What a little gold-mine this book turned out to be!
A compact, if not quite pocket-sized, volume of around 120 pages. Published by Pitman in 1977 and reprinted (my copy) in 1978 – also signed by the author. But what of the author? – it’s the first time I’ve heard the name.
According to the introduction, Graham has a background of 25 years in the business (ITB), and whilst he indicates some work together with Pierre Maufoux of Santenay, it’s not initially clear if that is in France or the UK. About 40 pages into the book we find that he works (worked) for Laytons Wine Merchants.
The book is structured around the following sections:
- How Burgundy is Made
- Bottles, Labels and Buying
- Burgundy Wine Journey
- The Food of Burgundy
- An appendix on how to taste wine – not by Graham – it made me laugh until I became bored!
Early on, Graham suggest that he’s not much of a writer, and there are a couple of ‘clunks’ in the opening pages, but then either he got into his stride or I got into mine, because it reads well and his depth of knowledge and pragmatism shines through. He does seem rather ‘suspicious’ of the trend towards domaine-bottling, but there’s an ‘old shipper’ for you 😉
Given that this was first published in 1977, we can assume the text was put together sometime 1975-1976, yet portions of that text could be culled from almost any generation:
“when Burgundy prices, even for the more ordinary wines are rising sharply and some of the cherished names are now in a price-bracket that seems beyond decency…!”
I liked the early discussion of various ‘fraternities’. We all know the Chevaliers du Tastevin and most have heard of the Piliers Chablisiens, but what about the Cousinerie de Bourgogne or the Comité de Bourgogne et l’Ordre des Grands Ducs d’Occident? There is even a hint of a Neal Martin – style observation:
[Observations on a Clos de Vougeot banquet…] “At intervals the whole company in invited to join in by singing the Ban Bouguignon, a song that consists chiefly of the syllables ‘la, la la’, with wagging of the hands held above the head and clappings”
Clearly from the text, the 1970s was a time when many smaller vine-owners came home from a ‘steady’ day-job to tend their vines – I assume a slightly better ‘living’ has been made from the vines for that last 10+ years.
Anyway, despite a good history section, this is a book worth having on the shelf as a snapshot of the 1970s, rather than for specific grower histories (there’s none of that). Some attitudes are timeless, others fit their time. I’ll leave you with a few:
[Millerandage, a term used today to sell a vintage, not-so in the 1970s] “A result of coloure, when bunches of grapes do not fully ripen, millerandage leaves only small green berries on the vine. If these bunches reach the winemaking stage, they impart a harsh and bitter flavour to the wine”
“…the sale of grapes in Burgundy by the grower to the shipper (négoce) is declining today”
“It is also alleged that the Côte de Nuits are beginning to suffer from over-fertilisation of the vineyards to force up production. My experience is not extensive enough to assess the truth of this particular anxiety. However, colour in these wines does seem to be lessening. Too many are lacking in body and, often, they do not have the rich generosity characteristic of the exceptional finesse found in the best wines.”
“Remember never to drink labels – just because the name, vintage and presentation appear great, do not automatically assume that the wine will be equally great. Always go directly to the wine – let it speak for itself. …Certainly in Burgundy the best dressed bottles often contain the dreariest wines…”
“Look out for the off-vintage, gradually learn to trust the shippers whose wines you enjoy by recording the taste impressions. It is no value to blindly follow one shipper or group of shippers because ‘you are told X is a fine shipper’. Discover for yourself – do not accept reputations that can be commercially advanced without quality. Decide for yourself, remain open-minded, be critical and be reasonable enough to change your mind with grace. After all, Burgundy is fun.”