“In the first issue of Noble Rot magazine we asked whether writing about wine was as futile as writing about music,” writes Dan Keeling in Wine from Another Galaxy, his new book with business partner Mark Andrew, “something Frank Zappa once likened to ‘dancing about architecture.’” (If Mr. Keeling can humbly make such an admission, surely I have to concede that writing about writing about wine is even more futile.) Named after the affectionate nickname for Botrytis cinerea, a fungus cultivated by producers of some sweet wines to concentrate a grape’s sugars on the vine, Noble Rot has become the U.K.’s nexus of new and old in the generally stuffy wine world.
Beginning life as a boutique quarterly first published in 2013, Keeling and Andrew’s project metamorphosed two years later with the opening of Noble Rot Restaurant & Wine Bar, in West London’s Bloomsbury district. (Noble Rot’s second space, in central London’s Soho, opened just weeks before the coronavirus pandemic began.)
While Keeling’s background is in the music business—he was responsible for signing Coldplay as head of A&R for Parlophone—Andrew’s path to Noble Rot was much more linear. The two met when an “under-pressure, overpaid 30-year-old” Keeling, then the managing director of Island Records on Kensington High Street, dropped into the boutique wine merchant Roberson next door, where Andrew worked as head buyer. Keeling asked Andrew whether he preferred drinking Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley or New Zealand. “That’s like asking if I prefer kissing pretty girls or ugly girls,” Andrew responded. They became the sort of great friends who can’t help but start a magazine and restaurants together.
Noble Rot became the U.K.’s nexus of new and old in the generally stuffy wine world.
Noble Rot has blended an impressively eclectic collection of contributors in its 24 issues (with titles such as “Make Wine Not War” and “Sex & Drugs & Pinot Noir”), from star chefs such as Fergus Henderson and Yotam Ottolenghi to music’s secret wine snobs (Brian Eno, Beastie Boy Mike D).
The content of Wine from Another Galaxy, the duo’s first book, doesn’t lean on being star-studded (though Noble Rot regular Keira Knightley lends a glowing blurb, as does wine-lover Nigella Lawson). The volume, which pairs handsome graphic design with illustrations and photographs, encompasses what is essentially two books.
Part one, “Shrine to the Vine,” is a miscellany—a Wine 101 of sorts, with chapters on “How to Judge Wine,” “How to Serve Wine,” and so on. These earnest attempts to educate border on being too jargony for novices and too unedifying for experts. Having a glass of wine in front of you while reading these primers is certainly recommended. Toward the end there’s “The Restaurateurs’ Guide to Eating In,” which features four delicious-looking recipes—though one wishes there were more now that eating in is our only option.
When asked whether he preferred Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley or New Zealand, Mark Andrew responded, “That’s like asking if I prefer kissing pretty girls or ugly girls.”
It’s worth the wait for part two. “Rotters’ Road Trip” is a terrifically engaging travelogue of most of the world’s significant wine regions, seasoned with great interviews with top producers, of both the young/natural and old/classical varietals. There are anecdotes of crashing the debauchery of La Paulée de Mersault in Burgundy—“the B.Y.O. bash to end all B.Y.O. bashes”—and quotes from entertainingly opinionated winemakers, such as Mâconnais’s Jean Marie Guffens: “I hate it when a young wine doesn’t taste good and people say that means it’ll improve. Do you think your children have to be stupid and ugly to grow into beautiful adults?”
While the more technical portions of the book might lose the interest of those who think wine is for drinking, not thinking, it’s in the meeting of the brilliant humans who somehow turn simple grape juice into “an eye-rolling, table-thumping, multi-dimensional, holy-mother-of-Christ-I-love-this experience,” as Keeling puts it, that this book avoids “dancing about architecture.”
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