Victoria Moore: the best drinks books for Christmas

Christmas booze books
Victoria Moore's boozy Christmas reading list

The moment when champagne wine growers realised they could make a wine that effervesced was not the cause for hallelulah-ing and joyous celebration that you might imagine. Sparkling champagne was so reviled by some of those who made and sold it that it was known as ‘vin du diable.’ Instead, the rise of champagne as we know it was born of "economic desperation and the rising fashion for a gimmick wine among an elite clientele" says Robert Walters in Bursting Bubbles: A Secret History of Champagne & The Rise of the Great Growers (Wordery, £18.99).

I can’t think of a better read for an intelligent and curious drinker of champagne

Walters explains that faced with competition from Burgundy (better still wines) and the south of France (cheaper, fuller wines) as well as a series of uninspiring vintages, the champenois found their hands were forced: if sparkling wine sold, that was what they must sell.

It is a typically cool-eyed insight from the author of this book, who salutes the genius of this wine region’s marketing, and says that the “carefully constructed” prestige of the cobblestoned Avenue de Champagne in Epernay puts Disneyland to shame.

Please don’t imagine that Walters is no fan of champagne. Quite the opposite: the wine merchant and vineyard owner has a real passion for the drink and while he is not afraid to demolish myths you will also learn much about the wines he loves in this excellent and carefully researched book. I can’t think of a better read for an intelligent and curious drinker of champagne this Christmas.

Left, Languedoc-Roussillon: The Wines and Winemakers is a superb guide to regional France; right, while the third edition of Stephen Brook's The Complete Bordeaux is a hefty gem for 2017

This year’s crop of drink books yields a few other gems. The heavyweight author and critic Stephen Brook brought out the third edition of his in-depth reference work The Complete Bordeaux: The Wines, The Chateaux, The People (Amazon, £53).

This detailed guide to over 1,000 wine producers and vintages from 1961 onwards is an indispensable companion for anyone with a serious interest in Bordeaux. Oh, and for anyone interested in older wines, there is a gentle nod to the greatest earlier years for Bordeaux, starting with 1825.

Languedoc-Roussillon: The Wines and Winemakers by Paul Strang (Amazon, £18) is another superb guide to regional France. Paul Strang fell in love with the area decades ago when he bought a ruin in the Midi and his expertise is considerable. Still on wine, I have been really enjoying 101 Wine FAQs: The answers to the questions that people ask about wine by Manchester-based wine writer Simon Woods (Amazon, £9).

101 Wine FAQs, and Victoria Moore's very own The Wine Dine Dictionary

Like a game of Trivial Pursuit or a cracker conundrum (but with much longer answers), it’s a book to have lying around over the Christmas break. You will find yourself dipping in and reading bits out. Example: which country drinks the most wine? The US, apparently. But per capita, it’s Italy, followed by France, Switzerland and then Portugal (the UK doesn’t make the top ten). The book is self-published and available at simonwoods.com as well as through amazon.co.uk for £9.

If I didn’t already own it, I would buy myself Dry: Non-alcoholic Cocktails, Cordials and Clever Concoctions by Clare Liardet (Tesco, £9.99). It’s a beautifully produced little hardback, with a photograph of each drink, and some genuinely delicious and grown-up sounding booze-free ideas not just for winter but all year round. Examples: ginger, turmeric and lemon tea; peach and lemongrass cup; pear and rosemary on the rocks. An essential for every household.

Staggering: A Short History of Drunkenness, and a book for whisky fans

If such a book needs an antidote then you will find it in A Short History of Drunkenness by Mark Forsyth (Wordery, £12.99) which rambles around the subject of intoxication, starting with a wonderful story about a nineteenth century experiment using drunk ants, and progressing via Noah, ancient Egypt, Viking booze, Britain’s first gin craze and Stalin’s terrible vodka-fuelled dinners. It’s a lively and amusing, if slightly sobering, read.

Glaswegian Rachel McCormack is a food broadcaster and force of nature who has written an energetic and good-humoured shaggy dog story of a book called Chasing the Dram: Finding the Spirit of Whisky (The Works, £16.99) that might appeal to anyone who needs a break from working their way through Ian Buxton’s 101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die (Kobo, £8.99), the third edition of which came out at the end of last year.

Spritz by Talia Baiocchi and Leslie Pariseau (Wordery, £14.99) is an attractive stocking filler for anyone in thrall to the Italian aperitvo. The recipe book even includes some recipes for snacks such as artichokes and fried pancetta. Warning: this book will make you expand your collection of vermouths and bitters.

Those in thrall to the Italian aperitivo will enjoy Spritz, and whisky lovers will find further excitement in the spirited Chasing the Dram

Finally, there’s a book that would make a great present for anyone who loves eating and drinking or drinking and eating. Hugh Johnson OBE called it "smart, fun, useful – highly recommended". I may have mentioned it before because I wrote it – The Wine Dine Dictionary (Amazon, £15) is all about enjoying yourself more with a glass and a plate. If you can forgive the cheek of recommending my own book, I hope you enjoy it.