Category: Book Review

Wine World Colouring Book [book review]

Adult Colouring Books are all the rage nowadays – meaning of course colouring books designed for adults rather than containing 18+ material.  Primarily they are used to aid relaxation and stress-reduction, though I think it would be fair to say that there is also an element of nostalgia.

51gasOSpVBL

Up to now I haven’t succumbed to this fashion, though I have been known to “help” my 4 1/2 year old son with his colouring.  However, my Twitter friend and fellow blogger Zelda Sydney has authored an adult colouring book that has me searching for colouring pencils – because the illustrations are all related to wine!

The first three pages explain (a brief) history of wine production, Zelda’s interest in wine and illustration, and why she thought to combine them.

There are 20 hand-drawn comic-style illustrations each of which has a wine-related theme.  It’s obvious that a great deal of thought has gone into their composition – they have (at times) quite technical wine themes but are approachable for those with only a passing interest in wine.  Don’t be fooled by the simplistic lettering, this lady knows her stuff!

Here is my overall favourite: before any colouring and after I have started work (Disclaimer: please bear in mind that I am partially colourblind and so the actual colours used may bear no resemblance to those intended to be used.)

 Before:beforeAnd after:

after

What fun!

Click on the image to buy the book on Amazon

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Port and the Douro by Richard Mayson (Third Edition) [Book Review]

Port and the Douro by Richard Mayson (Third Edition) [Book Review]

Book Review – Port and the Douro – 3rd Edition – Richard Mayson

Front Cover

Most of us like Port, but few of us actually drink it – on a regular basis at least.  It’s possibly even more niche than the other great fortified style from the Iberian Peninsula, without Sherry’s trendiness in its favour.

Above all, many of us are curious about Port:

  • What’s the difference between Ruby, Tawny, LBV and other labels?
  • Why do so many producers have English names?
  • And for the very curious: What’s the connection between Dog Strangler (1) and the Bishop of Norwich? (2)

Richard Mayson’s excellent and authoritative book answers these questions and much more besides.  

The first chapter gives a condensed history of Portugal, Port and the Douro. Politics, religion, agriculture, industrialisation and international treaties all intertwined in the second millennium CE to create the fascinating landscape we have today.

The second chapter is a detailed exposition of the geography, climate and principal grapes of the Douro. This includes a map of the top 80 or so Quintas (farms or estates) with a review and contact details of each.  In conjunction with chapter 8 “Directions in the Douro” this makes a mini travel guide.  Would be visitors now have a valuable resource to help plan their trip.

The evolution of Port production methods is treated in chapter 3.  Whereas fine “light” wines can enjoy a long fermentation and maceration to extract flavour, colour and tannin from grape skins, Port has no such luxury.  With a maximum of 48 hours of skin contact before fermentation has to be arrested, firm and rapid extraction is key – and the tried and tested best method for this is foot treading in a lagare (a big, square, open-topped stone tank).

Throughout this third edition, the main text is interspersed with panels painting light-hearted pen pictures of the “Men (and women) who shaped the Douro”. In fact, these small pieces on their own give the reader some entertaining insights into the whole Port story.

As a patriotic Yorkshireman, I particularly enjoyed hearing of a bluff, straight-talking fellow Tyke (3) who devoted himself to exploring and documenting the vineyards of the Douro itself, rather than focusing on the blending, maturation and shipping from Villa Gaia de Nova. Joseph James Forrester produced some excellent maps of the region, and was also a vocal proponent of light (unfortified) Douro wines. Unfortunately, he was 150 years too early for consumer taste and shipping conditions, so these views were widely derided by the Port establishment.

A lack of available labour in the 1960s necessitated the introduction of mechanised alternative to the human foot, with varying degrees of success.  Much of the Douro was without a reliable (or any) electricity supply at that time.  Autovinification was an ingenious answer, as it used the pressure created by the natural production of carbon dioxide during fermentation  to pump the must over the cap (of floating grape skins).  More modern technology has since seen the use of robotic devices which attempt to reproduce the firm-but-not-too-firm extraction techniques of the foot.

Who invented Port? Although “light” wine had been made in the Douro for millennia, it was English Shippers who added spirit to large barrels of wine to stop them spoiling on the sea voyage to England. But that wasn’t the invention of Port! Port production depends on the addition of spirit before fermentation has finished, thereby retaining some of the grapes’ natural sugars as the spirit kills off the fermenting yeast. And that practice was first documented by a couple of wine merchants who found the Abbot of Lamego carrying it out on 1676.

The fourth chapter explains the different types of Port, from the well-established to the new.  The following table summarises the main styles:

Main Types of Port 3

The best of the best – Vintage Port – gets chapter 5 all to itself.  Each year from 1960 to 2015 (in the new paperback edition)  is given a mark from nil to five stars as an overall guide, plus a narrative explaining how the vintage unfolded – essentially the weather throughout the year – and the author’s pick of the best bottles.  Selected other years going back to 1844 (!) are also included in the vintage guide.  Whether this is a useful buying guide depends on the distance of your drinking horizon and/or the depths of your pockets.

Adulation and Adulteration. Without reference to quality, (young) Port’s defining characteristics are that it is sweet, strong in alcohol and dark in colour. Unscrupulous shippers based in Portugal and (especially) wine merchants in England would therefore bulk out real Port wine – or even wine from other regions – with sugar, raisin wine, cheap alcohol and elderberry juice.

