Sake is about to hit the big time as it becomes the latest drink adopted by today’s trendsetting urbanites. After years spent languishing in the doldrums, sake’s popularity has grown to such an extent over the last decade that UK wine specialist Majestic recently added three premium sakes to its range, and it is even being produced outside of Japan. Anybody in doubt as to the drink’s hipster credentials need only note the location of some of those breweries – Peckham, London; Portland, Oregon and of course Brooklyn.
But sake has much more to offer than the promise of making its drinker seem in vogue, as Anthony Rose demonstrates in a new book, Sake and the wines of Japan. The craftsmanship involved in the drink (with often obsessive regard to rice polishing ratios), its simple ingredients and the years of tradition captured in each glass make it easy to see how it would appeal to those previously infatuated with gin’s botanicals or the mix of hops in their IPA. But its artisan credentials and complexity also make it a challenging and rewarding drink for all involved in a serious pursuit of new and intriguing flavours.
As Rose notes, sake is a drink ideally suited to being tasted with food. Indeed after years of attempting to unravel sake’s mysterious appeal during wine-style tastings he finally got to grips with it during a relaxed meal: “Someone ordered sake and as I was drinking it with the hotpot, all of a sudden, I found myself enjoying it … At a moment in time when I’d stopped thinking about it from a tasting perspective, I found myself lapping it up.”
It is not really possible to fully appreciate sake without examining the culture, history and landscape of its country of origin. As Rose points out: “Sake is both a drink and a window onto Japanese society. To delve into sake is to time-travel through centuries of ambition, grit in times of hardship, and outstanding imagination and achievement.” One might argue that when sake sales began to decline it was because, during the shortages that followed the Second World War, brewers found it necessary to do the best they could with limited resources (cut corners, if you will), simultaneously losing sight of the centuries of craftsmanship that had made sake Japan’s national drink. But the new generation of brewers, many of whom can claim family links to sake-production dating back to the drink’s heyday in the Edo Period, teams old-style production purity with a modern outlook, opening the drink up to the world.
Sake and the wines of Japan covers all essential aspects of sake for the newcomer, including the four simple ingredients – rice, kōji, water and yeast – the sake-making process, sake classification and sake tasting. Rose includes a personal selection of sake brewers as well as an interesting chapter spotlighting sake’s new wave. An essential tool for all those seeking a way into this enigmatic and enticing culture, it also includes a chapter on Japan’s small, young wine industry and its best exponents, and a guide to Japan for those visiting the country.
Anthony Rose is an award-winning wine and sake critic who contributes to publications that include Decanter, The World of Fine Wine, Financial Times How to Spend It online and The Oxford Companion to Wine. He is co-chair of the Australia panel at the Decanter World Wine Awards and the Sake International Challenge in Tokyo and teaches a sake consumer course at Sake No Hana in London. A founding member of The Wine Gang (www.thewinegang.com), he was the wine correspondent of the print version of the Independent from start to finish (1986–2016).
Sake and the wines of Japan is available now in print and ebook format. Review copies are available from firstname.lastname@example.org
Affectionate memories and thoughtful assessments of Nick Faith’s life have been duly posted in a host of obituaries paying tribute to the qualities that made Nick such a great journalist and author, and to his legendarily sociable, gossip-laden, complex personality. So here I’d like to confine myself to a few reminiscences of my own.
I first came across Nick by way of the articles he wrote for the wine trade magazine, Wine & Spirit. Not yet a wine journalist, I found them so inspiring that it dawned on me that writing about wine could be a worthwhile endeavour. It was only a little later, after I joined the Independent as its wine correspondent, that I came to know Nick, who wrote for the paper as a freelance financial journalist, in person. Did he have a hand in my appointment? I don’t think I’ll ever know but it wouldn’t surprise me, because he had the ear of its editor, Andreas Whittam Smith, and the freshly-minted Independent was looking to blood a newbie to wine writing.
As soon as you met Nick, it was clear that his mischievous demeanour spelt trouble for the establishment. He liked nothing better than to dig, poke and provoke. Famously, or should that be notoriously, he wrote a piece in Decanter entitled ‘On the Vileness of Vintage Port’. It did not go down too well in the Douro Valley and Michael Symington of Dow’s, Graham’s and Warre’s fame was clearly enraged. Despite the provocative title, it was in reality basically a rant on how vintage port with its fiery spirit was so often drunk too young.
