By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 2 May 2020
Our quiet Lockdown evenings offer a great chance to explore the new selection of wine books on our shelves – here are a few of my favourites.
I am always fascinated reading about the early lives of famous people. Gerard Basset MW MS OBE became the ‘Best Sommelier in the World’ in 2011 and in his autobiography Tasting Victory, The Life and Wines of the World’s Favourite Sommelier (£25 Unbound) he describes his pursuit of this goal which he achieved at the seventh attempt. Basset wrote this book just before he died of cancer of the oesophagus last year, aged just 61, and his wife Nina decided to publish his extraordinary tale.
Basset’s grim childhood in Saint-Etienne in France, brought up by strict parents (his mother was a mid-wife and his father a draughtsman) meant he did not have any experience of good food and wine in early years. A school dropout at 16, he took odd jobs and nurtured dreams of becoming a cyclist in the Tour de France team, but it was his love of football which bizarrely brought him into the restaurant business. Whilst visiting Liverpool in 1977 to support his local football team, he saw a job advertising for a kitchen porter in a hotel on the Isle of Man – and took his first job in a hotel washing dishes and cleaning floors.
Basset’s numerous jobs in the kitchens and restaurants of great hotels in England and France, set him in good stead for his rise up the ladder to head sommelier at Chewton Glen where he met Robin Hutson. Together they founded the very successful and innovative Hotel du Vin chain which they eventually sold – and Basset set up his much-loved Hotel TerraVina.
Basset loved a challenge, but he was such a charming humble person. I passed my Master of Wine qualification the same year as Basset, collecting our certificates at the same small ceremony – but Basset had done much more than I had. Not only had he won the Bollinger Medal for tasting excellence, he had also passed the Master Sommelier and MBA in Wine Business. To date he is the only person ever to hold all three qualifications.
Unlike Basset, Gisela H. Kreglinger, author of The Soul of Wine: Savouring the Goodness of God ($16 Intervarsity Press) was brought up in a winery surrounded by vineyards and wines, but she chose not to work in wine. “My parents owned a winery in Franconia in Germany, but my childhood did not make me into a vintner though. My two sisters embraced the vocation, but I wanted to be a theologian working in God’s vineyard”, says Kreglinger (pictured below right).
I first met Dr Kreglinger several years ago when she was a research associate in Theology at St Andrews University when she attended my wine tastings; she is now married and lives in Birmingham, Alabama across the pond. She always had an interesting view on teaching wine. She believed that the new way of talking about wine can be ‘unsettling and restrictive’ and an expert’s job is not to overpower the audience with knowledge but to engage – and a lot of her latest book is showing you can enjoy wine without the pressure “as a spiritual and cultural gift”.
Her new book is deeply personal. She describes as a young girl how she marvelled at Jesus’ miracles – particularly turning water into wine at the wedding feast of Cana – which she worked out volume-wise was nearing 950 bottles.
She describes her encounter with Hare Krishna at a Californian fair, where she realised that Jewish and Christian faiths were the only faiths who believe that the five senses are a gift from God. “I had never thought of it before, but fundamentally for the Hare Krishna, the five senses are bad, and we must do all we can to control them in order to ascend to a higher spiritual realm”, she says.
Although I preferred Kregliner’s original book, Spirituality of Wine, this smaller new book is easier to read and understand, for the non-theologian anyway.
Another favourite new book is Sarah Jane Evans MW’s ‘The wines of Northern Spain’ (£30 Infinite Ideas). North west Spain is currently the most exciting wine areas in Europe, long overdue its own book. Evans begins in Galicia, charting this forgotten corner of Spain near the pilgrim centre of Santiago de Compostela; an area often visited by senior clerics using the many budget flights which now connect this remote area: “I once spotted the Archbishop of Canterbury in the queue for boarding”, says Evans (pictured below right).
She describes the remarkable growth of the Albarino grape in Rias Baixas, its subzones, parral vine training, the inlets, forests, verdant green landscape and vineyards in this very damp corner of Europe and worries about its future prospects as Albarino becomes a fashion item. She describes the revival of little-known Galician regions of Ribeira Sacra, Ribeiro, Monterrei and Valdeorras and introduced me to unusual new grapes like Lado and Ferron.
The section I particularly enjoyed was on the often-neglected Asturias region and its dramatic isolated Cangas region, which lies east of Galicia – describing the steep slopes, terracing, small plots and interesting Carrasquin grape in this remote land. Evans then leads us on eastward to the coast to the remarkable history and gastronomic delights of Txakoli and the Basque region – before heading south west into Bierzo, Cigales and Ribera del Duero and south east to popular Rioja, Navarra and Aragon, offering great tips on visiting wineries and recommended restaurants.
Evans’ new book is a really useful guide for travellers to northern Spain. As a regular visitor to Andalucia in southern Spain, I am greatly looking forward to her second book – when she focuses on Spain’s southern regions.
Nothing to do with wine, but a book I want to mention as a postscript as it is written by a brilliant wine writer – about whisky. The new reprint of Andrew Jefford’s Whisky Island (£12.99 Headline), which includes a foreword and update by Dave Broom, is one of the most beautifully eloquent descriptions of Islay; part-historical, part-geological, part-whisky making guide, it gives incredible detailed research on each distillery in this magic Scottish island. It was the one book in all my Lockdown reading, which really transported me away from our Covid-19 disruptions and worries to another place.
FIZZ OF THE WEEK
DE CHANCENY CREMANT DE LOIRE ROSE NV
(£11.99 reduced from £14.99 De Burgh Wines)
Pretty coral pink colour, rosehip and strawberry aromas, vivid refreshing palate with a creamy mouthfeel – a great example of Cabernet Franc and Grolleau fizz blend made using the traditional method – a great affordable and approachable alternative to rose Champagne.
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