One of the great things about working in publishing is the conversations you get to have with experts and enthusiasts in a variety of fields. In my time in the world of books I have worked with people writing about medicine, religion, philosophy, self-help and business. But perhaps the most enthusiastic people I have met are the experts in wine with whom I’m involved at the moment.
What is more because their field of expertise lends itself to conviviality some of the conversations we’ve had with authors of books in the Classic Wine Library have taken place over a glass of red or white. It’s not that the authors in those other fields were lacking in social skills but given the choice between meeting an author at the hospital to pore over images of skin diseases or meeting one in a wine bar to talk about the wines of Languedoc, Spain or northern Italy, the decision is pretty easy.
One of our most eminent authors is Julian Jeffs. He is also a generous host and the owner of an impressive wine cellar, some of which Infinite Ideas was privileged to experience over lunch (cooked by his wife) at our first meeting to discuss the most recent edition of his classic book Sherry. And I have encountered several authors who think it quite normal to have a glass of sherry or madeira for elevenses – whereas if I suggested this back at the office (even given that the Infinite Ideas office is a pretty relaxed place) people might start to worry. Apparently having one at eleven is the more sensible of two available alternatives – the other option being to have eleven at one. In any case, inebriation is not the aim here (or so I am led to believe), and any partaking of wine is always accompanied by an evaluation of its merits.
A couple of years ago Infinite Ideas spent a particularly relaxed (by which we don’t mean sozzled) afternoon in the company of Richard Mayson and Julian Jeffs as they discussed the wine trade and wine writing. We were able to sit back and listen to these two experts chat about the subject they know best. One thing that particularly struck me, which I had not considered before, was that writing about wine actually has played an important part in the trade. Once producers realised they and their industry were being written about they had to clean up their acts and practises such as adding sugar to sherry, which were common when Julian began writing on the subject in the 1960s have now disappeared.
Wine writing does continue to influence the trade and help ensure quality; as Julian noted, ‘I think the job is still to keep the standards up and to tell the truth about wine in some detail to serious wine drinkers who want to know it.’ So while Classic Wine Library books will not educate the next generation of heart surgeons, help somebody manage their depression or give them the tools to become the next Bill Gates it’s good to know that they are making a difference to the wine we all enjoy drinking.
Infinite Ideas dropped in on a conversation between Julian Jeffs and Richard Mayson in February 2015. They spoke about changes in the wine world over the last 60 years, especially in the field of fortified wine. You can read the whole conversation here.
When Infinite Ideas took on its first wine book back in 2012 I’ll admit to wondering if we were making a big mistake. At that time the publishing list consisted mainly of business and self-help books, so taking on Richard Mayson’s Port and the Douro seemed like a slightly out there publishing decision. However Richard was so eloquent and passionate about his subject that publish it we did. Five years on we find that our rapidly growing wine list is the heart and soul of the business, and our first wine author makes up one-third of our editorial board.
So what is it that makes The Classic Wine Library so loved among wine scholars? As a relative oenological ignoramus I must confess that some of the fine details of wine appreciation do pass me by. Tasting terminology and a compulsion to nail the precise components of a wine’s bouquet puzzle me – do you really appreciate something more by taking it apart? Still, I do also find this level of obsession with something so existentially unimportant oddly comforting, in the same way as I enjoy listening to (mostly) men arguing about football on the radio phone in on a Saturday night. If we live in a world where people care whether that really was a penalty or not or spend time pondering whether a wine has jammy, citrusy or buttery notes then perhaps it’s not such a bad place after all.
All of our writers are great storytellers but this, for want of a better word, ‘trainspotting’ aspect of wine writing had made me wonder if it was strictly a men only field (sorry boys, that obsession with collecting and cataloguing is so characteristically you). So I was both surprised and delighted when we took on our first female author, Rosemary George. As well as being the first woman to write about wine for Infinite Ideas Rosemary was also one of the first women to become an MW, back in 1979. The lively and evocative writing style of her book The wines of Faugères almost had me reaching for the sunglasses and hopping on the next train to the south of France. I began to see how taking a bit of time to truly taste a wine could aid your appreciation of it, and came to realise the importance of geography, climate and local flora in helping to create a drink that is more than just fermented grape juice. When you open a bottle of wine you are in a sense pouring the place where it was created into your glass.
