There are so many of these …Before You Die books around these days that I may have to go Buddhist — I’m gonna need a few extra lifetimes to fit everything in. There’s 1001 Guitars You Must Play before You Die; 1001 Plants You Must Grow before You Die… I even contributed to one myself (I wrote about one percent of 1001 Songs You Must Hear before You Die).
There’s also 1001 Wines You Must Try before You Die, but let’s face it, Peter O’Toole would have balked at that lot. So I’m glad that former Wine Magazine editor Margaret Rand has exercised some restraint and stuck to a manageable 101 in this lovely, almost-pocket-sized guide.
The structure is simple: a brief intro followed by the 101 wines, each on a double-page spread, with an index/glossary at the end. Its digestible size makes it a handy quick-reference book; one I can imagine working my way through, ticking each wine off as I go.
However… unless you have either a large disposable income or are a renowned reviewer with access to an infinite reservoir of complementary wine, it’ll take you a while to get through. You see, we’re not talking about everyday supermarket plonk here. It’s much more “special occasion” than that.
Thankfully, the wines haven’t been given points based on perceived quality, but they ARE rated by average UK cost, each being assigned a star ranging from one to five. One star means “Under £30”, although what that means in most cases is “Around £25”. At the other end of the spectrum, five stars is “Above £200”. Unsurprisingly, most of the priciest bottles come from Bordeaux and Burgundy, while the most affordable is the Domaine Papagiannakos Retsina, which you can pick up for under a tenner.
Roughly estimated, to get through the entire book will cost you just under ten grand. About the same price as a luxury wine holiday for two. And when you put it in those terms, it sounds rather reasonable.
Margaret Rand elegantly encapsulates her wine ideology (wineology?) in the introduction: “I love a sense of authenticity… this is to do with a sense of risk, a sense of individuality — a sense of place, yes, but also a feeling of energy. It is the opposite of the safe, the industrial, the reliably crowd-pleasing.” It’s a sound philosophy, and one that could equally be applied to food, music, cinema… any of the arts, in fact.
101 Wines to Try before You Die is available in hardback now, published by Octopus books. RRP £12, 224 pages.