Two Good Reads

Looking for a gift for a wine lover this year? Then 2 recently published books – one on the Wines of England and Wales, the other on the Wines of Portugal – may be the answer.
Both books start with the historical background to their wines, followed by a look at the key grape varieties grown and main regions of production and include a selection of producers to note. Both also highlight the major changes experienced in recent decades, not just to the styles of wines produced but also to the 2 wine industries themselves.
But despite these similarities, I suspect that the books will appeal to rather different audiences.
Oz Clarke’s “English Wine – From Still to Sparkling” (Pavilion Books, £16.99) relates his personal experiences visiting his favourite vineyards and winemakers throughout the country. An underlying theme of the book is the rise and rise in sparkling wine production in England and Wales this century and the reasons behind it. In short, England’s cool climate is ideally suited to making fizz and many of our vineyards are situated on the same seam of chalk that underlies the Champagne vineyards. So, with similar temperatures to Champagne and the same soil, it’s a no-brainer to plant the same grape varieties – mainly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir – and make the same kind of wine. And we’ve been very successful at it!
Clarke’s book is a much-needed update on the rapidly changing English and Welsh wine scene and is a most enjoyable and approachable read.
Richard Mayson’s “The Wines of Portugal” (Infinite Ideas, £30) is far more in-depth – I might say almost encyclopaedic. The writer has been immersed in Portuguese wine (not literally, I hope!) for his entire adult life and it is clear that he is writing about a country he loves – and has loved since his first visit as a 10 year old child.
Portugal’s wine transformation began when they joined the European Union in 1986 prompting them to introduce a proper quality hierarchy, mirrored on France’s Appellation Contrôlée system, across the whole industry. As a result, wines from the Douro, Dão, Bairrada, Vinho Verde and others, historically variable in quality, were all spurred on to improve and are now worth their place on every wine rack. Even the previously unexciting Alentejo in the south of the country is now regularly producing attractive, excellent value for money bottles.
For lovers of Portuguese wine or for anyone who wants to get to know the many delicious wines of that country better, this book is a must-buy.
Whichever you choose, I wish you happy reading (accompanied by an appropriate glass, of course!)

Not Normal Times

Book and Wine

At this time of year, I’m normally busy attending tastings, running wine classes or events or preparing for them or, perhaps, planning a trip away – spring and early summer are lovely times to visit winemaking areas. But these are not normal times – we’re now almost 4 weeks into the coronavirus restrictions so, instead, I’d like to share some tips that might help wine lovers fill those spare at-home hours and try to make the best of these unprecedented and anxious times.

I’d been meaning to re-read Don and Petie Kladstrup’s ‘Wine and War’ for some time. It’s a fascinating insight into how the French wine industry coped under Nazi occupation during the Second World War. Set against the tragic background, the book tells the stories of real winemaking families as they tried to survive – and protect their finest wines from theft or destruction.

I’ve also been following a series of mini wine talks on You Tube, recommended to me by Diana, a fellow wine educator and Secretary of the (currently suspended) Bristol Tasting Circle. ‘The Wine Show at Home’ is a spin-off from The Wine Show which is due to start a new series on TV soon. The ‘at home’ version features wine writer Joe Fattorini – always interesting to listen to with his wine-related anecdotes and informed recommendations. Definitely worth catching up with.

Although my wife, Hilary, and I have had to find new routines, there’s one aspect of our life that won’t change: our tradition of opening a bottle to share over dinner at weekends. Dr Bϋrklin-Wolf’s dry Riesling from Wackenheim in Germany’s Pfalz region (Wine Society, £10.95) is an absolute bargain. Delightfully crisp and fresh and with that typical tang – often strangely described as ‘petrol’ – of a Riesling with a few years in bottle (this one was 2015 vintage). A perfect partner for some oven-baked salmon steaks with a creamy spinach and avocado dressing.

So, that’s some of the things I’ve been doing; if you have any interesting or unusual suggestions for wine lovers to do during the present restrictions, do, please, share them in the comments box below.

Take care and stay safe.