Why Great Britain’s wines are fizzing with potential

8 May 2019 by in Classic Wine Library, Wine and spirits

Most of us will be aware that the wines of England and Wales have come on in leaps and bounds since the beginning of this century. With brands like Chapel Down and Nyetimber becoming well known for their sparkling wines and English and Welsh wines taking up more shelf space in supermarkets such as Waitrose, even appearing on some pub menus, many of us will have had the chance to sample wines from these isles. So with Britain’s relationship with Europe in turmoil can lovers of French, Spanish and Italian wine start replacing their favourites with drinks from Kent, Cornwall and Yorkshire?

In his new book, The wines of Great Britain, English wine expert Stephen Skelton MW conducts a comprehensive study of the English and Welsh wine industries. Although much was done in the twentieth century towards the creation of a wine industry, the current wine growing phase dates back just 15–20 years and many contemporary producers are not much older than this. The good news is that despite their relative lack of experience, these businesses are already creating wines that can hold their own on the world stage. Some of the sparkling wines have even seen off competition from Champagne to win major wine awards. Several producers now make drinks that feature in the premium wine market and two Champagne houses have set up offshoots in Great Britain.

As a long-time consultant to the English wine industry Skelton is able to look behind these headlines. He notes that while there is much to celebrate, there is also considerable work to be done. Great Britain’s growers are still experimenting and learning when it comes to site selection and choice of rootstocks, the climate continues to pose challenges and producers have barely scratched the surface when it comes to developing the market beyond Britain’s shores. In years gone by the famous British weather often made for small harvests and poor fruit ripeness but if summers like that experienced in 2018 become more frequent, producers could find themselves faced with a problem of overabundance. As Skelton notes, “The exceptionally large harvest will strain the marketing skills of still wine producers and the bank balances of sparkling wine producers, who must find around £45,000–50,000 per hectare for picking, winemaking, bottling and storage of their wines. There are most definitely uncharted waters on the horizon.”

The 21 producer profiles showing how producers of all sizes are tackling these issues are fascinating. They illustrate a broad range of business approaches, as well as differences in field and winery, but above all demonstrate how energetic this community  is. There is still a long road to travel before we can chuck out the Bordeaux, but Skelton is optimistic: “There are many reasons to think Britain’s wines could get better in the future. The next few decades will be interesting ones to watch.”

About the author
Stephen Skelton began his wine career in 1975. In 1977 he established Tenterden Vineyards in Kent (now the home of Chapel Down) where he made wine for 23 vintages. He was also winemaker at Lamberhurst Vineyards, then the UK’s largest wine producer, between 1988 and 1991. He became a Master of Wine in 2003. He has written and lectured widely on English wine and has published four guides to UK vineyards, the 2001 edition of which, The Wines of Britain and Ireland, won the André Simon award for Wine Book of the Year. Other publications include Viticulture, a primer on the subject for students, and Wine Growing in Great Britain, for growers.

The wines of Great Britain is published on 13 May 2019. Review copies are available from marketing@infideas.com

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Book ideas for the wine lover in your life

6 December 2018 by in Classic Wine Library, Wine and spirits

As we flip our calendars over to December it’s time to admit that, yes, the festive season is upon us. If you’re anything like the Classic Wine Librarians there will come a point when, exhausted from shopping and socialising, you yearn for some peace and quiet, a comfortable chair, a glass of wine and a good book to curl up with. May we suggest that our wine books are perfect for the Christmas-weary oenophile, and for the rest of December they are available with a 25% discount. Just visit our online bookshop, choose your books and enter the code Crackle18 at checkout to claim your discount. Read on for our top book picks.

Some of our best buys for long winter evenings

Check out our latest titles, critically acclaimed books and bestsellers. They make great presents – for your loved ones or for yourself.

