For most people, it’s the sight of Paul McCartney, Bradley Cooper or Beyoncé that leaves them weak at the knees; I worship at a less traditional altar of celebrity. The most talented winemakers, Jancis Robinson MW, Hugh Johnson (oh, Hugh!), these are the people who leave my jaw on the floor, suddenly lacking in vocabulary, unfamiliar with normal sentence structure – yet inexplicably filled with a desperate need to make some form of embarrassing contact.
It was this that prompted me – entirely unasked for – to introduce myself to Jon Bonné. I cringe every time I think about me, fangirling all over him. Seized by Champagne bravado, long-time admiration and his presence mere metres from myself, I ineffectively and inarticulately declared my love for him, his impeccable taste and his way with words. There are some writers whose palates seem to align with yours, guiding you perfectly to new discoveries, speaking thoughts that lurk garbled in a corner of your mind. For me, Jon Bonné is The One for me. He figuratively led my trip to California, inspired many of my visits in Australia – nudging me in the direction of producers I loved. His writings on Punch are my mainstay – the bread and butter of what is a fairly high-carb vinous literature diet.
His first book “The New California” should be an essential on every wine-lover’s shelf – capturing the excitement of new-gen Cali and sharing the whos and hows behind the movement. But his latest book came as a surprise – or at least it did to me. The New Wine Rules declares itself to be “a genuinely helpful guide to everything you need to know” – most surprisingly, it actually is. It doesn’t claim to teach you the difference between Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay – instead it offers “a framework for embracing this weird, wonderful wine world that we get to live in”.
The book is, Bonné suggests, an answer to the fear that has pervaded the world of wine for generations: “fear of displaying bad taste or revealing what they don’t know. Screw that. Wine is too great a thing to be limited by fear.” It’s a call to arms for us to try harder to democratise wine, swipe away its elitist ways and make it fun – and it succeeds. It’s a book filled with the joy of drinking wine and, at its most basic level, shows you how not to be a wine wanker.
But there are elements in the book that don’t necessarily stick to its mission: while I agree 2,000% with the idea “Champagne is for pretty much any day of the year” (let it rain magnums of Krug!) – that simply isn’t a reality for most people, who can’t justify spending that amount of money on wine for any day. And the “cool matrix” of wine – for all its uses – doesn’t reassure the average consumer that there are no “wrong” choices. While wine – like anything – will always be subject to the whims of fashion, bottles shouldn’t be “uncool”, there shouldn’t be a drink that puts you in the loser camp.
Despite these small flaws, I loved the book. I read the US version when it was released late last year, and read it again when it came out in the UK last month – and loved it both times.
Read my full review on the Berry Bros. & Rudd blog here.
The New Wine Rules (Quadrille, £10) is out now.