This book about wines, and to a lesser extent about spirits and beers, is a delightful new departure for Colin Wilson. There are, as he says in his Introduction, two kinds of books about wine: one is simply informative, the other is intended to convey to the reader the pleasure of people who enjoy drinking wine, works of the order of Saintsbury’s Notes on a Cellar Book. Colin Wilson’s is emphatically a book of the latter kind: personal, chatty, discursive.
Yet for all its witty diversions, the book contains a lot of hard information. The chapter on the wines of France, the famous and little-known, is of course the heart of the book, and there is also much about hock and Moselle, and about the wines of Italy, Spain and Portugal. In addition, there’s a section on beers and spirits, and the book ends ‘In Praise of Pubs’. Mr Wilson takes us from country to country, region to region, vineyard to vineyard, telling us most of the great wines, adding some discoveries of his own, and spicing it all with personal reminiscence. Moreover, he reveals himself as not only a considerable wine drinker but as a keen pub man.
It’s all most friendly, and agreeably unpretentious: Colin Wilson sturdily avoids the higher flights of connoisseurship, and is willing to admit that he cannot discern all those subtle nuances of flavour which some wine writers profess to find. In short, the book is a boon companion. So let us sample a few items from its contents table: The wine of Champagne, is it overrated? Baron Ricasoli’s jealousy. My own favourite hocks. Christopher Fry on wine. My pilgrimage to Cornwall to taste mead. Why the Englishman treats his pub as a religion. The significance of double-barrelled names like Gervey-Chambertin. How was wine invented? Assyrian law against twisting testicles. Charles Martel saves Europe from teetotalism. Saintsbury on good and bad brandy. Kingsley Amis on whisky. How I blew myself up…We could go further, but enough has been said, surely, to arouse everyone’s thirst.