Frank Zappa said writing about music is as absurd as ‘dancing about architecture’. Dan Keeling and Mark Andrew ask if you could say the same about wine. Our authors make light of their own or any attempts to quantify an ever-evolving liquid essence into words, points or subjective flavor interpretations whilst providing a helpful ‘Lexicon of Usefulness’ to assist the reader’s endeavors.
Dan Keeling, the man who signed Coldplay before turning to drink, and Mark Andrew, a closet Master of Wine so modest he doesn’t even use his title, ferry us around the vineyards of Europe from the Côte d’Or to Jurançon, Ribeira Sacra to Etna, trying and buying wines, meeting makers, exploring terroirs and visiting local wine fairs to infuse their clear, unrelenting and absolute passion for wine with a sense of place. As restauranteurs they esteem good value, previously unfashionable discoveries and rare unicorn wines as well as deified classics. A chapter entitled ‘Desert Island Wine Lists’ provides detailed insight into individual lists the world over and seconds Californian winemaker Raj Parr in claiming that the best lists are not only rare and collectable, but ‘loaded with value’.
‘Wine From Another Galaxy, Part One’ charts the delicious story of how the men met and is littered with restaurant anecdotes, tips on ordering wine, sommelier secrets, faults, recipes, collecting advice and more. Since their fortuitous liaison in the wine shop where Andrew worked they have produced the cult wine fanzine Noble Rot and opened the very best wine bar cum restaurant in London (also called Noble Rot). Andrew has become a Master of Wine; a plaudit so hefty and notoriously impossible to achieve that less than 410 worldwide wield it. And just a couple of COVID-tainted months ago they opened a second site in London’s Soho, the Gay Hussar in Greek Street, the famed former haunt of left-leaning, goulash-eating politicos. Both venues have that rare unifying spirit you find in aged bars where time disappears, an 18th-century ambience part-salon, part-Dr Johnson coffee shop where you might relax, share ideas and be accepted no matter where your politics lie. Their tongue in cheek manifesto is ‘No frills, no fuss, just to drink honest, authentic wine with people you love’.
Bloomsbury in London was where Virginia Woolf and the rest of the Bloomsberries met and practiced their louche lifestyle philosophy, and it is here that you find the restaurant incarnation of Noble Rot, home of educated winos and flâneurs alike. This dimly-lit bar à vin occasionally offers Gevrey Chambertin and Château Grillet affordably by the glass and often presents us with unusual drafts we have yet to hear of, let alone try. Many of the sommeliers have remained there since it opened and if you engage them in conversation, you will no doubt discover your humble server has actually completed his WSET Diploma and worked a few vintages in both the northern and southern hemispheres. The menu is unpretentious and eclectically furnished with recipes gathered on travels or from accredited friends. Onglet braised in Pinot Noir is an absolutely mouth-watering example, as is a simple crab and tarragon salad. Both recipes are in The Noble Rot Book.
This book belies its pop art-styled exterior: it is actually a serious educational work. Unusually it bridges the gap between amusing anecdote and informative fact, providing cogent copy on wine practicalities whilst all the while laughing at our shared collective obsession for nerdy facts and scientifically unexplainable truths, such as, how is it wines actually taste of the soil they are grown in? Keeling and Andrew’s experience makes for a fantastically engaging read, as the people they describe are their wonderfully characterful comrades and suppliers. We are introduced with the candor of a trusted friend; no pedestals here.
There is a distinctly unifying philosophy evident behind the pages of this book, one that respects truth and knowledge but that also perceives the absurdities of a world wherein people will pay over $6,500 to taste a thimbleful of 20 rare wines. Trade insiders Andrew & Keeling offer a passion fueled look at some of the most exciting growers and wines around in Europe today. Noble Rot has a worldwide cult following and both the book and magazine offer a strongly stylized aesthetic. I had expected a more tribal approach but the only tribe the book espouses is a geek-chic fraternity of vinous obsessives very much open to any nascent embryonic nerd that should happen along with a glass.