Book Review – “A Bottle of Wine Contains More Philosophy Than all the Books in the World”
The Lighter Side of Wine – Colin Collard & Dave Biggs, illustrated by Frans Groenewald (Art Publishers, 2016) – R150
My father was a humorous cartoonist and so I am very familiar with the genre. A good humorous cartoonist, like a stand-up comic, should be funny and edgy, see things from a different side to the norm that others have not seen, and send a message to the viewer. Cartoonists and comics can also ‘say’ the ‘unsayable’ though this applies more to the realm of politics than wine. South African artist, Frans Groenewald, gained a degree in Graphic Design and Photography at the University of Stellenbosch with Distinction. His imaginative paintings are characterised by unusual word play. They often focus on food and drink so I wonder if there was an early connection between Stellenbosch and witty drawings about wine. I had seen his artwork before, not only generally but also on wine labels at Mountain Ridge near Wolseley. Colin Collard and Dave Biggs, his 2 co-authors, are founder members of the Wine-of-the-Month-Club.
The book is divided into chapters that cover what the wine lover wishes to know about: Basics, Production, Champagne & Sparkling Wine, Food & Wine, In the Cellar, and Enjoying Your Wine. The individual topics are not simply witticisms for the sake of it but contain good advice too. Store wine glasses the right way up, for example, so they don’t develop a mouldy smell. There’s a useful page that describes the traditional bottle shape and colour for different styles of wine. The differing methods of production of champagne, South African MCC and sparkling wine are described too. There’s good advice for the beginner on how to choose wine, together with how to score and assess a wine for the enthusiast.
Selected pages contain a ‘Did You Know’ window that contains useful or interesting facts. I liked the statement that the tradition of laying bottles down on their sides is to keep corks wet and to PREVENT the wine from breathing, not to allow it to breathe. I didn’t know, for instance, that the dry sherry or sparkling wine to start a meal with stimulates the taste buds. Other topics include the use of egg whites for ‘fining’ wine to make it clear, how wine sweetness is achieved, the history of the custom of clinking glasses, wine and food pairing, and serving temperature.
Many of the illustrations play on a particular phrase or proverb. These are funny in themselves. It didn’t matter that I had heard many before as there were new one too and they made me smile. Like the cartoonist, these authors often make a serious point in their humour. Oscar Wilde is prominent among an eclectic group: “Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they leave” (Oscar Wilde); “Be careful to trust a person who does not like wine (Karl Marx); “In victory you deserve champagne, in defeat you need it” (Napoleon Bonaparte); and “I want to live like a poor man with lots of money” (Pablo Picasso).
This is as much an ‘easy reading’ book as many wines are for ‘easy drinking’. The Lighter Side of Wine is refreshing and fruity. It makes an excellent gift for a birthday or Christmas or even to take as a ‘thank you’ at a braai. Frans Groenewald paints from a studio on Lourensford wine estate and so I must remember to take my copy when I go there for tasting. In his words, “I draw inspiration from social interaction, lots of reading, espressos and red wine. My aim is to put a smile in the heart and mind of the viewer”.
The book certainly put a smile in my heart and mind. Oh, and my title phrase is from Louis Pasteur. This clever, affordable, little book may just prove to be the exception to the rule …