War, worship and wanton women – how wine has shaped our world

26 March 2018 by in Uncategorized

Wine has been important in many societies since ancient times. It is now produced in all continents and drunk in all but a few countries. It has influenced our health, our political and social relations, our dining habits and even our landscape. To say that wine is a drink that has shaped our world may appear to be an overstatement, but in a new book wine historian Rod Phillips demonstrates just how great a part wine has played in the development of cultures worldwide.

In Wine: A social and cultural history of the drink that changed our lives, Phillips takes a thematic approach to demonstrate how wine has had an impact on eight key areas of our lives. As he says, ‘Wine is a nearly ubiquitous beverage, just like beer and distilled spirits and a little less so than water, tea, and coffee. But it is arguable that the history of wine is that much more complex because of the cultural, social and medical values that have historically been attached to it.’

We may think that concerns about alcohol and health are relatively modern, but the effect wine has on our bodies has long been argued. While Greek and Roman commentators recommended its use in a variety of ailments, and the ancient Egyptians treated complaints as diverse as earache, asthma and jaundice with wine, there have always been those who saw it less as a tonic and more as a danger to health. These days the arguments continue as advocates for wine’s antioxidant effects suggest a few glasses a day are beneficial while some on the opposing side state that anything less than total abstinence poses a threat to health.

In the chapter on wine in relation to women and men Phillips notes a double standard that is perhaps less prevalent today: ‘Historically, men have been anxious about women in possession of alcohol – especially ‘their’ women, meaning their unmarried daughters and their wives,’ he says. ‘Women were advised (by men) to drink alcohol sparingly, if at all, and for the most part women were barred by law or custom from public drinking places such as taverns and alehouses until the twentieth century.’

For men, on the other hand, the ability to hold one’s drink was seen as a sign of manliness. This even extended to an idea, popular until surprisingly recently, that wine would enhance performance in battle. During the First World War French soldiers were given a ration of 1 litre of wine a day, after experiments showed that those who drank wine were more alert and energetic than those given beer. The eventual defeat of the beer-drinking German army did nothing to contradict this view.

Phillips also includes chapters detailing wine’s impact on our landscapes, its sometimes troubled relationship with religion, the increasingly complex interplay between food and wine and some spectacular wine crimes, before taking a revealing look at the way we talk about and criticize wine.

About the author
Rod Phillips is a wine writer who lives in Ottawa, Canada. He is professor of history at Carleton University, where he teaches courses on alcohol, food and European history. He has published in wine media such as The World of Fine Wine, Wine Spectator, Vines Magazine and the guildsomm.com website, and is wine writer for NUVO Magazine. His books on wine include The Wines of Canada (in the Classic Wine Library, 2017), 9000 Years of Wine (2017), French Wine: A History (2016), Alcohol: A History (2014), and A Short History of Wine (2000).

Buy Wine: A social and cultural history of the drink that changed our lives

Our wine library of classic books and contemporary ideas, by Richard Mayson

2 November 2016 by in Uncategorized

Our wine library of classic books and contemporary ideas, blog by Richard Mayson

I have always thought that there is something deeply satisfying about sitting down at the end of a day with a glass of wine accompanied by a good book. It is even better when the said book explains the raison d’être of the wine you are drinking. It brings the wine, the region and the people behind it to life. This is the nub of the Classic Wine Library: good books for the wine enthusiast.

Our authors are all passionate experts in their field, many with a lifetime experience in the region they are writing about. For example, Julian Jeffs first visited Jerez in 1956 and took a job with a sherry shipper where he saw every stage in the making of the wine, from the vine to the bottle. He subsequently became a barrister and QC but maintained a lifelong relationship with the shippers and the region. His wealth of experience, wit and wisdom is captured in his book Sherry. Nicholas Faith, author of Cognac and The Story of Champagne, came to wine writing as a professional business journalist, writing in the Sunday Times, Financial Times and The Economist. His books cover the social history of two classic regions, brought to life with topical anecdotes. They bring the regions up-to-date and explain how they operate today.

