Never one to miss a trend, even if at the tail end, I got swine flu last week. I do not recommend it. I did, on the other hand, get some relief in my bed of pain from several very good books—this year’s vintage is not large, but certainly high quality. The best antidote to the general misery was Been Doon So Long, by Randall Grahm (University of California Press, $34.95), a collection of highlights from his madcap newsletter and the only wine book I know that has edified me and made me laugh out loud at the same time.
From the dedication (to philosopher John Locke) to the glossary (featuring, among the wine
terms, a sprinkling of Yiddish, useful phrases such as “pet de cheval”—horse fart—and a great deal of common sense), as well as the adventures of Don Quijones, the Man for Garnacha, and parodies of Kafka, Joyce, and everyone else Randall could think of (including himself), it’s a joy. This be madness all right, yet there is method in it, too. A bedside book for the ages. Or ageless. . .
On a more serious note (actually, after Randall, everything is serious!), there are two beautifully made books that kick off a new series: The Finest Wines of Tuscany and Central Italy, by Nicolas Belfrage, and The Finest Wines of Champagne, by Michael Edwards (University of California Press, $34.95 each in America; Aurum Press, £20 in the UK). This is a project from the entertainingly erudite quarterly magazine The World of Fine Wine, a pair of beautifully designed high-quality paperbacks, with evocative photography by Jon Wyand. Both authors are experts and eloquent, and the format—an examination of “wines most worth talking about” through the medium of profiles of 100 or so winemakers, buttressed by authoritative background essays and a series of “best” lists that create a gallery of each region’s winemaking peaks—is a model of attractive clarity. Unmissable.