Drink and Be Merry

Another day and another first for this blog.  Delighted to say that after 5 years of blogging I've been sent my first book to review - "Drink Me! How to choose, taste and enjoy wine" by award-winning wine taster and writer Matt Walls.

Wine terrifies me.  Not in the same way heights or really big spiders do, more that it's just all so baffling.  I grew up watching Oz Clarke and Jilly Goolden making funny faces and talking about greasy motorbikes and liquorice allsorts yet roll forward 20 years and now it's all about finding the best bottle to go with your pan-fried sea bass or rhubarb panacotta.  As someone who spent much of her early twenties drinking Blossom Hill (hey it was 3 bottles for £10 and I was a poor student so don't judge!) it can all be a bit baffling. 

The Pitch

"Fed up with mediocre wine but not sure how to go about spotting the diamond bottles from the dross? Fear not! With Drink Me! ... as your guide you will soon be extracting the maximum pleasure from every mouthful." [Publisher's website]

Cover star [Photo: Cardiff Bites]
The introduction promises this will not only help you pick wine for every occassion, it'll also make you more confident about wine, educate you about different grapes, regions and styles, and above ultimately change the way you drink wine to make it more enjoyable.

The Look

Matt's style is chatty and informal rather than prescriptive and preachy - something that the book's style reflects really well. The pages are colourful and the text broken down into small, bite-sized chunks of information so that you don't feel overwhelmed by what can be quite a heavy subject. 
Reisling - bit like a greyhound apparently [Photo: Cardiff Bites]
Take the page above.  It sits just after a description of wine from the Alsace region (or Alsatian, if you will) and goes on to talk about why wines are like dogs.  Pinot Noir is a weimaraner ("sleek and attractive") whilst a Pinot Gris is a labrador (weightier than a Reisling with a tendancy towards being flabby).  It's bonkers but it keeps you engaged with the subject.

The Layout

Chapter 3 - Talking about wine without feeling awkward [Photo: Cardiff Bites]
The book is set out into two distinct sections - Part 1. Buying, Tasting, Drinking which includes tips on getting the most out of your wine, wine tasting tips and how to talk about wine without sounding like a fool.  Part 2 focuses on old world (European) and new world (just about everywhere else) wines, taking each country then dividing it down into wine regions and pointing out the best and worst for each.

The Test

After a few days of reading through the different sections it was time to put it to the test.  Whilst I know what I like to drink at home with friends, I struggle with matching wine to meals and often worry that perhaps I'm not getting the most out of a bottle.  Armed with a few suggested flavour pairings, I headed to the off-license.

Chateau de Parenchere (left) and Lar de Sotomayor (right)
First up we picked a bottle of white Bordeaux to go with a spicy dish.  It's not strictly what Matt recommended but feeling enboldened (or slightly confused) once we got to the off-license I opted for a bottle of Chateau de Parenchere 2008.  A sauvignon/ semillion/ muscadelle blend this was medium sweet without being sickly.  We drank it and enjoyed but still felt we weren't getting the best for our money.

We went back to Matt's advice and picked a rioja crianza (Lar de Sotomayor 2008) to drink with a slow-roast lamb dish.  Unwittingly we also managed to pick the best classification of Spanish wine - denominacion de origen calificada.  This was medium bodied, packed with blackberry flavour and worked wonderfully with the lamb.

The Verdict

This isn't a book I'd read from cover to cover, though of course you can if you want to. Instead I'd use it as a guide, dipping in and out as needed - the layout of the book lends itself well to this type of reading and reminded me a lot of The Flavour Thesaurus by Niki Segnit.

What is has done is get me thinking more about wine, about which flavours I like and what I want to get out of it whether that's a glass to unwind with after a long day or something to share with friends over a meal.  As Matt puts it "There are an endless number of different ones to try.... and they get you amusingly wasted.  All you need to do is pull the cork out and pour."  I can't say fairer than that.

Drink Me! by Matt Walls is due to be published on May 24th and will retail for £12.99.  Thanks to Quadrille Publishing for supplying an advance copy for this review.


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