I joined the wine trade fresh from University thirty years ago with great respect for these authors. In 1987, whilst working at The Wine Society, I was awarded the Vintner’s Scholarship and Julian Jeff’s book was my mentor when I spent two weeks on self-styled ‘Sherry safari’ as part of a three month trip round Iberia. One day, I thought, I might want to write a book myself. I achieved this aspiration rather sooner than I imagined when, in the early 1990s, I was commissioned to write a book on Portugal, a country that was still something of a terra incognita in the wine trade. Portugal was and is my passion, having introduced me to wine in my gap year whilst working in a bar and restaurant named Godot’s (it was so called because the owners thought that the place would never be finished!) I started visiting vineyards and, with the advantage of speaking fluent Portuguese, became good friends with many wine growers and producers. A few years later Julian Jeffs, then editor for Faber, commissioned me to write a book on Port (Port and the Douro) and I followed this a few years later with a book on Madeira (the second edition of which was shortlisted earlier this year for an André Simon Award). I am currently planning a new book on Portugal, to be co-authored with fellow Lusophile and co-editor Joshua Greene.

Little did I think, thirty years ago, that I would become editor of a wine series, commissioning authors to write new books as well as helping to up date some of the classic titles that I came to know so well when I first joined the wine trade and began studying for exams. So it is with great satisfaction that I see the Infinite Ideas Classic Wine Library coming together with the authors of new classics. Rosemary George MW, whose delightful portrait of Faugères, the leading wine village in Languedoc, was published this summer also began her wine trade career at The Wine Society. Her book on the Languedoc will be out in 2018. We have quite a few other new classics in the making. Roussillon, Canada, the Côte d’Or, northern Italy, Jura and Spain are just some of the subjects for new books due to be published in 2017. And I welcome authors Richard James, Rod Philips, Raymond Blake, Michael Garner, Wink Lorch and co-editor Sarah Jane Evans MW to Infinite Ideas.

SALE – Classic Wine Library seconds

21 October 2016 by in Uncategorized

We have a limited number of seconds of Spirits Distilled and The wines of Faugères available at a hugely discounted rate.

The wines of Faugères, rrp £30, sale price £10
These books have been printed with the plate section in black and white rather than colour. In all other respects the books are identical to the perfect copies.

Spirits Distilled, rrp £19.99, sale price £5
A printing error caused some of the pictures to come out either very dark or very faint. The text is unaffected and is perfectly readable throughout.

Books are available on a first come, first served basis; postage and packing is charged at cost. Please contact Anne-Marie on 01865 514888 or email info@infideas.com to place your order.

Lemon, ricotta and basil gnocchi

8 April 2013 by in Uncategorized

For the gnocchi:
350g floury (baking) potatoes
1 large egg, beaten
a pinch of nutmeg
350g ricotta
zest of 1 lemon
a few basil leaves
200g flour
Maldon sea salt, to season
black pepper, to season
30g butter

For the beetroot:
8 baby beetroots (or 2 regular size, if you can’t find smaller ones)
150g Maldon sea salt
1 tsp black peppercorns
several sprigs of thyme
2–3 cloves of garlic, unpeeled and crushed

To serve:
a splash of balsamic vinegar
a splash of olive oil
a squeeze of lemon juice
30g ricotta
60g goat’s curd
200g peas, cooked lightly
200g broad beans, shelled and cooked lightly

Serves 4

Begin by baking the potatoes for the gnocchi. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas 4. Scrub the potatoes and bake them in the oven until cooked through, which will probably take about an hour. You can test them by sticking a knife in; if it comes out easily, with no resistance, they are ready.