Port Producers and Shippers are addressed in chapter 6, some now defunct and many now conjoined into large groups:

Major Port Groups

Joseph James Forester’s beloved light (everything is relative) Douro wines finally make an appearance in chapter 7.  They are made using essentially the same grapes as Port itself, but fermented to dryness, and skipping the addition of spirit.  Douro wines only gained their own DOC in 1979.  Usually big and bold, when well made they can perform well at the table with many courses, rather than just Port’s traditional role at the end.

As already mentioned, chapter 8 has travel information on hotels, restaurants and local dishes.

Chapter 9 is a short postscript on the future for Port and the Douro.  It would be an interesting exercise to look at the predictions in earlier editions!

Overall, this is an essential book for Port and Douro fans, and great reading for anyone with an interest in wine!

Click on the pic to buy directly from Amazon:

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Footnotes
(1) The literal translation of the name “Esgana Cão”, the extremely acidic Port grape which also appears as Sercial in Madeira.
(2) Asking a person at the dinner table if they know the Bishop of Norwich is apparently a polite prod to keep the Port moving round the table!
(3) Peter Mayson is a resident of the other (dark) side of the Pennines, so was duty bound to use this description.

Book Review: Wilson On Wine 2015: The Wines To Drink This Year

John Wilson
John Wilson

Wine consultant and Irish Times wine correspondent John Wilson has authored and edited numerous wine books over the past decade or so.  In the great tradition of Hugh Johnson, Oz Clarke and Blue Peter, his latest annual has been released just before the start of the year whose name it bears.  Of course, that makes it an ideal Christmas present…

Wilson On Wine 2015 (front cover)
Wilson On Wine 2015 (front cover)

Content

It covers the top 123 most interesting wines that he has tasted during the year and are available somewhere in Ireland, mainly from independent wine merchants.  Without beavering away to confirm the fact, I think that many of the wines will be available in other territories such as the UK and USA.

Format

Rather than a simple alphabetical or geographical listing, the wines are divided into the following categories:

  • Sparkling wines
  • Crisp refreshing white wines
  • Fresh and fruity white wines
  • Rich and rounded white wines
  • Light and elegant red wines
  • Rounded and fruity red wines
  • Rich and full-bodied red wines
  • Fortified wines

The heading on each wine is helpfully colour coordinated with the category for those of you who aren’t colour blind (I am!)

Example of a wine featured
Example of a wine featured

Each wine then gets two pages which contain:

  • Name, area of origin and vintage
  • A picture of the wine (to help you find it on the shelf!)
  • Price and stockists
  • Alcohol level
  • Tasting note (fairly concise, not flowery or obtuse, meaningful & helpful for most readers)
  • Drink with (i.e. food matching suggestion)
  • Style
  • Grape variety
  • Backstory (the story behind the grape, the area or the producer – accessible but definitely interesting to wine geeks such as myself)

Roadtest

A Book, A Bottle, A Glass
A Book, A Bottle, A Glass

To properly assess the book I thought it only right and proper to test it by pouring one of the featured wines and comparing my thoughts to the written entry.  I think it fair to say that there are some wines John likes that I’m not quite as keen on, and vice versa – but isn’t that the beauty of wine?

One type of wine we both adore is German Riesling, so I poured myself a glass of Geil Riesling Trocken 2013 from Rheinhessen.  The Tasting Note reads “Free-flowing fresh and spritzy with delicate apple fruits.  Summer in a glass.”  Although I am enjoying this wine on a cold December night he has it summed up perfectly.

Verdict

A useful and well-written book that will encourage me to drink 123 wines in 2015!

Book Review: Sediment: Two Gentlemen and Their Mid-Life Terroirs

If Jack Dee wrote a wine blog, it might read something like this…

Charles Jennings and Paul Keers, writing as CJ and PK respectively, have been blogging together for half a decade, ostensibly on the subject on wine.  Their blog isn’t really about wine per se, it’s more about the everyday and absurdities of middle age middle class life refracted through an empty wine bottle.  And it will be empty because, as their motto goes, “I’ve bought it, so I’ll drink it”.

This book is a collection of some of their favourite posts.  You might not get any tips on interesting new wines to try, but you’re highly likely to find yourself grinning in recognition, wincing at some of the descriptions or laughing out loud at some of the situations. Befriending a wine merchant?  Joining a wine club?  Buying bin ends in supermarkets? They’re all in here.

There’s something for the casual tippler right up to serious wine lovers. Most of us wine drinkers are on a journey, and whether we are starting out on the road all freshly packed or seasoned travellers seeking the next thrill, we’re on all a similar path. We’ve all started somewhere, so we recognise the trials and tribulations that others have encountered.

Ladies don’t read this bit – look away now
Gents: This is the sort of book which might well find a home in your bathroom for times when you just want to read a few pages.  Nuff said.

Available from Amazon UK

Competition!

Frankly Wines has 2 copies to give away just in time for Christmas.  To enter, please answer the question below by email to frankiecook72 at gmail.com by noon on Friday 12/12/14 and put Sediment in the subject line.  If there are more than 2 correct answers then 2 will be pulled from a hat

Q: which language does the term “terroir” come from?

Good luck!

Disclosure: the copies for review and prizes were provided by John Blake Publishing Ltd.