Wine Books: Jamie Goode
Back in the days when the internet was young, Jamie Goode was a biologist working as an editor for a scientific foundation. He found his way to full-time wine writing through Wine Anorak, one of the internet's pioneering personal wine websites.
Have you ever felt behind the loop on something? You know what I mean; the realisation that although you have finally reached a target or discovered some truth, and should be filled with a sense of achievement and satisfaction, you're actually only doing what everybody else was doing last month, or even last year? It feels a little like that with finishing this book; having been slipped into my reading list beneath Terry Theise and Alice Feiring I have only just turned the final page, but I know it has already been extensively reviewed elsewhere, online and even in print publications. I'm going to roll out my standard excuse, that I'm busy, and I spend my days trying to keep too many balls in the air. I've a feeling that might not wash with the authors though; Jamie Goode runs a popular website and maintains a weekly wine column in the mainstream British press (a rare creature these days), and still finds time to travel and taste (Jamie was there when I visited Chapoutier last year), honour a string of speaking engagements, contribute to The World of Fine Wine and as if that weren't enough write more than a handful of books. Meanwhile Sam Harrop, a Master of Wine and popular character on the UK wine scene, is a travelling wine consultant, and as well as directing the Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc Ambassadors programme in the Loire he also cofounded Domaine Matassa and is one of the chairmen of the International Wine Challenge. Hmmm....I had better stop whinging about how busy I am, and get onto the book.
If this book should be contrasted against any other I have read recently, it is surely Naked Wine by the aforementioned Alice Feiring. Both are in the same wine arena, 'natural' wine, although both carefully avoid using the term 'natural wine' - which can be divisive, in some quarters at least - in their titles. But whereas Alice's book was perhaps as much about self-discovery as it was about wine, Jamie and Sam have a more authoritative, investigative and exclusively wine-orientated tone. This is not a book about them, it is most certainly about wine, and at times they take their subject matter to a level of technical detail that should keep even the most ardent and demanding of wine geeks happy. If you want to better understand the process of oxidation, for example, where acetaldehyde originates and what role sulphur dioxide might play in preventing (or should that be masking?) this process (and that's not as a simple antioxidant - I know, I've read Goode & Harrop, you see) then this is the book for you. Alice will tell you how she felt as the wine charmed her tastebuds and made her soul flutter; Jamie and Sam will tell you why the wine feels like that, how it was achieved, and what could be done about any wine faults that might have crept in along the way. It's an important distinction.
There is no shortage of humanity here though; please don't walk away from this review thinking that this book is a dry or academic tome, it is not. Jamie and Sam do well to explain their points using well-chosen words, and thankfully do not resort to boxes of equations filled with redox reactions or similar. And throughout the book they illustrate their arguments with anecdotal reports from across the globe; Ted Lemon from Littorai Wines gets three pages to describe his 'natural' winemaking philosophy, for example, and numerous case studies look at the issues up for debate from the eyes of Philippe Drouhin, Anne-Claude Leflaive, the Henschke family and many others. With the help of these other characters Sam and Jamie conduct a thorough review of winemaking, with detail that - despite the 'natural' and 'authentic' suggestions in the title - touches all corners of the wine world, from the smallest scale to the industrial. We canter through biodynamics, winery interventions, yeasts (cultured or otherwise), wine faults and even the carbon footprint of wine, an increasingly vital consideration. And yet, between all the words on amphorae, Brettanomyces, carbon dioxide and the like there is a great deal here that warms and entertains - down to Sam and Jamie as well as their many anecdotal vignettes - as well as it informs us.
My criticisms of the book are muted; after all, this is an engaging and enticing read. But at one or two points in the book I felt as though I would have liked more detail or further explanation. In the chapter which deals with winemaking interventions, for example, the statement that when acidifying a wine "tartaric acid is almost universally used" seems to be contradicted two paragraphs later with the statement that "if the wine in the tank needs adjustment, you can't use tartaric". I came to the conclusion that there was some nuance here I didn't understand, and perhaps more detail may have helped. Otherwise the only downfalls here are in the finishing of the book; first, some of the monochrome images used throughout are unclear, and the book would have benefited from larger images, or glossy plates, although perhaps the latter are just too costly? And second, considering the academic standing of the publishers the proof-reading seems to have overlooked some consistent errors, such as the use of the word regime instead of regimen, and the misspelling of Aubert de Villaine's surname. The finger of blame here is pointed at the University of California Press; it seems a shame to me that the hard work of the authors has been tempered by the somewhat slipshod efforts of the publishing house. Academic standards, please!
Ultimately, thanks to the quality and value this book provides, these publishing slip-ups do not distract from the enjoyment this book offers. It is richly informative, sensitively written and full of nuanced and interesting detail. I was not at all surprised to see it was short-listed for the very recent André Simon Food and Drink Book Awards, as this book plays a very vital role in the pantheon of wine writing which is short on accessible but technically-minded texts. This is a hole that Jamie has already done much to plug with his other books, including the award-winning Wine Science and Wine Bottle Closures, both published in 2006. I would have been delighted to see it win, but disappointingly it lost out to a beer book, a great shame for Jamie and Sam. It would have been a well deserved victory had they taken the prize; this is an excellent book which I am certain I will be referring back to in the coming years. And it would be great to see more from these authors; what's next on their agenda, I wonder?