Lower the oven to 150°C/300°F/gas 2 for the salt-baked beetroot. Wash the beetroot and trim off the leaves if still attached, but do not peel. Take two large sheets of foil and lay them out like a cross. Put the Maldon salt in the middle, and add the peppercorns, thyme and garlic. Place the beetroot on the salt. Lift the foil up a little, add one tablespoon of water and pull the foil together, closing it around the beetroot but not too tightly – they need room to steam. Put them on a baking tray and then cook them in the oven for about 30–40 minutes, or until soft (if you’re using two larger beetroots instead of the baby ones this will take longer – allow twice the time). Unwrap the beetroots as soon as they are cool enough to handle and gently rub off the skins; when they are cooked and still warm the skins should rub off easily. Discard the skins and the salt mixture, then set the beets aside.

This part is key. While the potatoes are still warm, just cool enough to handle without actually burning yourself, peel off the skins or use a spoon to scoop out the cooked flesh. While it is still warm it needs to be mashed in a ricer, with a potato masher or even passed through a coarse sieve into a large bowl – it should look like grated potato. After this it will have cooled down more, but it shouldn’t be completely cold. Fold the beaten egg into the potato, then add the nutmeg, ricotta, lemon zest, a couple of torn basil leaves, and enough flour to bind the mixture. Season with Maldon salt and pepper and knead the dough a little, adding more flour if the mixture is too loose. Lightly flour a work surface and tip the dough out onto it. Finish kneading the dough by hand – it should be light and dry to the touch. Then divide it into long sausage shapes. Cut them into pieces the size of large walnuts. For an authentic finish, roll these down the back of a floured fork.

Put a large pan of salted water on to boil, and then reduce the heat to a steady rolling simmer. Blanch the gnocchi in the water in batches (don’t overfill the pan as they need room to float up) for 3–4 minutes until firm; they will rise to the surface when ready. Lift them out with a slotted spoon, drain them briefly on kitchen paper and then set them to one side to cool and dry.

When you are ready to serve, halve the beetroots and warm them up in a pan with a little balsamic vinegar. Put the butter in a large non-stick pan and fry the gnocchi briefly, browning them quickly on all sides. Put a dash of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon in another pan and toss together the warm peas, broad beans, a little of the ricotta and goat’s curd, and season with Maldon salt and pepper. Place half of this in the bottom of each serving bowl and build up with the pieces of baby beetroot, then a few small spoons of the goat’s curd, the pan-fried gnocchi, a little more pea mixture and a few torn basil leaves. Serve immediately.

This recipe is from Desert Island Dishes and Copyright of Maldon Salt Company Limited 2012

Rump of Casterbridge lamb

8 April 2013 by in Uncategorized

Rump of Casterbridge lambFor the lamb:
4 x 200g rumps of lamb
1 tbsp good olive oil
1 clove of garlic, unpeeled but lightly crushed
2 sprigs of thyme
2 sprigs of rosemary
200ml good quality stock (brown, lamb or chicken)
15g unsalted butter


For the Tatin:
24 medium shallots, unpeeled
200g Maldon sea salt, with a little reserved for seasoning
2 sprigs of thyme
2 sprigs of rosemary
1 tbsp salted butter, softened
Freshly milled black pepper
4 x 10cm rounds of rolled-out puff pastry, approximately 2.5mm thick
1 tbsp good olive oil

To serve:
Steamed broccoli or green beans

Serves 4

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas 4. Start by preparing the tartes Tatin; you will need 4 x 10cm Tatin moulds. Mix together the Maldon salt, thyme and rosemary, and sprinkle onto a baking tray big enough to hold all the shallots in one layer. Place the shallots on the salt and bake for approximately 20 minutes until slightly softened. Remove from the oven and allow to cool until you are able to handle them. Carefully peel off the skins.

Brush the Tatin moulds with the softened butter and season them well with salt and pepper. Arrange 6 shallots in each mould, and press down slightly so that they are at an even depth. Then top with the puff pastry circles, tucking the pastry in at the sides so the shallots are completely covered. Brush the pastry with the olive oil, prick it over with a fork and bake in the oven for about 20–25 minutes, until golden and slightly risen. Remove them from the oven and rest for 2–3 minutes before carefully turning them out. Keep them warm until you are ready to serve.

