Madeira: what a wonderful place to go on holiday

8 June 2015 by in Classic Wine Library, Wine and spirits

The UK has finally decided that it wants to join in with the rest of the northern hemisphere and be all summery. We no longer have to sit in the office chanting ‘Winter is coming’ while watching the rain pour down the windows. So we’re all about planning our summer break and where better to get inspiration than from our own bookshelves?

Madeira: the islands and their wines offers a rich and detailed history of the islands and includes excellent tips for when you holiday there yourself. Lonely Planet eat your heart out! What’s better than a book that immerses you in the culture of its pages? Catherine is seriously rethinking her trip to Madrid and perhaps needs to take a ‘work placement’ among the vines of Madeira!

Did you know that because Madeira is so hilly that most of the vineyards are on a slope? Over hundreds of years, the volcanic islands have been cultivated to produce a very special type of wine. Make sure that you’re on solid ground, though as fortified wine can hit you quicker than the average bottle.

Blandy's wine lodge

Given that Madeira is basically a very large volcano, there are lots of lava pools to enjoy, hot springs to take a dip in or, if you’re concerned about lava after that wonderful Hollywood classic, Volcano, perhaps you’d prefer to lounge on the beaches, which we think look very nice indeed!

However, don’t forget when travelling to this fantastic island that while there you can literally drink the island! Madeira is growing in popularity and where better to savour the taste than at the source. What is a holiday for, if not to relax and we can’t think of a better way to do that than a vineyard tour and wine tasting. (Catherine recently went to one in Canada, yes, Canada, and can attest that this is an excellent way to spend a holiday). Why not book yourself a wine tour and enjoy what really makes the island special. For hundreds of years, wine has been made on the islands, gaining a global reputation and popularity. Touring the wine lodge of Blandy’s, one of the most successful producers of Madeira, in Funchal will allow you to immerse yourself in the wine and the history of the islands. It should certainly be on your list of things to do when on holiday.

There’s always a come-down when one arrives back in (usually rainy) Britain after a fantastic holiday but at least after visiting Madeira, you can pick up a bottle from your local supermarket and relive the summer once again.

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Madeira: the American connection

28 May 2015 by in Classic Wine Library, Wine and spirits

You may have heard of madeira cake and you might even have been to Madeira on holiday, but what do a few islands off the coast of Africa have to do with America? Well, quite a lot actually. Did you know that it was George Washington’s favourite drink? Did you know that it was used to toast the American Independence in 1776? You could say that madeira is as American as hamburgers and Dolly Parton.

Infinite Ideas recently went to the Big Fortified Tasting in London and we were lucky enough to try some very exceptional madeira (one glass was enough for Catherine as she might not have made it back to Oxford!). The history of this timeless drink is incredibly rich and embedded in many cultures, not just that of Portugal and the surrounding areas.

Jefferson madeiraSo, madeira and America, eh? We certainly didn’t see that one coming. Thomas Jefferson once remarked, “it is a wine which I do not drink, being entirely too powerful”, well that power was enough to spark a drinking revolution in the USA, which it is fair to say, has reverberated around the world. We’ve all been for happy hour cocktails, some of us may have even hosted our very own cocktail parties at home, well madeira parties paved the way for this popular social occasion.

In his new book, Madeira: the islands and their wines, Richard Mayson writes about the origin of madeira parties:

Until the end of the nineteenth century, madeira was the most prestigious wine in north america. collectors held madeira parties to share their knowledge and show off their wines. These were common among high society, whose members lived on the eastern seaboard in cities from Boston to New Orleans including Philadelphia, Baltimore, savannah and charleston. Madeira parties generally took place in the late afternoon with eight to a dozen men sharing and discussing perhaps half a dozen wines over a period of two or three hours. One of the most lavish madeira parties was hosted in Baltimore by David Thomas in 1899 when twenty-six madeiras ranging in date from 1805 to 1854 were served in one sitting. This is recorded in detail by Emanuel Berk in a self-published pamphlet entitled A Century Past, A Celebration of the Madeira Party in America. The madeira party died out, along with the popularity of madeira  wine, as the cocktail took over in the early years of the twentieth century. It lives on in name only, with a range of wines produced by Barbeito for the US market named after the cities where the parties took place. However, since 2012 a group of international madeira aficionados have been assembling annually in New York to taste and discuss twenty rare and venerable wines, some of them from old American collections.