I think the ability of the authors of this series to evoke a sense of place so clearly is one of the keys to the success of the books. You really feel transported to the region in question, from Jerez to Champagne, Vienna to Oporto. And that makes you want to find out more about the extraordinary variety of wines produced across the world. The books encourage exploration both of the region in question itself and en bouteille. Rosemary George herself asked for a copy of Richard Mayson’s book before she went on holiday to the Douro, to ensure she gained the most from her trip, and I suspect she is not the first to have packed one of our books as a vinous travel guide. And if you are unable to visit a particular region, settling down with one of our books and a corresponding bottle of wine is the next best thing.
Titles being added to the library this year include The wines of Canada, Côte-d’Or, Rosé, The wines of northern Spain, Amarone and the fine wines of Verona and The wines of Greece. You can find out more here and order published books at 20% discount here.
Publisher Infinite Ideas is pleased to announce the editorial board for its Classic Wine Library, which launched this summer with nine titles. The series will be presided over by three well-known personalities of the international wine business, Richard Mayson, Sarah Jane Evans MW and Joshua Greene. Infinite Ideas’ Editorial Director, Rebecca Clare, said: “Naturally we are delighted that we have been able to attract such prestigious names to our board. They add considerable lustre to what is already a first-class programme.”
Richard Mayson has been a freelance wine writer and lecturer and consultant since 1989. He writes for Decanter and The World of Fine Wine, and is an award-winning author of five books on wine, Chair of the Decanter World Wine Awards for Port and Madeira Wine and the owner of a vineyard in the Alto Alentejo region. In 2014 Richard Mayson received the Louis Roederer International Wine Feature Writer of the Year Award.
Sarah Jane Evans is the current Chairman of the Institute of Masters of Wine and is an award winning wine writer and author. She became a Master of Wine in 2006 and judges and lectures internationally. She has a special interest in the wines of Spain and is co-Chair of the Decanter World Wine Awards for Spain and for Sherry.
Joshua Greene is an American wine critic and the publisher and editor-in-chief of Wine & Spirits magazine, which has a circulation of 90,000, mostly in the US and Canada. The magazine’s panels taste more than 15,000 wines a year. Those recommended by the panels are then reviewed by a team of critics, each of whom covers specific territories.
The Classic Wine Library seeks to educate, entertain and inform readers, extending from wine professionals, students and collectors to interested consumers and tourists. It covers a wide range of subjects, from specific regions to entire countries, including the history, climate, geology and topography, grape varieties, wine-making techniques, ageing and maturation and producers as well as useful travel recommendations. Many titles contain glossaries to explain or amplify any local or scientific terms. Books in the series also feature a directory to the country or region in question. The publisher plans to have 40 wine titles in print by the end of 2018.
Nine preparations and a sustainable approach to farming
Soaring in popularity and demand over the past decade, organic and biodynamic wines are on the rise. But what is the difference between organic and biodynamic farming? In 1924 Rudolf Steiner came up with the idea of biodynamics as a system; it pre-dates the global agricultural movement and is in fact considered the oldest alternative agriculture movement. In his new book, Biodynamic wine, author Monty Waldin explains how biodynamics takes organic farming to a more spiritual level, and gives a comprehensive explanation of all that entails. As Monty says, once given an understanding of the principles and preparations involved anybody can cultivate biodynamic plants:
‘The particular feature of biodynamics – and where biodynamics differs from organics and indeed all other forms of alternative agriculture – is the use of nine so-called ‘biodynamic preparations’. These are made from cow manure, the mineral quartz (also called silica), and seven medicinal plants: yarrow, chamomile, stinging nettle, oak bark, dandelion, valerian and Equisetum arvense or common horsetail. These nine preparations are applied to the land or crops either by being first incorporated into a compost pile or by being diluted in water as liquid sprays.
