is this bottle corked?, kathleen burk & michael bywater (2009)

Update 1.3.2010(17.10.2009)billn

corkedDo you, like me, inwardly groan (while still offering a cheery smile) each and every time somebody buys you something to do with wine as a birthday or Christmas present? – or perhaps a card resplendent with bottles and glasses? Come-on everyone, we are individuals, let’s have a little imagination! – what about the card with the cute puppy instead? – oops, no I have 3 of those already. Okay I give up!

In front of me, I have the book ‘Is this bottle corked’, subtitled ‘The secret life of wine’. The cover seems a relatively unimaginative, as do the selected quotes from the Times (of London!), The Times (of Oxford!) and ‘The Diplomat’ – wow do diplomats get their own paper(?) It looks like like the sort of book you may find wrapped-up and under the Christmas tree – probably attached will be a label with your name on it! It’s the type of non-specific title and design that would ensure that I serially by-pass the thing on the shelf of any bookstore.

Given that I’m the lucky recipient of such a ‘present’, what do I have to say about it?

Well, actually (humble pie..) it really wasn’t all that bad(!) Over a period of 3-4 weeks I got through the 177 pages with some degree of interest. The book is ideal for those with daily travel on public transport; 10 minutes here, 25 minutes there, principally this is facilitated by there being no real structure to the book. There are 88 questions about wine, each requiring between 1 paragraph and 4 pages to answer – so all you will need is a book mark. Examples include:

  • When is rot noble?
  • Can the war on terroir be won?
  • Glass of pre-war lemonade, chaps?

Etcetera, etcetra! The writing is witty and certainly more learned that wot I am.

If you want to turn the tables and buy somebody else a book on wine (dare I say it) this could be the one for you. I’ll leave you with an excerpt from one of the last questions to give you some idea of the style:

They drank how much at a sitting?
Recently we were told that it was the unemployed and under-educated who were most at risk from alcohol. Even more recently, we were told, no, it was the middle classes who were really at risk. Most recently of all (at the time of writing; who knows what will happen hereafter), the Royal College of Physicians claimed that pubs are “pushing customers towards unsafe levels of drinking” by selling wine in big glasses, and an MP who is of course not being opportunist to increase his profile (which is why we are not going to name him) demanded a new law to make them stop it and sell us little glasses instead.
We have only two comments to make. Well, actually we have three comments to make, but will only be allowed to make two of them. The first is that people who roam around inner cities at night, roaring, vomiting, and fighting, are not usually those who have been drinking a rather nice pinot noir in whatever size of glass. And the second is that someone who cannot tell whether they are holding a big glass of wine or a little glass of wine should not really be allowed to hold any glass at all, and certainly not one with wine in.
We live in stern and purse-lipped times.

Footnote: I found this rather curious ‘review’ in the Independent – curious because it seems only to be extracts from the book!

Agree? Disagree? Anything you'd like to add?

There are 3 responses to “is this bottle corked?, kathleen burk & michael bywater (2009)”

  1. Michael Bywater17th October 2009 at 4:45 pmPermalinkReply

    Hello Bill.

    Hurrah for Google Alerts. I’m glad you sort of kind of liked-ish the book. And you’re quite right there’s no structure. We couldn’t think of one for this sort of book of curiosities. But can I correct one little thing? The “review” in The Independent wasn’t one and wasn’t meant to be one; it’s just a taster for the book itself, I suppose because they thought it would appeal to their readership.

    Still, we did get shortlisted for the Louis Roederer International Wine Writing Award, which was very flattering. (Oz Clarke won. And well-deserved, too.)

    • billn17th October 2009 at 5:29 pmPermalinkReply

      Michael – I really did “sort of kind of liked-ish ” the book. Clearly I didn’t want to, but sometimes you can’t help yourself 😉

  2. Kathleen Burk25th October 2009 at 11:06 pmPermalinkReply

    And of course I agree with Michael about the haphazard structure- we just wrote what we wanted to write about and had rather a lot of fun doing it. We divided up the work, each writing half the entries. You’ve quoted one of Michael’s, which is a favourite of mine; I wrote the one on noble rot. I hope that it’s made your occasional reading in the bath or the train enjoyable.

  3. Kathleen Burk25th October 2009 at 11:07 pmPermalinkReply

    Bill, if you’re South African, we met some years ago in our other shared context – history. You sent me a copy of the Platter guide.

    • billn26th October 2009 at 6:57 amPermalinkReply

      Hi Kathleen – thanks for your comments.
      All I can say is I’m definitely not South African, though sometimes people think I sound Dutch when they hear my version of German!
      I actually do have one copy of ‘Platter’ from a visit there in 2002, but the only one…
      Cheers, Bill

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