A Lovely Wine Book for Christmas

I love wine and I love books and I really, really like books about wine, so when my friend Robert Smyth gave me a copy of his excellent new book I leapt into action and little more than a year later I wrote this review.

hungwine2Hungarian Wine: A Tasting Trip to the New Old World
Robert Smyth
ISBN-10: 1905131682
ISBN-13: 978-1905131686
September 2015, Blue Guides

Available in the UK from Amazon.co.uk for £10.71.
Available in the US from Amazon.com for $10.00.

Robert lives in Budapest, lucky man that he is, and he really knows his stuff about Hungarian wine, so it was natural for him to write an English language guide to the wines of Hungary. I say ‘an’ English language guide, but I suspect that this is the definitive guide of the moment.

nagyeged

Vineyards on the Nagy-Eged hegy hill near Eger. Copyright Robert Smyth.

If you don’t know, Hungary really does make superb wines. It isn’t just the sweet whites of Tokaji either. Hungary is perhaps most famous for white wines from regions such as Lake Balaton, Somló, Neszmély, Mór and Pécs, amongst many others, but  there are first rate reds from regions like Villány – in the south near the Croatian border, Sopron in the north west by the Austrian border and Eger in the north east.

If Hungarian wine has passed you by and you want to explore it, either from the comfort of your own home, or by physically visiting the country and travelling around seeing the wine regions and their wines, then this could be the perfect book for you.

At just 351 pages, this handsome paperback is not a mighty tome of reference, but something that you can carry around and read and indeed use to guide your movements on that Hungarian wine road trip. I like the sub-title, A Tasting Trip to the New Old World, because that describes the book perfectly. It really does take you on that trip, whether you physically leave home or not, and Hungary is in some ways the New Old World of wine.

Hungary Map

It’s nicely, but unfussily written and manages to convey the sense of excitement that I know Robert has about Hungarian wine. There is a useful general overview about the Hungarian wine scene and industry, there’s a chapter on the fascinating history of Hungarian wine – don’t skip that bit out, chapters on the wide and wonderful palette of grapes that Hungary grows – most of them are indigenous. Who could resist grape varieties with exciting names like Ezerjó, Hárslevelű, Irsai Oliver, Cserszegi Fűszeres, Királyleányka, FurmintJuhfark and Kéknyelű? I know that I can’t. Even grape varieties we know often have wonderfully exotic names in Hungary, for instance Blaufränkisch is Kékfrankos and Pinot Gris / Pinot Grigio is Szurkebarat.

Once we have enjoyed all that and started to get a flavour of the country,  we come to the real meat of the book. This takes us on a journey around the country, giving us a little background about each region before taking us through all the wineries that Robert recommends from that area. Robert manages to distill a lot of information into these portraits and you feel that you really get a glimpse of these people, their wineries and what they do, as well as what their wines are like. Then there is some information on where to eat and where to stay in each production zone. At the back there is also a section on the wine bars of Budapest – now I know how Robert fills his time.

I loved this book. I have not been to Hungary for a long time and it is obvious from reading this that Hungarian wine has come on even since then – although I thought it was very good at the time. So thank you Robert. You have plugged a good few gaps in my knowledge and whetted my appetite for a return trip to Hungary. I cannot wait and will remember to pack your book.

Robert Smyth’s Hungarian Wine: A Tasting Trip to the New Old World is a really pleasurable wine book and hedonist’s travel guide. It would make a great Christmas present for almost anyone who is interested in good wine and travel.

An invaluable book on winemaking – all the detail, but never dull

The beautiful vineyards of Lavaux.

The beautiful vineyards of Lavaux in Switzerland.

Recently a really useful and fascinating wine book came my way and so I thought that I would share it with you.

bookWine Production and Quality, 2nd Edition
Keith Grainger & Hazel Tattersall
ISBN: 978-1-118-93455-5
March 2016, Wiley-Blackwell

I am ashamed to say that I am not at all scientific. My understanding of science is pretty limited and so my love of wine is much more emotional than technical.

As a consequence I often struggle to understand the more complex aspects of wine.

For a long time now I have sought to solve this problem by finding a book that explains everything. So far my purchases have all seemed far too daunting and scientific for me to get to grips with and enjoy.

Luckily for me though, it now seems that help is at hand. Fellow Association of Wine Educators and Circle of Wine Writers members Keith Grainger and Hazel Tattersall, have recently published a book called Wine Production and Quality. It’s a handsome volume, well laid out and very readable.

Keith & Hazel 2

Hazel Tattersall and Keith Grainger.

I say volume, but actually it is two of their previous books, Vine to Bottle and Wine Quality: Tasting and Selection, updated and brought together in a single edition.

Part 1 concerns with wine production from the vineyard to the bottling line.
So if you want to understand degree days or grasp the differences between various soil types, this book might prove useful to you,

It crams a great deal into its 300 odd pages. There are chapters, or sections, dealing with everything you need to know, from the basics to the niggly little details that everyone except me seems to understand when winemakers mention them.