Heat the olive oil in an ovenproof sauté pan. Season the lamb well with Maldon salt and freshly milled black pepper. Put the rumps into the pan and colour them well on all sides. Then place the pan in the oven for 2–3 minutes. Remove the pan, turn the meat over and add the garlic, thyme and rosemary. Return the pan to the oven for another 6–8 minutes. Remove from the oven, lift the lamb out of the pan and leave it to rest in a warm place for 3–4 minutes. Pour off any excess oil or fat from the pan, and return it to the hob over a high heat. Add the stock and reduce it by half until the juice has the consistency of a sauce. Take the pan off the heat, whisk in the butter and pass the sauce through a fine strainer into a jug.

To serve, place a Tatin on each serving plate, slice each rump of lamb into five even pieces and lie them on the plate next to the Tatin. Spoon the pan juices over, and serve with some steamed broccoli or green beans.

This recipe is from Desert Island Dishes and Copyright of Maldon Salt Company Limited 2012

Bramley apple and lemon thyme crumble

8 April 2013 by in Uncategorized

Easter, Bramley, apple, lemon, thyme, crumble

Bramley apple and lemon thyme crumble

You will need 4 x 6 cm stainless
steel rings

For the crumble:
50g caster sugar
60g soft unsalted butter
55g ground almonds
½ tsp Maldon sea salt
60g soft white flour
3 Bramley apples
5 tsp clear thyme honey
25g unsalted butter
1 sprig fresh lemon thyme
10g sultanas


For the salted caramel sauce:
4 tbsp water
60g granulated sugar
6 tbsp double cream
a pinch Maldon sea salt
For the mascarpone ice cream:
250ml full-fat milk
150g mascarpone
3 egg yolks
75g caster sugar

Serves 4

Make the ice cream beforehand. Put the milk and half the mascarpone into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Beat together the egg yolks and caster sugar in a bowl, then add the milk mixture to the bowl and mix them together well. Return the ice-cream mixture to the saucepan and cook it until it reaches 85°C, stirring continuously. Put an empty bowl into a baking tray and fill the tray with iced water. Pass the mixture through a fine sieve into the bowl and allow it to chill. Stir in the remaining mascarpone and then freeze the mix in an ice-cream machine, following the manufacturer’s instructions. Set aside in the freezer for later use.

Make the crumble. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas 4, and mix the sugar with the butter, rubbing them together. Add the ground almonds, Maldon salt and flour and continue to rub everything together to create a crumbly texture. Spread the mixture onto a baking sheet lined with a silicone baking mat and bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown in colour. Remove from the oven and set aside.

Wash, peel and cut the Bramley apples into 1cm dice. In a shallow pan cook the honey, butter and lemon thyme until they reach a light caramel. Add the sultanas and then add the apples. Reduce the heat, place a piece of baking paper over the top and continue to cook slowly until the apples are soft to the touch but still maintain their shape. Remove from the heat.

Place four 6cm stainless steel rings on a silicone baking mat or baking sheet. Spoon a little of the crumble mix into the base of each ring and place on top enough of the cooked apple mixture to come two-thirds up the ring. Then put more crumble on top of the apples and place them in the oven for 12 minutes to warm through and further colour the crumble.

While the crumbles are cooking, make the sauce. Put the water and sugar in a heavy-based saucepan and cook them to a caramel. Mix the double cream and Maldon salt together and, off the heat, add them to the caramel carefully – it will rise up and spit. Return the pan to the heat and bring to the boil. Pass the sauce through a fine sieve. Set aside and keep warm.

Carefully lift each crumble onto its serving plate and remove the ring. Spoon the salted caramel sauce around it and set a quenelle of the ice cream to the side.

This recipe is from Desert Island Dishes and Copyright of Maldon Salt Company Limited 2012