Five cracking Christmas book gifts for food & wine lovers
Haven't found a christmas present yet? We offer some advice ...
From memoir to essay, life-affirming recipes to gastronomic guides and conscientious consumption, here are some perfect Christmas gifts.
1. In Vino Veritas, Academie du Vin
Just imagine if you could gather all the most erudite, entertaining and eloquent wine writers, past and present, in one place. Sadly, it’s not physically possible, but this collection gives a sense of just how sparkling the conversation would be.
Voices from the distant past, Horace and Baudelaire, mingle with assertive views from early 20th century authorities, Charles Walter Berry and Maurice Healy. They’re joined by thorny debate on subjects such as “Tea vs Bollinger” by PG Wodehouse, enviable reminiscence as Steven Spurrier recalls “Memorable Menus”, and thought-provoking gems from ever original minds including Dan Keeling and Randall Grahm.
It’s a – beautifully bound – combination that cries out for a roaring fire, deep arm chair and a glass of something suitably meditative. In short, this is perfect Christmas reading for anyone who loves good wine and great writing.
2. Cooking: Simply & Well, for one or many Jeremy Lee
If the breathless pace of London’s ever-shifting restaurant scene gets too much, then ignore this week’s hot new opening and treat yourself to the reassuringly timeless delights of Quo Vadis. Now, finally, its inimitable chef-patron Jeremy Lee has immortalised in literary form his talent for combining excellent yet unfussy modern British cuisine with beguiling hospitality.
There are plenty of Quo Vadis staples here, not least its famous smoked eel sandwich, but this is very much a recipe book for the home cook. Whether you seek that perfect pie recipe, or ideas to celebrate seasonal treasures such as wild garlic, then let Lee be your trusty guide.
But just as delicious food isn’t the only reason to visit Quo Vadis, so too this book is far more than a collection of recipes. Stylishly written with delightful turns of phrase, it is a reminder that good food is inextricably linked to the joys of nature, fond memories and heart-warming company. Quo Vadis regulars will love the familiar illustrations too.
3. The Wine Lover’s Daughter, Anne Fadiman
It’s not always easy being closely related to a confirmed wine lover. In this perceptive and tender memoir, Anne Fadiman looks back on her father’s life, and indeed her own, though the prism of his intense oenophilia.
American author, critic and broadcaster Clifton Fadiman was a well-known intellectual, who passed on his enquiring mind and literary sensibility to his children. But the family found it harder to share his second great passion, one less obvious for a man born into an impoverished Jewish family from Brooklyn.
“Aside from his books, he loved nothing – and no one – longer, more ardently, or more faithfully than he loved wine,” his daughter recalls. Anyone who finds themselves on either side of a similar parental relationship will treasure this affectionate yet not uncritical examination of a life immeasurably enhanced by wine.
4. The Wine Dine Dictionary, Victoria Moore
This isn’t a new book, but it’s a timeless and trusty companion for anyone who loves food, wine or especially a happy combination of the two. Whether you’re seeking fresh ideas to accompany roast pork, in a panic about what to serve with that bottle of Xinomavro or simply wondering if there’s any wine that goes with eggs, this dictionary – or should that be bible – has the answer.
Like all useful dictionaries, the information is cleverly presented in a “bilingual” format that lists key ingredients or dishes in the first half of the book before switching to grape varieties or wine styles in the second half. There’s also useful guidance on how factors such as salt, sweetness, fat and acidity can affect the harmony between wine and food.
But this isn’t just a dry reference book. Extra colour comes from the many winemakers who share their own favourite combinations, often local specialities. Think suckling pig with Douro reds or slow-smoked pork shoulder with South African Chenin Blanc. Before long you’ll open this book before you open the fridge.
For a condensed version with more recipes, reach for a more recently published, enticing spin-off, Fried Eggs & Rioja.
5. Eating to Extinction, Dan Saladino
Food is about pleasure, but it’s also about biodiversity, culture, health and – ultimately – survival. The explosion of global cuisines now available masks the reality that our diets have never been narrower. Journalist Dan Saladino uses this book to explore how the benefits of large-scale, cheap production come at the expense of driving many valuable foods to the brink of extinction.
Over the course of chapters devoted to themes such as cheese, alcohol, vegetables and wild food, Saladino highlights threatened ingredients and the people who still champion them. One moment he’s talking to a Herefordshire farmer tending a critically endangered pear variety, the next he examines an unlikely but mutually beneficial partnership between the Hadza people and honeyguide birds of Tanzania.
The overall effect is a sense of wonder at the host of hidden or forgotten edible delights on this planet, combined with a real sense of urgency about preserving them. In many cases, we risk not fully understanding what we’ve lost until it’s too late. This is a book for food lovers who want to eat better in every sense.
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