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Dry January

13 January 2015 by in Lifestyle, Spirits distilled, Wine and spirits

Many people this time of the year are choosing to observe ‘dry January’ in a bid to detox their bodies from all the Christmas overindulgence.

We’re almost half way through the month now and many of you may be rethinking a whole 31 days without alcohol. Rather than going cold turkey and risk crying in the wine aisle at the supermarket, why not adjust your goal to something more reasonable such as only drinking at weekends. We’re also approaching that dreaded of all days, ‘blue Monday’ where the entire human race seems to question its own existence and wonders whether it isn’t better to just admit defeat and look for the answer at the bottom of a large bottle of Jack Daniels and the wrappers of the now not-so-amazing Cadbury’s creme eggs.


Perhaps, rather than drowning your sorrows in whisky, you could take this month of reflection to learn more about the spirits that you regularly consume during happy hour. Mark Ridgwell’s Spirits distilled is an excellent book filled with everything you need to know about spirits. Each chapter begins with a brief history of the drink and provides ample opportunity for you to bone-up on your knowledge and impress your colleagues at after work drinks. Perhaps this is the month to drink the bar dry or to enjoy a dry gin and tonic. Be creative and impress your friends by coming across as a cognac connoisseur, a whisky wizard or a gin genius. Ridgwell’s book is interspersed with quizzes so that you can test your knowledge on what you’ve read and prove that you really do know your stuff.

All the best for the upcoming Monday, we really do hope that you make it to work on Tuesday. Our sound advice would be to get back off the wagon slowly, tonight, treat yourself to a scotch (or American) on the rocks, then perhaps that bottle of JD will go down smoother than expected! Buy Spirits Distilled

Spirits distilled by Mark Ridgwell

8 December 2014 by in Spirits distilled, Wine and spirits

Spirits mock up cover.inddSo you think you know about spirits, do you? Well did you know this:

  • In the 17th century the Governor of Moscow trained a large bear to serve pepper vodka to his guests. If any guest refused their drink, the bear removed their clothes.
  • During the 30-years’ war of the 17th century, the British witnessed Dutch soldiers knocking back shots of genever (gin’s predecessor) before going into battle, eventually describing the habit as taking ‘Dutch courage’.
  • Upon Nelson’s death, at the battle of Trafalgar, his body was placed in a barrel of rum. During the voyage home, the sailors drilled holes through the wood and drank the rum, giving rise to the British naval term for rum, ‘Nelson’s blood’.
  • Although Prohibition was repealed in 1933, two-thirds of Kentucky remains dry, as does the town of Lynchburg in Tennessee, home of Jack Daniel’s.
  • In 1387, it is told that Charles the Bad, King of Navarre, a region on the Atlantic coast that straddled the Pyrenees, died in agony when his sheets, soaked with the local eaux-de-vie, caught fire.
  • During the first half of the twentieth century, tequila was thought of as a drink for nonconforming adventurers but in the 1950s a cocktail named the Margarita became popular in the Los Angeles area and demand for the drink increased.
  • The best way to learn more about the exciting world of spirits is to read Spirits distilled by Mark Ridgwell.

Spirits distilled by Mark Ridgwell is a comprehensive guide to all of the major spirit categories, designed to educate and inform those whose vocation or hobby is spirits.

After taking the reader through the principles of distillation to a discussion on how to taste spirits, Ridgwell reveals the history and legends behind vodka, gin, tequila, rum, brandies, liqueurs, eaux-de-vie, flavoured white spirits and the entire range of whisk(e)ys. The quizzes at the end of each chapter are a fun and useful way of understanding better the spirits they enjoy. An essential book that belongs on the reference shelf of everyone who works with or enjoys spirits, Spirits distilled is a classic in the making.

About the author
Mark Ridgwell has worked with many of the world’s leading spirit companies, including Smirnoff, Hennessy, J&B Rare, Ballantines, Beefeater, Courvoisier, Canadian Club, Bols and Hiram Walker Liqueurs. The pinnacle of his corporate career saw him taking Maker’s Mark out of America and introducing it to the rest of the world.