Nick’s brilliant book The Winemasters was published in 1978, and re-published in 2004 titled The Winemasters of Bordeaux. The Winemasters is arguably the best wine book ever written – a worthy winner of the André Simon Award. Investigating a story was Nick’s forte, but the results of his researches were always communicated in a prose style that was vivid, accessible and witty. Opening with a chapter entitled Hollywood-sur-Gironde, the story of the tensions between the aristocratic Médoc château owners and the Chartronnais merchants unfolds as a political, economic and social drama culminating in the Cruse scandal, aka Winegate, that reads like a crime thriller. It deserves a film.
The Winemasters apart, of the many books that Nick wrote (more than 20, covering, inter alia, railways, the rotary engine and plane, train and car accidents), the two for which I remember him most are Cognac and The Story of Champagne. They dealt not just with the nuts and bolts of brandy and fizz and how they were made but the more far-ranging stories of the unsung heroes, the impetus behind developments in style and the successful battles fought against competitors. Typically, in The Story of Champagne he thanked his editor in his acknowledgments for making sure that it was ‘accessible to anyone interested in the subject and not restricted to the army of champagne-bores’.
When Nick travelled, it was as often as not to his favourite regions of Cognac, Bordeaux and Champagne. In Bordeaux during en primeur, he was to be found slumming it in some Médoc or Graves château or another, enjoying nothing more than hobnobbing with the French owners he describes in the preface to the revised edition of The Winemasters as ‘eccentric enough to justify the gossip that makes Bordeaux, like every other society, go round’. So it was a little off-message for him to have joined a small trip to Georgia we were both invited on back in 2001. It could have had something to do with the fact that his muse, Sophia Gilliatt, former Vinopolis director of wine development, had organised the trip, and where Sophia went, Nick followed.
Every moment was memorable but in particular the celebration of Nick’s sixty-eighth birthday in a distillery outside Tbilisi. Becoming steadily merrier as the evening wore on, we were eventually driven back to the capital with Nick doing his best to help Sophia ward off the attentions of a drunken, lovelorn distillery manager. As it became increasingly difficult, Nick resorted to a ruse. On the outskirts of the city, he got the driver to stop and we all piled out into a crowded local pub, ostensibly for a drink, but in fact managing to make a swift escape through another door. The distillery manager cottoned on too late and we abandoned him shaking his fist in frustrated pursuit of our Transit van.
Last time I saw Nick was at the tasting in London organised by Champagne Deutz almost exactly a year ago. He was on typically fine form, but much frailer than I remembered, and, for the first time, he was showing his age. Nick Faith was my journalistic mentor. I shall miss him, his sharp wit, the gossip of course, and the unique contribution that he brought to wine writing.
Elizabeth Gabay has been in the wine trade since 1986. She has written about and lectured on rosé wines extensively, and has judged at Decanter’s annual World Wine Awards as well as at many other competitions, including the Mondial de Rosé, the Guide de Vins de Provence and for magazine panel tastings for Decanter and Drinks Business. Elizabeth Gabay’s first book, Rosé: Understanding the pink wine revolution, part of The Classic Wine Library, was published in January 2018.
You’ve been in the wine trade for more than thirty years and became an MW in 1998 but can you remember your first experience of wine and do you think it had any influence on your choice of career?
I grew up in a family who were very continental in their approach to food and drink. Even though my parents were not great connoisseurs of fine wine, they collected wine on all of our holidays round France and I was encouraged to try, and taste. My earliest memory, to my shame, was visiting Henri Maire in the Jura. My parents loved his vin jaune – I was horrified when they bought a case, and tried to dissuade them! But others seemed to recognize my interest in wine way before me. My first wine books were given as presents when I was 16, and the university careers officer suggested I might like working in restaurants or hotels. When I travelled I did visit vineyards – but never thought of it as a potential job.
Is there a difference between wine tasting and wine enjoyment – do you ever find Elizabeth the wine taster spoiling the simple pleasure of a glass of wine?
I actually think wine tasting helps the enjoyment. Just drinking a wine fast, you may miss the moment of enjoyment. It reminds me of the film Tampopo, when the master says that one should first stop, admire the food on the plate, appreciate its look and aromas, then taste. If you just want the alcohol, just drinking is fine. But I love the moment when you mentally stop and just taste. Even with an ordinary wine. A bottle captures a past summer, a place, the work of a winemaker. It is a bit like meditation.
You’ve become a bit of an evangelist for pink wines over the last few years. Have you noticed it becoming any easier to convince people of rosé’s virtues?
Sort of … If I say I have just written a book on rosé and I live in Provence, I think the first reaction is oh yes – another PR book with lots of photos of lavender and the sea. When people see the book – the size and extent of the subject – I get their attention. If I can present in a tasting some really interesting rosés – they are converted. What I have really enjoyed is connecting up with the winemakers who are making exciting rosés and working to promote these wines.
Would you say there is a genuine revolution in the world of wine towards a more serious appreciation of rosé or is its increased popularity merely a passing fashion?
