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.
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.
When you think about Austrian alcohol, you’re probably more familiar with beers and Oktoberfest thanks to the Bavarian influence and how fond they are of a good pint. It’s true, when I was backpacking around Europe, I never thought to order an Austrian glass of wine, rather it was straight for the home brew.
You’re most likely more familiar with the terroirs of France, Australia, New Zealand, even Spain, but most likely not Austria. Yet did you know that Austrian wine has a history dating back to the Habsburgs? Yes, that’s right, while all that furore over land and such was being fought over, it is likely that the winners would sit down with a nice glass of dry white from their own vineyards.
So consider this, the next time you’re throwing a dinner party, why not spend that little bit extra on a bottle of Austrian wine. More than anything it will make you look like a true wine connoisseur instead of going for your usual bottle that everyone’s had before. It will be a great starting point for conversation about wines, travel and the great food that you are more than likely to serve to your guests.
If you’re wondering what to serve it with, perhaps some excellent hearty Austrian food such as goulash, schnitzel or, if you’re really brave, offal. Though we suggest that, unless you are actually Austrian, springing offal on your guests is a risky move so perhaps save that for next time or offer them an alternative in case the offal is not to their liking. Surprisingly, Austrian wine goes well with Mediterranean cuisine so, if you’re a vegetarian, perhaps you could cook something much lighter than a hog roast. More information on what goes with Austrian wine can be found here.
Our book, The wines of Austria by Stephen Brook will be published on 19 October. If you can’t wait until then, we have some advice about how to introduce your palette to new wines from our book, Secrets of wine by Giles Kime:
Even on the first leg of the path to vinous nirvana, it is important to expose your palate to other styles of wine without letting them cloud your understanding. There are a huge number of wines that no one except a few hardened wine buffs is aware of. Plenty of wines are made purely for local consumption, such as Austria Gruner Veltliner, Swiss Chasselas, Italian Aglianico, Uruguayan Tannat and Canadian Ice Wine. Though initially you should keep these wines at arm’s length, they will eventually be essential for pushing your taste buds to the extremes – just as the best fitness training programme will exercise muscles that you don’t normally use. The chances are that you won’t like them. But even if you don’t they will offer flavours and aromas that your palate and nose wouldn’t otherwise be subjected to. They will stretch your senses to the extremes of their experience.
The secret to tasting offbeat wines is never to get too involved. You don’t need to know a great deal about wine in order to enjoy it. It doesn’t really matter whether Gruner Veltliner, Tannat, Aglianico or Eiswein is a grape or a style of wine. Nor does it really matter whether they come from Austria, Uruguay, Italy or Canada. What is far more important is that you, your palate and your nose are receptive to them. Of course, when – or if – you find an offbeat wine that you like, that might be the time to investigate the winemaking tradition from which it springs.
It’s an exciting day at Wimbledon with two stellar matches to watch. Though we sadly don’t have tickets to the grounds, we can share in the spirit both tennis and alcohol related. Of course, the best thing to drink at Wimbledon is Pimms, in true British style but because we’re not there and to celebrate the other European players, we’ve come up with some fun and ‘alternative’ cocktails.
The Thrashing Serb
Semi-final Match One: Djokovic vs. Gasquet
OK so we may have given this cocktail a bit of a Wimbledon-themed name (it’s actually called a Summit) but we thought that it sounded refreshingly tennis-y and incorporated the all-important cognac, popular in both Serbia and France. To make your Thrashing Serb (I have now trademarked this name and intend to bequeath it upon my first-born) you will need:
4 slices of ginger
1 lime slice
4 cl VSOP Cognac
6 cl lemonade
a fine peel of cucumber
Place the lime and ginger into a glass, and add 2 cl of Cognac. Then add ice and stir. Add the rest of the Cognac the lemonade – then, finally add the cucumber peel.
However, if this doesn’t really float your boat and you’re hoping that the first match will be a classic five-setter so that you will have enough time to dash home from the office to watch what promises to be a stupendous showdown between Murray (come on, Tim!) and Federer (lovely hair!) then we would suggest you go for something much more refined, like a fine Swiss wine (yes, they do exist) or just stock up on the ginger beer and strawberries for Pimms O’Clock!