Biodynamic preparations are used in homeopathic quantities, meaning they can produce an effect in extremely diluted amounts, but they are not homeopathic treatments per se. Their purpose is to make the farm and farmer, its crops, animals and wild habitat, self-sufficient, self-sustaining and socially, economically and spiritually robust. The methods used to make some of the preparations may seem strange initially but are neither high tech, expensive, costly to the environment nor potentially harmful. Anyone, from children to grandparents, can (and do) make these preparations.’ Whilst the concept of biodynamics may appear otherwordly, stripped to its core, the process simply entails working in harmony with nature.
Biodynamic farming extends to the consideration of a vineyard as an entire ecosystem and follows lunar and other celestial cycles to produce a wine that resonates with the dynamic rhythms of nature.
So whether you were already aware of the biodynamic movement, listened to the Hemsley sisters discussing its popularity or discovered a new biodynamic bottle at the weekend, there is plenty more to learn about this subject. Not only is it environmentally sympathetic, according to its growing number of advocates it also produces a better glass of wine.
If you’d like to become a biodynamic buff why not click the link to pick up a copy of Monty’s revealing and instructive book. See also our previous biodynamic blog post – Are cows’ horns filled with manure going to change our wine-drinking habits?
Are cows’ horns filled with manure going to change our wine-drinking habits?
For years, wines have been sorted into fairly standard categories, by region, colour or style, but there is a growing phenomenon among winemakers and consumers that is challenging that categorisation: biodynamic wine production. This isn’t any sort of voodoo or quasi-religious trickery, nor is it so easily put in the box labelled purely ‘organic’. Biodynamic wine is seeking to shake up how we make wine, as well as how we drink it.
A new book by Monty Waldin, Biodynamic wine, takes the reader on a journey from how the grapes are grown to the best ways of tasting biodynamic wine, highlighting clear distinctions between the standard ‘chemical’ wine-growing and an approach which is more sympathetic to the rhythms and forces of nature. Whatever your preconceptions about this holistic method of production the results speak for themselves. Waldin’s new book shows that vines grown in biodynamic conditions deliver better flavour and growing success. Demeter, the global biodynamic certification body, reports winemaker annual membership growth of 20 per cent, and the US now has more certified wineries and vineyards than any other country in the world except France, while New Zealand aims to have as much as 20 per cent of its vineyards certified by 2020.
The popularity of biodynamic wine has grown immensely. The percentage of the world’s wines that are biodynamic and organic has grown from 0.5 to 6 in this century. But what exactly is it? Biodynamic wine is intimately connected with the terroir. The main distinction between biodynamic and conventionally grown grapes is that biodynamic growing methods develop the vineyard’s full potential and then capture the distinctive result in the bottle. As Waldin says: ‘biodynamics remains the best tool with which to make terroir-driven wine of the highest quality while enhancing rather than depleting the vineyard it came from.’ And that is exactly what consumers want: the best terroir in the bottle.
Waldin explains the theory behind this newly popularised method, which has its roots in the early twentieth century teachings of Rudolf Steiner, and shows why more and more growers are going biodynamic. Far from being mere voodoo Waldin says that ‘biodynamics offers effective, creative, enjoyable, stimulating and sustainable solutions to common problems experienced by contemporary winegrowers, such as reduced soil fertility, vines’ diminishing resistance to pests and diseases, and grapes which, despite being increasingly complicated to ferment, risk producing ever more banal wines largely devoid of individuality and interest.’
Biodynamic wine is an excellent guide for wine enthusiasts and students who want to know more about the most argued about development in the winemaking world in recent years. It celebrates ecological and biodiverse winemaking techniques and illustrates the origins of this global wine phenomenon. It is a must-read for wine-lovers everywhere.
Monty Waldin has been involved in biodynamic wine since 1993, when he visited his first biodynamic vineyard in Bordeaux. Since then, he has become an expert on biodynamic wine production and this growing trend among winemakers and consumers. He is the first wine writer to dedicate himself to organic, biodynamic, and natural wine-growing. He has made wine in both hemispheres and has worked in conventional (‘chemical’), organic, biodynamic and natural vineyards and wineries and is uniquely positioned to compare the pros and cons of each. These experiences have allowed Monty to get behind the muck, magic and mystery of wine, giving him a distinctive and respected voice amongst wine growers, wine makers and wine consumers.
