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Best food and drink books named at André Simon Awards 2023

The best in contemporary food and drink writing recognised.

Food and drink writers, and members of the press, gathered in London last night for the first in-person ceremony for the André Simon Awards since 2019.

Chair Nick Lander explained that books were judged against four criteria: they needed to contain a large amount of original research; be of educational value; be a pleasure to read; and be well produced.

Drink Award winner

The Drink Award went to historian Jennifer Regan-Lefebvre for Imperial Wine: How the British Empire Made Wine’s New World (available through Amazon UK), a study of the colonial roots of the international wine trade. Regan-Lefebvre features in the current March 2023 issue of Decanter with an original feature based on this work.

Decanter’s Rhône correspondent Matt Walls judged the drink book entries, and praised the winning author for her ‘wide-ranging, meticulously researched historical treatise’. ‘When visiting wine regions around the world, you hear many stories about how particular regional or national styles came into being, heroic tales of triumph over adversity. It’s easy to be enchanted by these legends, but there comes a point when a clear-headed examination of the facts is required – and that’s why Jennifer Regan-Lefebvre’s work is so valuable.

‘This is an academic work of remarkable depth and detail,’ said Walls, ‘but it retains a sense of readability. It’s a necessarily complex story – and like a great wine, its complexity is something to be valued and appreciated.’

Regan-Lefebvre explained the inspiration behind the work: ‘As a historian who enjoyed wine, I started wondering why so many New World producers were former British colonies. I spent over a decade researching the topic and realised it was not a coincidence, but a powerful strategy of British imperialism. The book reflects both my love of wine and respect for its producers, and also my critical insights as a historian who takes a long-term view. It is thrilling to receive this recognition for a book which delivers some hard truths about the history of wine.’ 

Shortlisted entries

Also shortlisted for the Drink Award were Dave Broom’s A Sense of Place, The Perfect Tonic by Camper English, and Drinking with the Valkyries by Decanter’s contributing editor, columnist and DWWA chair Andrew Jefford. 

In Jefford’s collection of revised essays, columns and articles – many published over the years by Decanter – he shares his observations from half a century of wine discovery. 

‘Jefford’s gift is to be able to taste wines as if for the first time, and feel anew the thrill that great wines can deliver,’ said Walls. ‘More importantly perhaps, he can find wonder in so-called everyday wines as well. And through his writing he makes us feel it too. He has retained his sense of wonder, but he also draws upon a lifetime of drinking experience to put wines in context, to find insight and work his particular brand of alchemy to find hidden truths in every bottle.’

Walls used the occasion to comment on the importance of books in wine communication: ‘So much wine writing today is in the form of a tweet or a Facebook post. And while I agree that social media is a vital tool for reaching people and sharing our experiences, I can’t see any anthologies of Instagram wine posts being published anytime soon. Words can capture wine in ways that images can’t; and it takes a certain length sometimes to express everything a wine has to say.’

Food Award winner

The Food Award went to Jeremy Lee for Cooking: Simply and Well, for One or Many (available through Amazon UK). Lee is one of London’s most celebrated chefs and heads up the kitchens at Quo Vadis. Food assessor Fozia Ismail commented: ‘Jeremy Lee’s work not only has delicious recipes but is full of beautiful vignettes of a cook’s life and inspirations. This is a lovely cookbook that’s warm and pleasurable, one which you’ll be delving into for many years to come. A wonderful companion for cooks who really enjoy the search for good produce and eating.’

Two further awards were made on the evening. The John Avery Award went to Mo Wilde for The Wilderness Cure (available through Amazon UK), and the Special Commendation Award was presented to Kate Reid for Lune: Croissants All Day, All Night (Available through Amazon UK).

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