This was the most useful section of the book for me and I was glad to be able to get to grips with topics like yeast nutrients, the different methods of extraction, must concentration, reverse osmosis and oxygenation, whether micro, macro or hyper. The chapter on oak certainly extended my knowledge too – for instance I had never heard of the 205 litre Pièce Champenoise and feel enriched for having now done so. Also, and I don’t really know what it says about me, but I found the section on fining, filtration and stabilisation to be strangely fascinating.

Part 2 covers the arcane art of assessing wine quality, so a large section deals with wine tasting in real detail. This would be an excellent guide for someone just starting out in wine and can even provide some good revision for the rest of us.

It goes on to study the PDO system, classifications, ISO 9001, yields and planting density, wine faults and flaws and all manner of subjects that are incredibly useful and yet it is so hard to find them defined in a straightforward way.

I feel better informed for having read the book and comforted that it is on my bookshelves ready for when I need to refer to it. What I particularly like about it is that the book is divided up into manageable bite size chunks. They are never very long, often just a single succinct paragraph and so are very east digest.

Be warned though, they are quite moreish, so it is very easy to look something up and then to find yourself reading a few other interesting nuggets of information.

Anyway, I am happy – or at least as happy as I can be post Referendum – because now I can get to grips with details of wine production that I sort of know, but want to understand in greater detail.

So, thank you Keith and Hazel, you have filled a gap in my book collection that really needed to be filled and hopefully you have also filled gaps in my knowledge to give me a better understanding of the scientific and technical aspects of wine.

I highly recommend this book if you want to get more technical in your appreciation of wine, or if you just want to be able to look up all those niggly little things that people often mention when talking about wine. I, for one, will find this book extremely useful.

Wine Production and Quality, 2nd Edition is available from Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com and Wiley-Blackwell.

 

Port and the Douro – perfect for Christmas

In my quest to tell you about some great wine books this Christmas I am currently reading the third edition of Port and the Douro by Richard Mayson. What better subject is there to read about at Christmas?

Richard Mayson

Richard Mayson

Port book coverPort and the Douro
by Richard Mayson
with illustrations by Leo Duff
Published by Infinite Ideas at £30.00
Also available from Amazon.com as well as Amazon.co.uk and Waterstones in the UK at around £27.00.

It is a sadness to me that I do not drink very much Port as I am very fond of the stuff and find it fascinating. I also regret the fact that as yet I still have not visited the Douro, although I hope to put that right very soon. In the meantime I will have to experience the region through Richard Mayson’s eyes and writing.

Luckily I am in capable hands. Richard clearly knows his subject and writes well in an authoritative and almost learned style.

Much to my surprise I greatly enjoyed the first section which gives a general history of Portugal as it relates to Port and the Douro, her wars, politics, culture and gastronomy – my only quibble would be the reference to Oliver Cromwell as a ‘Puritan’, which he certainly was not – but that aside I had learnt a great deal of interesting stuff by page 6.

Given the seeming long history of Port drinking and how closely it is associated with the British in our minds, I found it fascinating that Baltic and Hanseatic merchants actually got the trade going before we Brits arrived – even the Scots beat the English to it in the years before the Union.

I was also astonished by the fact that Port was a dry wine until well into the Eighteenth Century and had the English nickname of ‘black-strap‘. As this term is nowadays associated with molasses I had always understood it to be an archaic colloquial word for Royal Navy rum, but apparently it originally referred to Port.

The development of the wine bottle and of the style of Port we know today seem to go pretty much hand in hand and it seems that it was not really until the beginning of the Nineteenth Century that Port as we know it appeared on the scene. The first recorded use of a Port house name – Croft – as a brand did not occur until 1810 and the practice was not commonplace for another eighty years or so – so only around the time my grandfather was born.

After all this wonderful background Richard settles down to inform us about the geography and geology of the region together with sections that detail the grape varieties that they use. There are maps too and profiles of all the estates marked on them.

The chapter that deals with how Port is made is endlessly interesting – the throw away line about the return to the use of lagares in the the 1990s, after they had been pretty much unused since the mid 1970s, and what that has meant for quality I found very illuminating. Surely it can be no coincidence that this overlaps with something of a Port renaissance.

The chapter on Port Types – referring to the wines rather than the people –  is endlessly fascinating fleshing out details on types of wine that I thought I knew and detailing odd little facts on the classifications and all the styles from Tawny to Rosé and Colheita to Vintage by way of White Port and Moscatel do Douro.

Vintage Port enjoys such fame that it deserves and receives a chapter to itself with vintage details going back to 1844. There is also a directory of Port producers and shippers, which I for one will find invaluable.

Add in sections that deal with the Douro’s table wines of the region, the storage and service of Port and what the future may hold for this great wine region, then I think Richard has done the Port proud and may well have produced the definitive book on the subject.

I have only seen an E book version and not the real thing, so have not felt it or flicked through it as I normally would and therefore have no idea if the book is has that undefinable lovely, tactile and pleasurable feeling that a good book should, but I did like the contents very much.

It is an excellent and beautifully illustrated book that covers Port and the Douro in depth and detail. It’s not a light read, but a serious volume for people who are genuinely interested in the subject and those who need a reference book on this fascinating subject.