Not sure. I think it may mean the style will split. The high-volume commercial style (possibly with a bit of residual sugar) will continue to be sold alongside reds and whites in bars and chain restaurants. The fashionable, trendy wine – with maybe a designer bottle – I think might fade away as the next fashionable item takes its place. But I think the demise of the fashion statement will be good for the style as a whole as high-quality rosés are then free to emerge without being tainted by the image. Maybe taint is too strong a word – but being a fashionable drink does scare serious drinkers away.
I recently went out for a meal with a friend who’s a bit of a wine buff. He suggested we get a bottle of rosé but when, having read your book and being intrigued, I asked if he’d consider getting the Tavel he was quite adamant that we had to have the pale Provence rosé. Have you had any better luck convincing people that pale is not the only pink worth drinking?
Only if I can get them to taste the wine, and even better if they can taste the wine in a black glass. But they also have to be receptive to a rosé having a range of tastes. Some people cannot handle a complex rosé – it scares them, disorientates them.
On that occasion the owner of the restaurant actually persuaded us into drinking a Lebanese rosé (to go with our Lebanese food). As I recall it was pretty good. Where have you encountered the best rosé – perhaps unexpectedly?
Great sommelier. Best? Difficult to say one in particular, and in every region it has been more down to the winemaker than the region as a whole producing good rosé. My biggest surprise was a natural rosé made with Concorde in southern Slovakia. Fantastic wine. The winemaker kept on avoiding my questions about the variety so it went into the book with no variety listed – only later did he admit it was Concorde. Another which has caught my attention is the Negroamaro rosés of Salento in Puglia. The region produces great rosés with the ability to age – I tried a 1976 which was astonishing.
Do you have a favourite rosé that you come back to time and time again (or are you still on a mission to try as many new wines as possible)?
Still looking for new wines – the joy of wine is that there are new wines every year. And I also enjoy exploring older wines and experiencing new techniques.
Rosé is generally perceived as a (perhaps undemanding) summer drink and its popularity tends to wane as the days get cooler. Would you say that was a fair reaction or should we all be downing rosé with our winter casseroles and Christmas dinners?
I haven’t yet decided what we will eat at Christmas – so not yet sure what wine. But it is quite possible that there will be rosé. I’m tempted to suggest a rich Bandol rosé, and a sweeter Cabernet d’Anjou with cheese.
The last year has been a pretty busy one for you, with promotion of your first book on top of all your other work. Do you intend to put your feet up a bit more in 2019 or are there other projects in the pipeline?
Busy is an understatement! It has been non-stop and the new year is looking equally busy. Promoting rosé and the book has been a major part of the work and as I learn more and more I am working on the second edition – it is such a vibrant fast-moving part of the wine world. So masterclasses, tastings, writing, visiting – as I say, it has been non-stop. My next project is on the wines of Provence …
It’s ‘the only book on Port and the Douro worth having’ and this November Infinite Ideas will be publishing the fourth edition of Richard Mayson’s classic book. Port and the Douro is a hugely readable combination of facts, expert opinion and anecdotes about prominent figures and events in the Port trade (as well as notes on the dwindling popularity of Port and lemon on Coronation Street).
A full reassessment of every quinta and shipper takes account of recent changes in fortune and ownership. The growth in Douro wines has led to a substantial rewrite of this chapter. In fact so exciting is this region that many of the makers of Douro wines now need to be given more space in Richard’s forthcoming The wines of Portugal (due out next September). Vintages are examined in detail from 1960 all the way up to the as-yet-undeclared 2017, which – spoiler alert – despite unpredictable weather, an early harvest and reduced yields may not be anything like the disaster some have predicted. Recent tastings have also allowed a re-evaluation of some vintages.
For anybody interested in the most up-to-date information on perhaps the most popular of fortified wines, this must-have book will be available in all the usual places from 19 November.
p.s. The bargain hunters among you may be interested to know that we do still have a few copies of the third edition of Port and the Douro left and we’re offering these at a promotional price of £15 while stocks last.
James Tidwell MS has joined the editorial board of the Classic Wine Library series, published by independent Oxford publisher Infinite Ideas. Tidwell, a Master Sommelier who co-founded the TEXSOM Conference, now in its fourteenth year, is a writer, speaker, consultant and entrepreneur who is expert in the worlds of wine, tea and sake. He joins current board members Sarah Jane Evans MW and Richard Mayson in working on the growing series.
