A review of Wine from Another Galaxy by Noble Rot
Author: Issariya Morgan
In their first book, Dan Keeling and Mark Andrew – the duo behind Noble Rot – shed light on an industry which can be mystifying to the uninitiated. So, they take us on a journey into the landscapes and personalities behind Europe’s most famous (and lesser-known) wines.
Open Wine from Another Galaxy, and one of the first things you’ll see is a graphic illustration of a bottle of Burgundy, with an anatomical heart enclosed within. The only clue that tells us it’s a Burgundy is a handwritten tag looped around the neck of the bottle. The illustration, to me, strikes a poignant note: beyond the allure of prestigious classifications, it reminds us of the real human stories that lie within each bottle of wine.
Blending creativity and gastronomy
The 350 pages which follow bring these stories to life with imaginative flair. Charming, irreverent illustrations are interspersed with black-and-white photography in a style that feels simultaneously authentic and glamorous. Add to that a double-page spread of Noble Rot’s celebrity clientele – from Yotam Ottolenghi to Keira Knightley – and a particular image emerges of a wine bar inextricably rooted in creative and gastronomic culture.
Noble Rot, as a concept, marries Dan Keeling’s music-industry background and love of record design with Mark Andrew’s expertise as a Master of Wine. It was conceived in 2013 as a design-led wine magazine, a few years before the establishment of its restaurant and wine bar on Lamb’s Conduit Street in 2015. Then, in 2020, they acquired the legendary Gay Hussar on Greek Street – the fabled haunt of left-wing politicians from Clement Attlee to Gordon Brown, and rumoured to be where Thatcher’s downfall was plotted. In short, the duo became the “custodians of a precious piece of Soho heritage”. Rooted in the arts and heritage, Noble Rot’s unique brand feels like a celebration of creativity and shared ideas as much as wine.
The influence of music in Wine from Another Galaxy is apparent from the get-go. The title itself invokes a glam-rock spirit: a suggestion of the bold, technicolour immersion that awaits within its pages. In its allusion of a journey, it also subtly echoes Kermit Lynch’s 1988 book Adventures on the Wine Route – an important source of inspiration behind Noble Rot’s own book. References to Lynch are scattered throughout, and he gets his own spotlight on page 91: an interview in the cellars of historic Parisian restaurant La Tour d’Argent, where he sheds light on bottles of personal significance.
A Noble Rot adventure through Europe
In the first half of the book, you’ll find a series of how-to pieces geared towards novices: how to judge wine, how to order in a restaurant without fear, how wine is made; a succinct and digestible breakdown of the most common red and white grape varieties; and a “lexicon of usefulness”, defining the words that are often used to describe the qualities of wine. But there are also pieces which offer more interest to experienced wine drinkers, such as how to start a 21st century wine cellar.
In the spirit of Lynch’s adventure, the second half of the book takes us on a road trip into the landscapes and personalities behind some of Europe’s most famous (and lesser-known) wines – from Champagne and Chablis to Santorini and Sicily. These profiles, beautifully shot in stylised photography, look as if they could have been lifted from a music magazine.
Scenes from La Dive Bouteille, an annual natural wine fair in Caves Ackerman in Saumur, are particularly evocative: throngs of people dressed in winter clothes, enjoying a glass (or bottle) of wine together in the low-lit cellars. In these times of isolation, it’s enough to make you yearn for the buzz of being surrounded by people enjoying life’s pleasures – an integral part of the world of wine, and the hospitality industry in general.
If I were to judge Wine from Another Galaxy according to its own lexicon of usefulness, the words that come to mind are: energy, vitality and originality. Behind its imaginative design, stunning photography and musical allusions, this is a book that celebrates the real human stories within the wine industry.