Click here to buy Monty Waldin’s Biodynamic wine.
No, this isn’t a joke, we’re not going to throw in a punch line that will undoubtedly fall flat. Austrian wine is relatively rare on the supermarket shelves and in the fridges of avid wine drinkers and yet it is experiencing something of a renaissance in quality and popularity. Of course, as a publisher, we would advise that if you are new to Austrian wine, or even if you aren’t, that you read The wines of Austria by Stephen Brook, which provides a comprehensive analysis of the different producers of Austrian wine.
Going straight to the vineyards for a spot of tasting and then leaving with a few cases would, we’re assuming, be the ideal way we all acquire wine. But since Austrian vineyards are currently out of season and your holiday would most likely be on the chilly side, we’ve done the scouting for you so that, if you fancy it, you can pick up a great bottle of Austrian wine when you’re next doing your weekly shop. Luckily, we’ve been able to give you excellent notes on the vineyards in which these wines are produced, all from Stephen Brook’s excellent book.
Waitrose perhaps has the best selection of Austrian wine, and the grape most famously associated with Austrian wine is in both their 5 star white wine offerings. The first is from Domane Wachau:
There are 440 hectares of vineyards cultivated by 250 families, and 70 per cent of the
vines are Grüner Veltliner. For many tourists the cooperative’s tasting room is an essential stopping place, so it is not surprising that a good deal of the production is of fairly commercial wines. The largest volumes of their more classic wines were released under the Terrassen Thal label, but today there is increasing emphasis on single-vineyard wines. This is sensible as the cooperative’s members are richly endowed with exceptional sites. [However,] [i]t’s the single-vineyard white wines that are the core of production.
I’ve tasted wines made here in the late 1960s and they were still excellent, but they were made in a sweeter style than would be acceptable today. Although not all of the wines are outstanding, the general quality level is astonishingly high. It doesn’t hurt that the cooperative has access to such sites as Pichlpoint, Achleiten, Singerriedel, Loibenberg, and Kellerberg. The Smaragd wines in particular can be exceptional and long lived. It’s also worth looking for other varieties such as Neuburger and Roter Traminer, which can also be of high quality.
Waitrose’s second offering of white wine comes from the vineyard of Markus Huber:
[The Huber vineyard] release[s] a number of different Grüner Veltliners, including Oberer Steigen from 35-year-old vines, the single-vineyard Berg, and the weightier Alte Setzen, a DAC Reserve made from vines up to 65 years old. The two top Rieslings are Engelsberg, a blend from two sites, and Berg, a DAC Reserve aged both in casks and steel tanks. In certain years he also produces an excellent Riesling Eiswein. The top wines are fermented in neutral Austrian acacia casks, and aged for 9 months on the fine lees. Huber is skilled and ambitious, and his wines are stylistically consistent, showing great clarity and a dry structure. Riesling Berg and Grüner Veltliner Alte Setzen are usually the top wines, but the other bottlings are very close in quality. The top wines age effortlessly, although they are accessible young.
The highly rated red wine selection offered by Waitrose are both from Rabl’s vineyard: Schenkenbichl Reisling Reserve and Titan Zweigelt, as is Marks and Spencer’s Rabl Grüner Veltliner:
A large estate, Rabl supplements its own 80 hectares of vineyards by purchasing from another 20 hectares. Grüner Veltliner comes from Spiegel, Käferberg, and Dechant, and Riesling from Schenkenbichl. The Rabls father and son, both named Rudolf, are often, though not dogmatically, proponents of skin contact rather than whole-cluster pressing, which may account for the supple texture of their wines. The Rabls also produce sweet wines quite frequently; in 2006 there was an opulent Traminer Auslese and a silky Grüner Veltliner Eiswein, and a splendid, pineappley Grüner Veltliner TBA, and there were more in 2007 and 2011. In 2012 and 2013 they excelled with the Grüner Veltliner Käferberg ‘Alte Reben’, wines of weight, concentration, and flair.
So there you have it, Austrian wine is infiltrating the UK’s wine market once again and, with these excellent facts about their origins, you’re sure to impress at your next dinner party.