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Thursday 4 March 2010

Book Review: Life's Too Short to Drink Bad Wine

Life's Too Short to Drink Bad Wine: 100 Wines for the Discerning Drinker is by Spectator and Guardian columnist Simon Hoggart. With such prestigious wine buff credentials, it was clear that Simon would be an authoritative author of the illustrated hardback, which came out late last year.

And from the very first page, Hoggart's enthusiasm about his subject is both obvious and infectious. He's adamant that wine is “the most delicious, the most complicated, most beguiling and fascinating drink mankind has ever come up with,” and asserts that: “You can guzzle beer to make you drunk, you can knock back half a bottle of whiskey when the one true love of your life says goodbye. But wine is the original elixir of happiness.”

He is a warm, articulate and knowledgeable narrator, and manages to be instructive and informative without ever once stooping to lecturing, patronising or condescension. And to be honest, if Stephen Fry, the cleverest man in the world, likes it (he said that just like the kind of wine it references, “the book leaves you feeling warmer and happier”), then that's enough to convince me that it's well-researched and written.

And much as I found it a fascinating read, that's where I hit a snag with this book. I'll be the first to admit that although I could probably compete in world championships when it comes to wine-guzzling, my knowledge about what makes a good one is almost non-existent. So, much as I'm confident from his history and the praise that's been lavished on Life's Too Short... that Hoggart knows what he's on about, I'm not informed enough to do much other than take his anecdotes, assertions and advice at face value.

Which isn't to say that Life's Too Short... is inaccessible to non-buffs like me. On the contrary, Hoggart is keen to dismiss and ridicule snobbery about wine, although he caveats this instruction thusly: “this is not to say that you should subscribe to the 'I'll drink anything provided it's alcoholic and doesn't taste as if it's meant to unblock drains' school of wine appreciation.”

The A-Z ordering of Hoggart's 100 wines for discerning drinkers makes it easy to navigate, and he manages a difficult combination of describing each one in detail but using language and terminology anyone can understand. It would have benefited from price range key and also context of where it could be bought for each one, as by Hoggart's own admission some are hideously over-expensive, and it would have been helpful to have it indicated which ones these were before I start salivating over his descriptions of them.

Despite that gripe, Hoggart's anecdotes for each of his featured wines will give both buffs and newbies alike a good grasp of why he rates them so highly. Helpfully, Life's Too Short... also includes a series of advice articles, including his top tips on buying wine, what to look for on the labels, which names to trust and when should stock up bargains and when to resist temptation and leave them safely on the shelf.

And the resounding advice he reiterates over and over is to ignore rules and preconceptions, such as the widely-held beliefs about which wines go with which meals, for example, and above all to trust your own tastebuds and personal preferences, whilst appreciating the time, love, attention, care and craft which has gone into each glass.

If all this banter about which wines are the best is making you thirsty, but you've become a bit too befuddled for a confident selection at the supermarket or off licence, then Life's Too Short... could be just what you need. It's published by Quadrille and can be yours for £6.87, from Amazon.


  1. Well, I think I've found my aunt's birthday present.

  2. Woot! Let us know what she thinks!


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