9781999619374Port and the Douro (fourth edition) – NEW RELEASE
Richard Mayson’s classic book on Port and Douro wines is consistently popular, particularly at this time of year. In the comprehensively updated new edition, published last month, he reminds us why Port is a drink that continues to fascinate wine-lovers and win new fans. The chapter on vintage port covers harvests as recent as 2017 and provides information on vintages going back to 1844. Peppered throughout with anecdotes, potted biographies of those who shaped the industry and insights into quirks of the trade, this extensive and engaging guide to Port is an essential book for any wine enthusiast’s library.

9781906821623Sake and the wines of Japan – NEW RELEASE
Sake is well on its way to becoming the next big thing. Here, Anthony Rose takes us through the history of sake production, from offerings to the gods made from rice chewed by priestesses, to the heyday of sake, when master craftsmen – tojis – were instrumental in a brewery’s success or failure, to sake’s fashionable new wave. He details sake types, explains the ingredients and brewing methods, demystifies polishing ratios, explores the issues around ageing sake and discusses how best to enjoy the drink. A personal selection of sake producers are profiled. Also features a chapter on Japanese wine.

9781908984937Côte d’Or: The wines and winemakers of the heart of Burgundy
Raymond Blake’s thoroughly enjoyable account of the prestigious and fascinating Côte d’Or was shortlisted for the Domaine Faively Wine Book of the Year at the Louis Roederer International Wine Writers’ Awards earlier this year. Amongst the compliments received for this fresh take on one of the world’s most influential wine regions was this one from the Irish Times: “Needless to say, it would make the perfect Christmas gift for the wine lover in your life.” Whether that wine lover is you or a friend, you can get hold of a copy here.

9781908984869Wines of the Languedoc
Jancisrobinson.com called it, “the most important book written on the Languedoc so far”. While it is easily the most informative book on this newly great region Wines of the Languedoc is also immensely readable. Rosemary George MW’s knowledgeable account provides the historical and geographical background you would expect from a Classic Wine Library title but the book’s main focus is on the most interesting producers currently working in this southern French region, with George bringing a personal touch to the profiles which lets readers live through the triumphs and tragedies of winemaking in this exciting and challenging land.


• Using the code Crackle18 at checkout entitles you to 25% off all titles within the Classic Wine Library during December. Second class postage is free within the UK, postage rates to the rest of the world vary; see delivery rates here
• If you are ordering for a UK address we recommend placing orders before 14 December 2018 to guarantee delivery in time for Christmas.
• If you are ordering for deliveries outside of the UK and need books in time for Christmas please contact us at the email address below before placing your order.
• The Classic Wine Library closes at 5pm on Friday 21 December and reopens at 9am on Wednesday 2 January. The online store remains open; orders placed between these dates will be processed on 2 January.
• Please email marketing@infideas.com if you have any queries about your order or our delivery terms.

Comprehensive update for seasonal best-seller

26 November 2018 by in Classic Wine Library, Wine and spirits

Port is a perennial favourite of the festive season, so appropriately this month sees a timely update of Richard Mayson’s classic, award-winning book on the subject. In the nearly 20 years since the first edition of Port and the Douro was published there have been changes in the vineyard, with growers having to adapt to altered seasons, in the cellar, as new technology becomes ever more sophisticated, and in the way the Port industry itself is organized. Yet Port continues to produce classic vintages and to fascinate wine-lovers worldwide.

In his preface to the book Mayson states that one of his major objectives is to ensure that the book is a ‘good read’. This he achieves admirably, particularly through his peppering of the text with boxes offering profiles of key figures in the development of the Port industry and interesting asides on details such as the origins of passing the Port, the decline in popularity of Port and lemon in The Rovers Return and the rumour that Lord Nelson sketched out his plans for the Battle of Trafalgar using a finger dipped in Port.

