Wine From Another Galaxy: Noble Rot by Dan Keeling and Mark Andrew

Wine from another galaxy

What’s the USP? The none-more-hip guide to the world of upmarket European wine, with an emphasis on the natural wine movement, from the team behind Noble Rot, one of London’s best wine bars/restaurants and an acclaimed wine and food magazine of the same name.

Who are the authors? Noble Rot’s founders, who are Dan Keeling, a former record company executive (whose claim to fame is signing Coldplay, but we won’t hold that against him) and Mark Andrews, a wine retail and hospitality professional. This is their first book.

Is it good bedtime reading? With two highly acclaimed restaurants to their name, food is a very big part of what Noble Rot but, as you will have guessed from the title, this is not the Noble Rot cookbook. It contains just four recipes with wine pairing suggestions, not plucked from their own menus, but recycled from old books: crab and tarragon salad by Ottolenghi, quail and peas by Simon Hopkinson from the excellent Week In, Week Out and Onglet Braised in Pinot Noir by Henry Harris from one of my all time favourite books Harvey Nichols: The Fifth Floor (the cookbook of a restaurant where I did a few work ‘stages’ in the kitchen back in the 90s), plus an uncredited recipe for a dessert of rose-scented strawberries. So, Wine From Another Galaxy is all about bedtime reading. Or preferably, favourite-chair-and-glass-of-what-you-fancy reading.

What will I love? The book is divided into two parts (ok, I realise that’s nothing to get excited about in itself, but bear with me). The first ‘Shrine to the Vine’ comprises a series of essays that variously tell the story behind the Noble Rot empire (with a contribution from restaurant critic and Noble Rot investor Marina O’Loughlin), explain how to order wine in a restaurant, provide a brief overview of the wine making process and lay out the characteristics of the main grape varieties used in wine making. There’s also a guide on how to serve wine, how to judge wine, how to detect faults in wine and how to talk about it, so you’ll be fully primed to pull out terminology like ‘energy’, ‘texture’, ‘tension’ and ‘originality’ over a glass of Muscadet at your next oh-so-ironic cheese and wine party.

Although it’s all done with a certain style and attitude (which we’ll come back to), there’s much in the book that feels familiar from other introductory wine books such as The Richard and Judy Wine Book , a reference that may fit Noble Rot’s definition of ‘so un-cool, it’s cool’ (a phrase that appears in the book and also as a category on their wine lists) but sadly I’m not cool enough to know. However, whether or not it’s cool to be using the terms ‘un-cool’ and ‘cool’ in 2021 is definitely up for debate.

Part two, ‘Rotters’ Road Trip’ is where things get really interesting. Our intrepid heroes set out a across Europe to visit winemakers in France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Germany and Greece before returning to England to, very briefly, investigate the sparking wine scene. The first hand reportage adds authority to the writing and, unless you are a serious wine geek, you will encounter producers such as Jonatan Garcia Lima in Tenerife and perhaps even some wine regions like the Gredos Mountains in Spain that may be new to you.

What won’t I like? The insistence on continually drawing comparisons between the worlds of wine and music (wine is the new rock’n’roll man!) becomes a little wearing. By the time you read that Cornas from Northern Rhone has a ‘character so feral it could have its own chapter in Mötley Crüe biography The Dirt’ you may well be rolling your eyes.

Despite O’Loughlin’s claim in the book that ‘exclusionary wine bollocks has never been what Noble Rot is about’ it’s difficult to shake off a sense of elitism about the whole thing. There’s the celebrity associations including Keira Knightly, Marc Ronson, Eno and James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem and a focus on wines that will require some time, effort and often money for many readers to track down. You certainly won’t find any of these wines at you local supermarket -‘their shelves are mostly full of competent yet bland, industrially made bottles’ we are told. I also struggled to find producers mentioned in the book at my local independent wine merchants. Readers in London will certainly have more luck and the online stores of big merchants such as Berry Brothers and Rudd are the best bet for those outside of the capital.