In 1999 Mark left the corporate world and set up Taste and Flavour, a network of renowned speakers who are passionate about spirits and keen to share their knowledge with enthusiasts and professionals alike. Mark worked with the Wine and Spirit Education Trust to create the Level 2 Certificate in Spirits, now called the Level 1 Award in Spirits, the only globally recognized vocational qualification relating to spirits and liqueurs.

Contact details
An uncorrected PDF proof is available for review. Mark Ridgwell is willing to give interviews. For more information please contact Catherine Holdsworth:; 01865 514888.

The rise in the sherry trend

25 November 2014 by in Lifestyle, Sherry, Wine and spirits

We’re all very excited to tell you that Sherry, sixth edition by Julian Jeffs, is now available and you can buy it for yourself, to learn more about the fantastic drink, or you can buy it for that special someone who likes nothing better than having a tipple or two before bedtime.

More often than not, sherry is synonymous with your grandmother’s slippers, Christmas trifle and Countdown in the afternoon. But there has been a turn in the tide and what used to be a very old-fashioned drink is now becoming rather trendy among the young drinkers, even described by The Telegraph as ‘hip’.

grandmaOne reason for this surge in popularity could be the rise in tapas restaurants and bars in Britain. What could be a better accompaniment for a Spanish meal than a Spanish drink?

And advantage of the rise in this trend is that not everyone has bought into it yet. For example, if you want a good quality Sauvingnon Blanc, you could be paying through the nose for it. However, an excellent sherry (as recommended by the experts) can be found in supermarkets for less than £15.

Of course, sherry is unlikely to replace the traditional bottle of red on the table at your dinner party, but how about surprising your guests with a glass of sherry before the meal. It would make a great talking point and introduce others to the great drink.

Vintage is becoming very cool. The recession made upcycling and vintage shopping very popular as well as practical. While we’re not advising drinking the bottle of sherry that has been open in the back of your cupboard since the beginning of the 1990s, perhaps now is the time to take a leaf out of grandma’s book. But perhaps donate her slippers to Oxfam!
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Sherry’s literary connections

17 November 2014 by in Sherry, Wine and spirits

Q: How many bottles are in a butt of sherry?
A: 720

That’s right. Imagine being presented with 720 bottles of sherry. Even the hardiest of drinkers mightbe slightly phased by such a gift. However, that is exactly what you get if you are appointed the British Poet Laureate. Most recently, Carol Ann Duffy, half way through her duty as Poet Laureate, signed a replica of her butt (of sherry) at an exhibition celebrating the tradition.

Carol Ann Duffy SherryNevertheless, as with all British traditions that go back centuries, this has been fraught with scandal and intrigue. According to Julian Jeffs, author of Sherry, the tradition is thought to have started in 1619 when Ben Johnson was presented with a ‘butt of sack’. However, in 1790, Henry James Pye preferred an annual payment of £27 rather than the wine. The butt-giving was not fully restored until 1984, when Ted Hughes was appointed to the position and happily accepted his gift. Seven-hundred-and-twenty bottles, though, is a lot for one person, even a tortured poet, so Hughes gifted a crate to the Queen Mother.

At Infinite Ideas we love books and wine, so what could be better than a book about wine that has literary connections? Julian Jeffs’ book will be available from Thursday (that’s right, in three days’ time). It looks smashing, and is a fascinating read, if we do say so ourselves. If you can’t wait until then, here is a poem about sherry (kind of):

Oh, For A Bowl Of Fat Canary
Oh, for a bowl of fat Canary,
Rich Palermo, sparkling Sherry,
Some nectar else, from Juno’s dairy;
Oh, these draughts would make us merry!
Oh, for a wrench (I deal in faces,
And in other daintier things);
Tickled am I with her embraces,
Fine dancing in such fairy rings.
Oh, for a plump fat leg of mutton,
Veal, lamb, capon, pig, and coney;
None is happy but a glutton,
None an ass but who wants money.
Wines indeed and girls are good,
But brave victuals feast the blood;
For wenches, wine, and lusty cheer,
Jove would leap down to surfeit here.
John Lyly

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