All the essential information for student, sommelier and Port fan alike is here, delivered in a lucid and unpretentious style. To begin with, Mayson provides a history of Port, from the beginnings of viticulture in Roman times to the present day. The vineyards and their vines as well as the quintas where they are cultivated are thoroughly explored, followed by an explanation of Port production, both traditional and modern. A short introduction to Port types prepares the reader for a detailed assessment of vintages from 1960–2017. Some of these wines have been tasted afresh for this edition, and notable vintages (both exceptional and poor) dating back as far as 1844 are also included. The structure of the Port trade remains in flux, with the chapter on the shippers reflecting this as Mayson explains recent changes in fortune and ownership. Douro wine, which pre-dates its fortified cousin and has seen its revival accelerate over the last 20 years, receives an entire chapter to itself. Finally, for those wishing to visit the region, there are some ideas on what to do and where to stay.

Port and the Douro takes an honest and critical view of the region’s twin wine industries. In a postscript assessing the future for Port and Douro wines Mayson notes the potential problems of increased tourism, the challenges of competitive pricing and the pros and cons of an industry where most sales are in the hands of just five large companies. He ends on an optimistic note, stating that, “I am convinced that the Douro will continue to be one of the world’s most captivating wine regions and that Port will remain among the greatest of wines.”

About the author
Richard Mayson entered the UK wine trade in 1984 and spent five years working for the Wine Society. His first book, the award-winning Portugal’s Wines and Wine-Makers, was published in 1992. Port and the Douro, published in 1999, was shortlisted for the André Simon Award and the second edition, published in 2004, won the Symington Award of Excellence. In 2003 The Wines and Vineyards of Portugal won the André Simon Award for Drinks Book of the Year. In 2014 Richard was Louis Roederer International Wine Feature Writer of the Year and in 2015 Madeira: The islands and their wines was shortlisted for the André Simon Award. Richard chairs the Port and Madeira panel for the Decanter World Wine Awards and lectures to students at Leith’s School of Food and Wine in London. In 1999 he became a Cavaleiro of the Confraria do Vinho do Porto.

Port and the Douro is published on 26 November 2018. Review copies are available from marketing@infideas.com

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Why we believe in experts

23 November 2018 by in Book publishing, Classic Wine Library, Wine and spirits

Here at the Classic Wine Library we value expertise, which is why we recruited three highly knowledgeable wine experts to form our editorial board. Sarah Jane Evans MW, Richard Mayson and James Tidwell MS have all worked in various capacities in the wine industry. They understand it not just as writers and wine critics but also from the perspective of winemakers (Richard Mayson owned a vineyard in the Alto Alentejo for 15 years), sommeliers (James Tidwell co-founded TEXSOM, the US’s premiere professional beverage education event) and consumers (for ten years Sarah Jane Evans was Associate Editor of BBC Good Food magazine, where she encouraged the wider public to explore new tastes).

The three board members are well-known and well-connected within the wine world, and between them have an enviable collection of contacts, meaning they are able to introduce the best people writing about wine today to the series. Knowledgeable in their own particular subject areas they recognize expertise in others, even if the region under discussion is not one in which they are well versed. As published writers their input on content and structure is invaluable. If need be they are also there to offer advice and support to writers and act as a bridge between author and publisher (though it should be noted that the editorial team at Infinite Ideas is entirely approachable). All this goes to create books that are, as one reviewer recently remarked, consistently ‘well-structured, well-edited and rigorously researched’. But don’t worry that these books are dry collections of facts and figures, they are also immensely readable ‘fireside reads’ and ‘essential travelling companions’.

There are now 19 books in the series, with plenty more lined up for the future. If you’ve yet to experience the Classic Wine Library why not pick up one of them today and become just a little bit more expert yourself?

We love knowledgeable people so much that we want the next generation of wine experts to have the best information available to them, which is why we offer discounts on all our books to those studying for MW, WSET and GuildSomm qualifications. To find out more ask your course provider about member offers.

After small-batch gins and craft beers here’s the next big thing: sake

22 October 2018 by in Classic Wine Library, Wine and spirits

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 published on 29 October 2018. Review copies are available from marketing@infideas.com

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Nick Faith remembered, by Anthony Rose

18 October 2018 by in Classic Wine Library, Wine and spirits

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.