Review by Roy Boyd
The very first words from the creators describe this book as “a lengthy history”. And they’re not kidding. There are a lot of words, and no 22-page fight scenes to break them up.
A hipster Bacchus, complete with checked shirt and skinny jeans, is our narrator for this exhaustive journey through the history of wine. As writer Benoist Simmat and artist Daniel Casanave are both French, it’s no great surprise that the view is Franco-centric, though it covers many other countries and regions in a great deal of depth.
Casanave’s artwork is very loose and sketchy. A few panels have the definite look of a first draft rough that’s somehow survived longer than it should, but for the most part the illustrations are cheerily simple and uncluttered. Panel layouts are nice and clear, with all the information being lobbed at us given room to breathe. The colouring is also very good, and gives a depth and solidity to the art that might otherwise be lacking. In spite of the loose style, Casanave succeeds admirably in evoking different periods and settings, and it’s apparant his research was as thorough as that of Simmat. And there are maps. Lots of maps. So many that the book sometimes runs the risk of feeling like a school Geography lesson.
Given the topic, there’s also a danger of Wine: A Graphic History being dull and technical. It has a great deal of information to impart, and it doesn’t have the benefit of many action scenes. To avoid a book filled with talking heads – and many scenes are just that – the creators eagerly exploit the dramatic potential of a range of origin stories, biblical, historical and mythical. As well as assorted contemporary experts like archaeologist Patrick McGovern, we get to see how the likes of Jesus, Moses, Charlemagne, Pliny the Elder, and Mohammed played their part in the story of wine. Asterix and Obelix even put in an appearance!
It no doubt helps if the reader knows their grapes, but even if that’s not the case, this is still an enjoyable journey through the history of wine, one that mirrors and often greatly affects the (always political) world in which it grew and flourished. The history of wine is, in large part, the history of humanity and the spread of trade and empires, and as such this presentation succeeds admirably in both educating and entertaining the reader.