Book Review – Chatter on a Platter
Everything You Wanted to Know about Wine but Were Too Afraid to Ask – A Platter’s Guide (John Platter, 2016) – R285
I am old enough to remember seeing the 1972 cult Woody Allen comedy movie “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (* But Were Afraid to Ask)” when it shocked the British cinema audiences. I probably was too afraid to ask then too. I am no longer the young, shy teen I was. I’m now much more likely than not to ask questions in order to learn more about a favoured subject. Wine is no exception.
The ‘Everything’ book is divided into more than 70 mini chapters, each posing a wine question, rather than the 7 vignettes in the Woody Allen movie. The style is witty and readable to make it accessible to all, from wine beginner upwards, whilst not insulting your intelligence. I am sure many an expert too will learn something from the pages. The drab olive green cover, similar in colour to the 2017 Platter’s Wine Guide, suggests similar furtiveness to the Allen movie but this is not needed.
The questions vary widely and so the book covers a very broad swathe of this enormous subject. I am reminded of the principle that ‘there’s no such thing as a stupid question’. The book adopts that approach. There is no room for the wine snob here. Answers allow for personal taste preference, even if perhaps against purist or conventional wisdom. There is no space for swathes of theory here either – the focus is on the real and the practical. These are the questions I am likely to be asked when I host a Society wine-tasting. ‘How do I spot a good wine?’, ‘Is it ever OK to add ice to wine?’, ‘Is older wine better?’, ‘What’s the difference between Old World and New World Wine?’, ‘What’s the difference between shiraz and syrah?’, ‘What is a dry wine’, and ‘How am I meant to keep a wine after I have opened it?’ are typical questions. There are others too about wine styles, containers and corks, wine prices and geographic regions.
The latter chapters contain a collection of mini interviews with people connected with the industry in different ways – supplier owner, sommelier, wine master, wine judge, writer etc. Surprisingly, the Q & A pieces do not include a viticulturalist or winemaker or distiller. The final section is a handy glossary of wine terms disguised by the question, ‘What are the wine words I need to know?’. The humour in this entry is typical: ‘Fiasco – the straw-covered flask some wines, like Italian Chianti, are produced in. Fiasco also applies to parliament’.
The handy magazine style of the book, with chapters of varying length interspersed with photos, cartoons, maps and infographics, makes for easy reading. It is more suitable for coffee table or, dare I say, toilet as one can dip into any section in any order. The lack of Index at the back or page numbers in the Contents at the front (it lists the questions by number only) ensures that. One other note of caution, the best place to buy is either via the Platter website (see above) or large book store (I couldn’t find it listed by my 2 regular online book suppliers).
John Platter has produced another popular book that demystifies wine in an easy read. ‘Everything’ is not a strict reference book, nor is it meant to be, but nonetheless contains a vast array of reference material in simple format. I bought the book to read on holiday and found that I had finished it on the flight before I landed at my destination. There’s much I have since forgotten and so I need dip into it again. Oh, and if you like to impress your friends with useless(ful?) information, turn to Chapter 64 for the question, ‘How many bunches of grapes are in a bottle?’.