Based in the USA, Tidwell will have a particular role in expanding the North American wine regions covered by the series and in increasing awareness of the Classic Wine Library among his countrymen. Joining the board James said, “This is my most treasured series, from the original Faber & Faber books to Infinite Ideas. I am thrilled to see the continuation and revitalization of the series, and am happy to be included.” The nineteenth title in the series, Anthony Rose’s Sake and the wines of Japan is published this October, along with the fourth edition of Richard Mayson’s own bestseller, Port and the Douro. Sarah Jane Evans MW was excited to be working with Tidwell, saying, “James’ knowledge is international and he brings status in the US wine community, knowledge of the current world of wine, and specifically of North American authors and the market.”
For further information on The Classic Wine Library please contact the Publisher, Richard Burton: email@example.com; +44 (0)7802 443957
About James Tidwell
James Tidwell, Master Sommelier, is a writer, speaker, consultant and entrepreneur. After passing the Master Sommelier examination in 2009, he earned his Diploma from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET); Certified Wine Educator (CWE) from the Society of Wine Educators; Certified Tea Specialist from the Specialty Tea Institute, and Certified Sake Professional from the Sake Education Council. Tidwell holds a baccalaureate degree in International Trade and Finance from Louisiana State University, and earned Honours upon graduating from the Culinary Institute of America.
Tidwell co-founded the TEXSOM Conference with fellow Master Sommelier Drew Hendricks. Now in its fourteenth year, TEXSOM is the premier professional beverage education conference in the United States and among the most influential in the world. He is also Co-Owner and Producer of the TEXSOM International Wine Awards, one of America’s largest and most respected wine competitions. His writing has appeared in World of Fine Wine, Lonely Planet, Celebrated Living and The Dallas Morning News.
His industry leadership has included service on Boards of Directors and Advisory Boards for the Court of Master Sommeliers – Americas, GuildSomm, the Society of Wine Educators, the Specialty Tea Institute and the Wine and Food Foundation of Texas. He is consulting Master Sommelier with Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts in Las Colinas, Texas, which earned a Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence and five nominations for a James Beard Foundation Award for Outstanding Beverage Program under his direction.
Most regular wine drinkers will be familiar with Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, and red wine lovers may well have sampled one of the South Island’s Pinot Noirs. But how many of us have explored beyond that? New Zealand is a relatively new wine country, whose modern industry is only around 40 years old but in that time huge changes have taken place and there is now an extraordinary variety of wines coming out of these two islands.
During this century exports have increased from 19.2 million to 253 million litres, so the country’s wines are clearly popular. As the industry approaches middle age it needs to keep on its toes – the fickleness of fashion means that producers cannot rely on the continuing popularity of New Zealand ‘Savvy’. So now seems a good time to take stock. In a new book, The wines of New Zealand, master of wine Rebecca Gibb expertly takes readers through the past, present and future of New Zealand wine. Gibb notes that, “New Zealand wine has reached its early adulthood with new faces, new varieties and innovative new methods appearing at breakneck speed, and there is so much more to come. The national industry and all its many components are constantly adjusting in the vineyard, the winery and the global marketplace.”
Gibb confesses that she is “known to get excited about wine,” and that excitement proves infectious here. She guides us energetically through the history of New Zealand wine, employing a genial style that makes even the section on climate entertaining, without taking away any of its authority. Her chapter covering the grape varieties is far more than just a study of cultivars – as an MW student Gibb was awarded the Bollinger Medal for her outstanding tasting skills, and her keen abilities are put to use here in her descriptions of the flavours involved, while each of the major varieties gets its own fascinating biography, rounded off with a top 10 of ‘must try’ wines.
Gibb then takes each of the 10 main regions in turn, starting with Northland, moving southward through Hawkes Bay and Marlborough to end in the South Island at Central Otago. At last count there were 670 producers so rather than turn the book into a directory, Gibb provides a selection of producer biographies featuring the most exciting, innovative and visitor friendly winemakers, along with details on which wines to try. If Gibb’s enthusiasm has you booking a flight, the final chapter will prove invaluable, packed as it is with suggestions on wine-related places to stay and things to do. All in all the book is an invaluable resource for anyone keen to adventure beyond Sauvignon Blanc.
About the author
Rebecca Gibb MW is an award-winning wine journalist and editor. Securing her first editorial role at UK wine trade magazine Harpers after being named UK Young Wine Writer of the Year in 2006, she has since edited several print and online publications. Rebecca contributes to prestigious titles including Decanter, The World of Fine Wine, LUX and Wine Business International, in addition to running a small business, The Drinks Project.
In 2015, Rebecca became a Master of Wine. Having lived in New Zealand from 2010 to 2016 with her Kiwi husband and son, Rebecca recently returned to the UK. She maintains her strong ties with the people and wines of Aotearoa.
The wines of New Zealand is published on 30 July 2018. Review copies available from firstname.lastname@example.org