Book review: Tainted tokay – I love France 188

Tainted tokay
(The Winemaker Detective Series #11)


Tainted Tokay

Author: Jean-Pierre Alaux & Noël Balen
Translator: Sally Pane
Publisher: Le French Book
US Release date: April 16, 2016
Buveurs en série
was first released in French in 2006
Pages: 181
ISBN: 978193998005
also available as ebook
Genre: mystery


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Having had the privilege to visit Hungary some years ago, I jumped on this new title in the Winemaker Detective series, Tainted Tokay, as it promised great wine and great landscapes!

Tainted Tokay is indeed unique in the series so far, as it contains three plots: two taking place in France and one in Hungary at the same time.
Some readers complain about this fact. I don’t see why: the series is still with the same main characters, Benjamin and his assistant Virgile; about wine (French and Hungarian), and good food. There are also spectacular descriptions of Austria and Hungary. This triple plot made actually the book even richer and more exciting for me.
And serve me Tokay anytime, I won’t complain!

Plot 1:
So the book opens with Benjamin coming for wine tasting to château Blanchard (in Gironde, not far from château Margaux), dating to the 1870s. He is the estate wine-making consultant. We meet Florence, her brother Jules, and the cellar master Didier. Didier has much in common with Virgile, but he sounds pushy and showoff, and Virgile can’t stand him.
We quickly discover there’s some shady business going on in that château.

The people here [in the Médoc] are capable of fighting over a single vine stalk for generations. They’d even kill over one.
chap. 1

Plot 2:
At the same time, when Virgile is supposed to meet with Alexandrine, their own lab director, he receives a phone call that she was attacked and is in the hospital. Who on earth could have attacked her? Could it be connected with plot 1? With Didier, who seemed to be lurking around weeks before the attack?

Plot 3:
Benjamin and his wife Elisabeth have been invited on a Danube cruise (Austria-Hungary) with his publisher Claude, to celebrate the successful business around Benjamin’s wine guides.
Encouraged to go despite Alexandrine’s bad shape and a major mildew crisis in French vineyards (during a heavy rain season), he decides to go.
Claude is accompanied by his intriguing girlfriend Consuela.
Our tourists soon hire a local guide to discover the local treasures, and soon trouble piles up… Just simple tourists trap, or more important network of international thieves?
Benjamin and Elisabeth realize that tourism can be full of happy and less happy discoveries…

Apart from the three plots, cleverly intertwined, there are great descriptions of fauna and flora, food, wine, palaces, hotels, cafes, even a luxury train. You also learn a lot about the history and architecture of Hungary (including baths).
The Hungarian people is extremely hospitable. I’ll never forget my experience of this huge meal organized by old grandmothers in a tiny very poor village to welcome a whole bus of young Christians from France. These people had nothing, and yet they managed to gather everything to cook the best of meals, and their tradition is to offer gifts to those who come to visit them!
The Cookers going there as tourists, they are not too much in touch with the locals, so this aspect alas does not really appear in the book.

But of course the passages on the famous Hungarian wines are just fabulous (there is more than just Tokay). I learned fascinating facts on the “noble rot” and the sweetness it gives to wines.

“…tasting the king of wines and the wine of kings.”
“Yes, that is the reputation of the Tokay wines — ever since the Prince of Transylvania gave a bottle to King Louis XIV, and the king called it vinum regum, rex vinorum.
chap. 3

Personally, I enjoyed that as Benjamin was experiencing the ordeal of plot 3 and trying to solve the issue, Virgile was stuck at home in between plot 1 and 2. Virgile has matured a lot since the first book in the series, and now his boss trusts him enough to leave him in the middle of a few crisis and let him remedy problems by himself.

Also, I found the English title much better than the original French one.


Pour la première fois dans la série, nous avons du vin français, mais aussi du vin hongrois. Parfait pour accompagner une triple intrigue et pour réjouir les palais et les yeux – aussi pour apprendre des choses sur l’histoire et l’architecture d’un superbe pays.

VERDICT: Unique mystery in the series, with three plots and a delicious pairing between French and Hungarian wines. Nice way of discovering a country with a great history and great landscapes.


Delicious, delightful deceit and deception.
In between experiencing sumptuous food and wine, the Winemaker Detective grapples with deceit and deception in Old World Europe. France’s top wine expert Benjamin Cooker sets off to enjoy the delights of Vienna, a romantic ride down the Danube, a gourmand’s visit to Budapest, and a luxury train through the enchanting Hungarian countryside. All too soon, stolen wallets, disappearing passports, guides who are a bit too obliging, and murder mar the trip. Meanwhile, in Bordeaux, Cooker’s assistant Virgile faces an annoying rival and a mildew crisis in the vineyards just as Cooker’s lab technician is the victim of a mugging. If you love cozy culinary mysteries, amateur detective stories, international mysteries with French flair, or anything wine-related, this made-for-TV series offers armchair travel at its best with gentle mysteries.


Alaux-BalenJean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Balen,
wine lover and music lover respectively,
came up with the idea for the
Winemaker Detective series
while sharing a meal,
with a bottle of Château Gaudou 1996,
a red wine from Cahors
with smooth tannins and a balanced nose.


Sally Pane studied French at State University of New York Oswego and the Sorbonne before receiving her Masters Degree in French Literature from the University of Colorado where she wrote Camus and the Americas: A Thematic Analysis of Three Works Based on His Journaux de Voyage. Her career includes more than twenty years of translating and teaching French and Italian at Berlitz and at University of Colorado Boulder. She has worked in scientific, legal and literary translation; her literary translations include Operatic Arias; Singers Edition, and Reality and the Untheorizable by Clément Rosset, along with a number of titles in the Winemaker Detective series. She also served as the interpreter for the government cabinet of Rwanda and translated for Dian Fossey’s Digit Fund. In addition to her passion for French, she has studied Italian at Colorado University, in Rome and in Siena. She lives in Boulder, Colorado with her husband.

 Eiffel Tower Orange

Any other book on Hungary you enjoyed?


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In full compliance with FTC Guidelines,
I received this ebook for free in exchange for a fair and honest review.
I was in no way compensated for this post as a reviewer, and the thoughts are my own.

This book counted for these Reading Challenges

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CDChallengebadge2016-204x300  Books in Translation 2016





11 thoughts on “Book review: Tainted tokay – I love France 188

  1. Je le note car il m’intéresse notamment pour le contexte hongrois. Je crois qu’il pourrait aussi constituer un cadeau très chouette pour un ami qui aime les polars et le vin. Je vais chercher son éditeur français. Merci pour l’idée !
    Have a nice day !


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