How many times do we read a wine review where seeemingly simple words such as ‘yeast’ or ‘fermentation’ are mingled together with the likes of ‘lees ageing’ or ‘tannins’? Very often.
Are these mingled or mangled. Both! Also, very often.
In most cases I don’t mind that columnists attempt to make life simple for the rest of us. At times, however, I wonder whether they know what they are talking about at all. After all, it’s very easy to be told that, ‘the grapes are whole bunch with spontaneous fermentation and short maceration‘ or that, ‘with barrel fermentation, maturing on the lees and malolactic fermentation sometimes applied to further enhance the richness‘. What is this?
I do mind that columnists tend to ONLY talk of wine excellence. What about their views as to which wines to avoid? Why not tell us when a wines’ acidity is just too high – and why! Or how about that old chestnut where one wine writer extols the virtues of a whiff of kerosene from a Riesling while another claims it as a wine fault! This is only one example of two sides to an argument. Many exist. Nearly all of which never make it to any wine column. Ever.
Help is at hand.
Keith Grainger is a top class writer who specialises in writing in detail on wine making and its associated chemistry. He is also quite brilliant at making sure we understand what he is writing about. This year his Wine Faults and Flaws: A Practical Guide was published (Wiley Blackwell). His publishers tell us that, Keith Grainger is a wine writer, educator and consultant in wines and wine technology. His last book Wine Production and Quality, 2nd Edition (with co‑author Hazel Tattersall) won the Gourmand Award for the Best Wine Book for Professionals in 25 Years.
This book at just over €100 (528 pages) in not inexpensive.
It is, however, worth it to anyone and everyone who writes about wine, makes wine and, indeed, wants to learn about wine. This is a book that allows us to question.
It explains, in both simple to read and also in great scientific detail, almost every known wine fault and flaw that has ever been identified. As each of these are associated with all of the words and terminology we are familar with (such as the aforementioned yeast!), barrels. ageing, tannins, acidity, colour, oxygen, tasting and on and on we are treated here to a feast of understanding.
To begin Keith explains to us that the reader of this book should have a basic knowledge of winemaking (if not we are directed to Wine Production and Quality, see above). That said he does emphasise that his book is suitable for those of us with a limited scientific knowledge. He achieves this by peppering the text with anecdotes and, wherever possible, the use of general terms.
A superb feature of this book is its ability to repeat istelf. This allows the reader take each chapter or, indeed, subsection on its own without the need to refer back to something already forgotten! This makes the extremely detailed table of contents very useful. We can dive straight into ‘Premature Oxidation (Premox)’ or ‘The Role of Metal Ions’ without the need of additional introductions.
Don’t misunderstand me here. This is not a simple book. It is extreme in its detail and very, very complex. It has been written, however, as a readable book and not as a collection of scientific papers. This is where its genius lies. This is where wine writers in the English language can no longer hide behind ignorance as to what is a fault, a flaw or a taint! It is a book that can be used as a reference guide from the least competent wine writer to the most assiduous wine student – before they use technical terms or, as it happens far too often, abuse them.
Do I recommend this book? Absolutely. It is brilliant but please, please read the excerpt on the publishers web site HERE before you commit to buying it. There is complexity in ‘Wine Faults and Flaws‘ and as such this book will not sit well on the coffee table. But, boy, what a fantastic reference book!