‘Drinking With the Valkyries: Writings on Wine’ by Andrew Jefford
For years Andrew Jefford has been one of the English language’s most thoughtful writers and stylists on wine. He never settles for the cliché or recites old saws. Almost always, he is original and provocative, though not at all a provocateur.
“Drinking With the Valkyries: Writings on Wine” (Academie du Vin Library, $35) is a collection of his works that have been published in wine periodicals over the last decade or so. Mostly short and easily digestible, they can be consumed here and there, but it’s even more fun to sit down with them over time to grasp the full extent of his curiosity and insights.
“The Japanese salvage beauty from nature’s disdain,” he writes of koshu, a grape and wine grown primarily in the Yamanashi region of Japan. He reflects on the mystery of a Lebanese white wine from the renowned Château Musar that at first smells like “bandages and green beans,” but over the course of four days evolves: “At last I like the smell of it, fresher than ever now, as if dusk has come around to dawn, and bakers are baking, and sprinkling olive oil on their bread and squeezing lemons.”
Mr. Jefford, who is English, has been all over the world and now lives in France. When he’s not writing about wine, Mr. Jefford is a poet, and he’s far more interested in the poetry of wine — the transporting thoughts and dreamlike reveries it induces — than in the technical details. Occasionally the language feels a bit forced, as if he’s decided clarity is worth sacrificing for original imagery. But he’s on target most of the time and is a pleasure to read.
‘A Sense of Place: A Journey Around Scotland’s Whisky’ by Dave Broom
“A sense of place” is a phrase most commonly attributed to a wine that expresses the qualities and character of the area in which the grapes were grown and the people and culture there that produced it. “A Sense of Place: A Journey Around Scotland’s Whisky” by Dave Broom (Mitchell Beazley, $50), makes the case convincingly that it applies equally well to Scotland’s single malts.
Mr. Broom, who was born in Glasgow and has been writing about spirits for decades, is the perfect author for this beautiful, evocative book. He knows the whisky territory intimately and the people well, and he has the senses of wonder, empathy and history to tie them altogether, as well as the skill to conjure up the smell of the salt air, the sound of barley shimmering in the wind, the vibrations of hammers shaping copper into stills and the singe of the oak staves as a cooper bends them over fire.
This is not a guide to whisky or an atlas, though you may want to refer to a couple of Mr. Broom’s other books, like “Whisky: The Manual” and “The World Atlas of Whisky,” for this book’s journey around Scotland. Mr. Broom ranges from the Orkney Islands in the far northeast to Islay in the southwest, visiting craftsmen, start-up distillers working in garages and megadistilleries. He sketches characters and environments and finds the connections, with whisky as the centerpiece and linchpin connecting past and present.