By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 7 December 2019
This week I pick out my favourite new wine books which have recently arrived on our shelves.
The prize for the most beautiful wine tome this year must go to Christie’s World Encyclopedia of Champagne & Sparkling Wine (Absolute Press) by Tom Stevenson & Essi Avellan MW. In a stunning format with Champagne-toned cover and sleek photography it looks like a glossy coffee table book, but it is anything but. The duo are known for their groundbreaking research and detail in the world of bubbles - this updated 4th version (which was six years in the making) is a triumph.
“Today’s consumers regard sparkling wine itself as a serious wine”, says Stevenson. He and Avellan travelled the world updating sections on five continents, treating sparkling wines with the same reverence they pay to Champagne. This edition is a real eye-opener featuring more than 2,000 producers, from new Champagne growers to expanded sections on England, Italy, Luxembourg, Romania, Russia and even Ukraine with new maps of Italy’s Franciacorta, Trentino, Prosecco ‘rives’ and Cartizze.
It covers all bases from new information on yield data, closures from cork, cortex to crown caps, pulse-jetting technology and Champagne appellation revisions – to helpful buying tips with Gold and Silver Medal winning fizz from CSWWC World Championships highlighted in each chapter. This book is a must for all fizz lovers.
People often ask me which is ‘the best’ wine book to buy. With its readable text, illustrations and excellent maps, The World Atlas of Wine (Mitchell Beazley) by Hugh Johnson & Jancis Robinson MW now in its 8th edition, is my pick. With new chapters on climate change, terroir and vineyard land prices with an extensive range of wine maps all under one cover, so useful for anyone heading off to tour wine regions. As an avid map reader, I was delighted to see new maps for Beaujolais, Campania, Mount Etna, Jerez, Mexico, Japan’s Yamanashi & China’s Ningxia.
Is the tide turning for sherry again? I do hope so. This region deserves a revival with its burgeoning boutique bodegas offering incredible value and quality in aged dry sherries. A colourful new book on the subject is aptly titled Sherry: Maligned, Misunderstood & Magnificent (Academie du Vin Library) by Ben Howkins. Packed with fun anecdotes from a lifetime in the sherry trade visiting sherry towns, bodegas, flamenco, bullfights and ‘ferias’. He deftly describes the complex ‘solera’ and famous ‘flor’ - with tips on mixing sherry cocktails and a sherrypaedia of celebrity sherry drinkers.
Most fascinating of all is Howkins’ no-holes-barred chapter on ‘the man who broke the sherry bank’ Jose Maria Ruiz-Mateos of Rumasa; his empire was expropriated by the Spanish government in 1983. 36 years on, Howkins describes sherry today; now smaller and leaner with the ‘big six’ producers (now mainly Spanish owned), he also highlights differences between boutique bodegas and marquista shippers. The only downside of the book is the lack of accurate information on the Pedro Ximenez grape and Montilla-Moriles region east of Jerez near Cordoba, which supplies most of the PX to the sherry trade today.
The new paperback The Wines of Germany (Infinite Ideas) by Anne Krebiehl MW is the most digestible book I have read on German wines. Krebiehl gives a very clear explanation of one of the most complicated things in the wine world – the German wine laws - how they came about, how relevant they are and how they could be changed.
Driving round in her trusty Volvo, Krebiehl toured the length and breadth of Germany’s 13 wine regions. She delves deep into the history, culture and intrinsic differences from Ahr to Baden highlighting her favourite producers, the rise of German Pinot Noir (Spatburgunder) and rebirth of German Sekt. I was particularly struck by her climate change chapter on how “Germany at higher latitudes will feel temperature changes more”.
One thing this excellent German wine reference book lacks is detailed maps – it would have been so helpful for cross-referencing producer’s locations in this big wine country. I suggest reading it alongside the German section of Johnson & Robinson’s Wine Atlas with its thorough regional maps.
My favourite book this year was the most unexpected as it concerns one of the less glamorous parts of the wine world – Eastern Europe. The Wines of Bulgaria, Romania & Moldova (Infinite Ideas) by Caroline Gilby MW might sound dull, but it is anything but. It offers us a fascinating and much needed insight into three very different countries which can “offer something genuinely different”. We regularly lump these countries together as ‘Eastern Europe’ but they are all so different with their own grapes, cultures and history.
Gilby has spent a quarter century exploring Bulgaria, Romania and Moldova and knows more about their wine regions than anyone. Working as a wine buyer and consultant, she has travelled extensively watching their complex troubled histories unfold as they emerged from communism. I enjoyed her personal anecdotes on characters she met, the evocative description of her first visits, explanations of foreign investors’ challenges with such fragmented land ownerships - and the quirks of each country from its food and wine.
She vividly describes Bulgaria’s alarming number of home-made wines (50% of consumption). In Romania she tells of terrifying car journeys along potholed roads, to dining with blue blooded royalty; she rates Prince Stirbey’s wines as ‘most consistent and exciting’. In Moldova, with the highest density of grapevines per person anywhere, her tales include danger money, hungry people stealing grapes to armed guards protecting wine shipments. She handles Moldova’s economic crisis with sensitivity, explaining how this once vast wine industry shrunk at the hands of Russian alcohol bans – and shows us what an exciting future potential this country has – particularly with its Icewine.
FIZZ OF THE WEEK
Thracian Lowlands, Bulgaria: BLANC DE BLANCS BRUT 2014 Edoardo Miroglio
(£19.50 St Andrews Wine Co; Swig www.swig.co.uk)
Rich leesy citric fizz with brioche notes made by Italian textile magnate who invested in southern Bulgaria, Miroglio’s rose fizz is delicious too; surprise your friends with this unusual festive fizz
RED WINE OF THE WEEK
Ningxia, China: MOSER FAMILY CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2015 Chateau Changyu Moser
Cedary, blackcurrant and red berry aromas, lush rich ripe fruits, soft luscious mouthfeel, smooth tannins – this is the ‘second’ wine of Chateau Changyu-Moser, one of the new premium wines made by Austrian Lenz Moser – and the best I have tasted yet from China.
Join Rose’s Fine German Wine Masterclass: Mosel v Rhine on 19 March 2020 in Edinburgh: £45 www.rosemurraybrown.com