beverley divides her book into four sections, starting with "where to begin", in which she covers how to taste, and then straight into the second part where she deals with wine flavours, including grape varieties and understanding your own taste. Part three is perhaps the section that looks most traditional in its scope, describing the wine producing regions of the world, but it is not where the emphasis of the book lies. Squeezed into 72 pages, each region or country receives short shrift - the Loire a single page, England a single paragraph - with quick recommendations for wines (appellations or styles - no room here for recommended producers) to educate your palate. These tasting suggestions are a strong feature of the book, appearing throughout, from early chapters based on style (taste a Champagne vs. a Cava vs. a Moscato, advises Beverley, with guidance on the styles and flavours you might find) through to the last section, "buying, serving and storing wine", where there are even suggestions for exploring the interactions, good or bad, between food and wine.
Overall this is a very down-to-earth introductory guide to wine, and although clearly the word-heavy, image and figure-light style perhaps requires some commitment from the reader, it is certainly a very worthwhile guide. Although in a very different vein to the much more coffee table-orientated Wine Course from Andrew Jefford, the two have very firm similarities and, as I suggested was the case for Jefford's missive, this guide could also very well start someone down the road of a lifetime of wine enjoyment. And that would be money well spent.