Côte d’Or: the world’s greatest wine region

8 September 2017 by in Book publishing, Classic Wine Library, Lifestyle, Wine and spirits

By Raymond Blake, author of Côte d’Or: The wines and winemakers of the heart of burgundy

Glancing behind me as I write this, at shelves loaded with wine books, I can count perhaps a dozen Classic Wine Library titles, from the black-spined Faber & Faber editions, through the less soberly jacketed Mitchell Beazley versions to the elegantly presented and up-to-date publications from Infinite Ideas. I am not sure when I bought my first one, or which it was, probably Julian Jeffs’ Sherry or Anthony Hanson’s Côte d’Or, but I am certain that without the Classic Wine Library my journey of discovery through the world of wine, from keen consumer to Wine Editor of Ireland’s Food & Wine Magazine, would have been more challenging and certainly less enjoyable. The library has been a go-to reference point for longer than I can remember.

I always regarded the Classic Wine Library like a club – not exclusive but inclusive – led by authoritative and informative writers whose knowledge and enthusiasm for their subject shone through on every page. Thus it was with great excitement that I joined the club over a year ago, commissioned to write about the wine region closest to my heart – Burgundy’s Côte d’Or. The excitement was not so great as to blind me to the challenge ahead – the labyrinthine complexity of its nomenclature alone intimidates the neophyte – but I could also call on one asset beyond value. A little over 10 years ago my wife and I were fortunate to buy a house in the Côte d’Or and since then we have visited the region dozens of times. Thus I was able to explore at leisure, chasing up the back roads, discovering unexpected delights, as well as more formally, packing in scores of visits to winemakers, from the biggest négociants to the smallest domaines.

I never – ever – tire of the Côte d’Or and I believe it is now at one of the most exciting periods in its history. That history has seen it stamped by innumerable forces, two of which – the French Revolution and the scourge of phylloxera – are largely responsible for its shape today. And perhaps now, as the memory of their trauma fades, the côte is slipping into the grip of another pair: climate change and the extraordinary surge in the prices paid for mere scraps of prestigious vineyard land. How these will shape the côte in the decades to come is still a matter for speculation, but they make every visit challenging and rewarding in equal measure.

Notwithstanding the undeniable influence of these forces, at a micro level the Côte d’Or is probably producing more high quality wine today than at any point in its history and hence it rewards repeated exploration. There is always something new to be seen, to discover, change is ever present – and this in a region that appears unchanging to the casual observer. In Côte d’Or: The wines and winemakers of the heart of Burgundy, I hope I have managed to present an early twenty-first century snapshot of an era that future historians may well come to label as a golden age – for what I consider to be the world’s greatest wine region.


Côte d’Or is published on 8 September 2017, priced £30, available from your favourite book shop. Or click here to buy your copy today.

The Classic Wine Library – picture this

14 June 2017 by in Book publishing, Classic Wine Library, Lifestyle, Wine and spirits

One of my favourite tasks as editor of the Classic Wine Library is choosing the photos that grace the covers of the books. A great cover is essential in creating the right first impression. Reading the books makes me (and I assume others) want to sample the wines and visit the places talked about, but readers first need to be enticed into picking up the book. A beautiful and interesting cover picture can make all the difference. Picture research can sometimes be quite wearisome, particularly if you are desperately trying to depict some abstract concept in an original way. But the Classic Wine Library, with its series focus on inspiring photos of the landscapes behind the wines under discussion, is different.

It is important to have a reliable and expert supplier when purchasing such photographs. Without having visited many of the places myself how can I be sure that the photo I’m looking at is really of Roussanne vines in southern France and not Chardonnay grapes growing in South Africa? So over the last few years we’ve made this task a lot easier by working with a specialist wine photographic agency, which features a huge selection of wine-related photos from all over the world and is run by Mick Rock, a very knowledgeable and helpful, not to mention world-renowned, photographer.

But there’s more to cover design than finding a beautiful image. The title font used by our designer is called Trajan and was designed by typographer Carol Twombly. Although the font itself is less than thirty years old it is based on the inscription found on Trajan’s column, built by that Roman Emperor around the first century AD. Unlike the column’s inscription the information in these books is not carved in stone, as the world of wine is in a constant process of evolution. However we think that this elegant font, which is only available in capital letters, lends our books a certain authority and timelessness.