In the know ‘jokes’ such as including Petrus 1991 in a list of rare ‘unicorn’ wines (1991 was one of the years Petrus didn’t declare a vintage. What? You didn’t know? Oh, OK. Perhaps a bottle of M&S Classic Claret is more your speed?) also don’t help foster a sense of inclusivity.

Should I buy it? Despite the above detailed misgivings, Wines From Another Galaxy is a great introduction to the subject of wine, is an enjoyable read and well designed. Part two of the book also makes it suitable for those who know their subject

Suitable for: Wine newbies and more experienced drinkers.
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars
Buy this book: The Noble Rot Book: Wine from Another Galaxy
£30, Quadrille Publishing Ltd. 

Which Wine When by Bert Blaize and Claire Strickett

Which Wine When by Bert Blaize and Claire Strickett

What’s the USP? An accessible and practical introduction to pairing wine with food from takeaways to Sunday lunches and everything in between.

Who are the authors? Sommelier Bert Blaize has worked at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons and The Clove Club in Shoreditch. He has won the title of the UK’s Top Young Sommelier, and currently takes care of the wine at Serge et le Phoque in London’s Fitzrovia. Claire Strickett’s has worked in kitchens, then restaurant marketing, publicity and recipe writing for leading chefs and restaurateurs, including Skye Gyngell, Rowley Leigh, Russell Norman, Gail’s Bakery and Byron.

Food and wine matching? That’s all a bit elitist, isn’t it? If you’re in a posh restaurant and the sommelier is pressuring you to have the premium wine flight to go with your already ruinously expensive tasting menu, then it certainly can be. But Blaize and Strickett are coming from a very different angle on the subject. As explained in the introduction, the book ‘doesn’t assume you know much about wine, have a big budget or hang out in trendy wine stores. It just assumes you’re a greedy person who wants to know more about which wine to drink when but doesn’t know where to start.’

So should I take the book along with me when I next go to a fine dining place in order to fend off the sommelier’s advances on my wallet? Not really. There’s a couple of pages dedicated to the authors’ top ten tips for drinking wine in restaurants but this is more for when you’re cooking or ordering-in food at home and want to buy a nice bottle or two to go with your meal.

What can I expect to find in the book then? The ‘wine basics’ chapter is designed for genuine wine newbies, the sort of people who have previously only drunk fruit-flavoured cider, alcopops, tequila slammers and one-armed scissors. For those that know their Viognier from their Vermentino, the book becomes more interesting during the central six short chapters (the book is less than 200 pages long) where all the matching actually happens.

What do I get for my tenner? A total of 79 dishes (including snacks and cheeses) each get a one-page (about 200 words) entry with matching wine. Each is broken down into the same question-led format (not a million miles away from the style of the reviews on this site) that asks and answers ‘What’s The Wine?’, ‘Why This Wine’, ‘If you can’t find this, go for…’, and ‘If all else fails, asks for…’.  For example, in the Home Cooked Classics chapter,  sausage mash and gravy is paired with South African Shiraz for its warm smoky flavours and cracked black pepper notes. A Syrah/Shiraz from the Rhone or Australia or any spicy, medium-bodied red are offered as alternatives. In addition, there are ‘at a glance’ charts covering what wines to drink with Chinese, Indian, Mexican and  Japanese food, pizza, roasts, fish and hot puddings that offer dozens of more food and wine pairings.

What if I’m an experienced wine drinker? Will I get anything out of Which Wine When? Depends. When was the last time you considered drinking Asti Spumante with Goan fish curry, Manzanilla sherry with fried chicken or pairing your lamb doner kebab with a cheeky glass of off-dry Mosel Riesling?

Fair enough. So, I should buy it then? If you like your wine books light-bodied with a well balanced, simple structure and just a little bit fruity, this is for you.

Suitable for: Aspirational drunkards
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars

Buy this book
Which Wine When: What to drink with the food you love
£9.99, Ebury Press