Over the last month we have signed up new books on the wines of New Zealand (Rebecca Gibb), Sake and other Japanese wines (Anthony Rose) and the wines of Bulgaria, Romania and Moldova (Caroline Gilby), and I am looking forward to taking virtual journeys through those countries very shortly. So watch this space for new covers. We hope you like them and find the photography as inspirational as we do.


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.

The Classic Wine Library – our kind of people

17 May 2017 by in Classic Wine Library, Lifestyle, Sherry, Wine and spirits

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.

Find out more about forthcoming Classic Wine Library books here and order published books at 20% discount here.

The Classic Wine Library – trainspotters and terroirists

10 May 2017 by in Classic Wine Library, Wine and spirits

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.

Where can you get great Austrian wine?

30 November 2015 by in Classic Wine Library, Wine and spirits

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.

supermarket wine

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.

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The Infinite Ideas interview with Stephen Brook

9 November 2015 by in Classic Wine Library, Wine and spirits

Prolific wine writer Stephen Brook, author of The wines of Austria had a quick chat about his favourite subject.

Perhaps the best known Austrian grapes are Grüner Veltliner and Blaufränkisch. What are the characteristics of these grapes that make them best suited to be grown in Austria?
Gruner Veltliner is wonderfully versatile. It can produce crisp, refreshing wines for early drinking, and at the other end of the spectrum, powerful mineral wines that can age for decades, developing great complexity. The variety is grown in the Czech Republic, California, and New Zealand, but it rarely shows the typicity of the Austrian originals.

Much the same is true of Blaufrankisch. It can be produced as a simple, fresh red, rather like Beaujolais, or as a full-bodied, often quite oaky red with structure and weight. It’s a wine that should show good acidity, making it an ideal and versatile wine with food. It is also grown in Germany, under the name Lemberger, But it thrives best in eastern Austria.

What have been the biggest changes in the production of Austrian wine in recent years?
White wines, dry and sweet, have always been outstanding in Austria, but the real progress has been with red wines, which were frankly mediocre thirty years ago, but are improving all the time, especially now that the tendency to over-oak the wines is being increasingly resisted.

In The wines of Austria, you’ve written a lot about the producers of Austrian wine and how there are a lot of family-owned companies. Do you see more producers breaking into the trade? Do you think there is an opportunity for new varieties?
Austria doesn’t really need new varieties. It has a dozen varieties that have been grown with success for many decades, from scarce whites such as Zierfandler to indigenous reds such as St Laurent. Not to mention widely known varieties such as Riesling, Pinot Blanc, and Chardonnay.

Do you think global warming has affected the production of Austrian wine?
Hard to say, though the climate does seem to have been become more unpredictable.

Do you think that technology has generally been a good thing or a bad thing for Austrian wine production?
Modern technology, competently used, is always a positive thing, but most wineries don’t have the means for costly gadgetry and manage to produce excellent wines without it too.

Austrian wine has had some bad publicity in the past, and despite the fact that it was some time ago, that idea still resonates with many people; how would you convince today’s drinkers that it’s worth trying?
The so-called ‘wine scandal’ of 1985 was a serious betrayal of trust, but nobody got ill or died, in contrast to Italian scandals of the same era that resulted in multiple deaths from adulterated wine. So the Austrians have been published severely for their localised transgressions, but this is now long in the past, and the Austrian wine industry is as tightly controlled as any in Europe.

Wine-tasting is quite a specialised skill. How did you get into it – were you a natural or did you have to learn?
I had to learn, but I was also keen to learn, and paid to attend tutored tastings of top wines to learn how to appreciate them.

Can you tell us about the worst wine you have ever tasted?
Retsina from Greek cooperatives in the 1980s.

Who is the greatest character you have met during your long career in the wine trade? Can you tell us about him/her?
Too many to recall here: Robert Mondavi and Randall Grahm in California, Giacomo Braida in Italy, and, in Austria, the great Alois Kracher, whom I write about in detail in my book.

Other than Austrian wine what is your favourite drink – not necessarily alcoholic?
Top German Riesling.

The wines of Austria is available now, to purchase from Infinite Ideas at a special discounted price of £25.00, please email info@infideas.com or call 01865 514888

Austria order now