2010, Kyle Cathie; Revised Edition
My Diary pages are the usual repository of book-related infos and reviews, but for a second Burgundy Report in a row I showcase a new book on Burgundy.
The first was Clive Coates slightly soiled Meisterstück (hopefully the/a reprint will restore his polish), and here we look at Remington Norman’s (second) update of his cult book of 1992.
What price a third review in a row in the next Burgundy Report? None I think, Allen Meadow’s ‘Pax Vosne-Romanée‘ won’t make it in time!
I am critical of some aspects of this book – at a £40 sticker price it should be perfect – strange then that Amazon were pre-selling it for £22 when I know so many people were waiting in line. Still, that’s not a criticism to remove any of this book’s gloss.
- This is the first edition that I own, as such I can’t say how much content is new – some people tell me that there is little really new material versus the previous revision. The older versions were quite the collector’s item judging by second-hand prices, so I assume that those prices are now softening after this launch.
- Despite appearances to the contrary, this book is not written by Remington Norman, rather it is a reworking of his original text (with additional domaines added) by Charles Taylor MW, only the subsequent ‘proof-reading’ was by Remington Norman (whatever that really means); as Norman was quoted by one of his neighbours:
“Charles did indeed do the visits and has been credited in the book as my time was fully occupied with Grand Cru which will be published in September. What surely matters is that the book is authoritative”
– such are the ways of publishing!
- Charles is ‘in the business’ and clearly knows his stuff, yet there is no mention in the text of the (many) domaines that he represents in the UK for his business while, at the same time, extolling their virtues in print. In respect of the potential for ‘conflict of interest’ I think that Anthony Hanson set the moral benchmark in his own book (Burgundy), and because of this omission I believe that this book falls well below that standard and, hence, Remington’s want of the word ‘authoritative’ is sadly diminished. You can check out potential conflicts here.
- For a book targeted to be ‘authoritative’, there is a stark omission – no discussion of premature oxidation. The subject crops up in the profiles of only four domaines, each more-or-less as a selling argument i.e. ‘buy from me because I use an old style press’ (H.Boillot, Javiller, P-Y Colin-Morey), or ‘buy from me because I now use more sulfur’ (Niellon). There is no author ‘opinion’ – in this respect, clearly a book written by a wine-seller…
- Initially I had only one minor complaint and it covered the deployment of French words/terms in the text: I know that there’s a list of French terms in the appendix, but rather like acronyms, for each first use I would have liked the translation in brackets within the text, rather than:
For him, a good évasivage followed by éffeuillage and vendanges verte is the best defence against botrytis.
In the end there are also many words that do not get a translation so why not just write them in English? After a while their constant use a) made for an impression of a slightly generic text for each profile – ‘évasivage followed by éffeuillage and vendanges verte ‘ crops up a lot – maybe unfair, but ‘c’est la vie!‘ and b) eventually came across as pretentious…
- Clearly the maps are ‘okay’, but not quite to the standard of the rest of the book. Forgetting the example of Corton (Aloxe and Ladoix) that rather stands out because of its psychedelic colour-scheme, just try and find an important vineyard like Vougeot Clos de la Perrière, or the major Clos monopoles in Premeaux. At the other extreme, just try to find Echézeaux in the map Of Vosne/Flagey! A shame also that the maps of Beaune and Savigny do not correctly ‘marry’ – the problem is not the shapes of the maps, rather the inversion of the colour schemes that delineate villages and 1er cru vines – why the change? Overall, serviceable, but ‘could do better’ given the opportunity to use such a large page size…
- My observations above noted, this is really a top-class piece of work which I can strongly recommend. I may quibble with some of the domaines chosen or not chosen and what ends up as the slightly repetitive nature of the approach, however, this is a reference book for dipping into not a novel. It is up-to-date, it is intelligently written and has been well proof-read, it is an excellent work, with equally excellent portrait pictures (I would have liked even more). In terms of it’s ease of use, it is far better than Coates’ recent offer and more up-to-date, but the focus is different; this is a book predominantly about ‘people’, Coates’ book is predominantly about ‘place’. Nowhere else can you find the level of domaine-specific detail that is in these pages.
Page by page…
Out of the box, this hard-back 285 pager is a relatively large and heavy thing – at almost 2kg it’s the same size and weight as my laptop – so hardly a book for smooching through while travelling – at least, not if you already have 2 kilos of laptop! That said, remove the dust-jacket and you do have a travel-friendly and hard-wearing (splashproof burgundy colour!) base that can double as a picnic tray. One thing that immediately caught my eye was the strange abbreviation ‘conventions’ described on page 4: h. is a hectolitre but hl/ha is hectolitres per hectare! Two authors at work here…?
The structure of this book is to concentrate on the Côte d’Or, and move through the region by the, now traditional, north to south direction: Marsannay to Santenay.
There’s a reason that I don’t like forewards and it manifests itself here. Michael Broadbent is a guy of knowledge and reputation, not Burgundy focused, but (as said) a guy of knowledge and reputation. He also writes a few (5-600) cogent and nice words about the book. But why do we need it? Is it really needed to help sell more books? And certainly he will have been paid (please correct me if I’m wrong) to ‘endorse’ the book. Would they have just thrown his words away if the publishers didn’t like what he wrote? Okay, forget the issues surrounding ‘being paid to write a nice review’, what I find most irksome is that MB then has his name emblazoned on the dust-jacket – yet he has contributed nothing to the book, other than 60% of the front page of the dust-jacket! This is a rant rather about publishers than MB, he is merely the example in front of us of something I just don’t like. If I wanted a foreward, I think I’d try to be a bit more creative than ‘a few (generic) words from respected critic xyz…’
A fine (4 pages of) discussion, that includes both the positive and negative trends within the Côte d’Or. Because they are so far away from existing marketing driven messages, you don’t hear so much of these negatives being discussed elsewhere – as said a fine discussion. An obvious ‘missing’ is no discussion of the premature oxidation syndrome – maybe it comes later. A couple of quotes from this section:
Knowing the appellation or property gives a measure of security and predictability that Burgundy manifestly lacks.
The final choice […of which domaines are in this book…] reflects merit rather than either landholdings or reputation.
- The content, North to South…
Despite that last quotation above, there is only Bruno Clair discussed in the Marsannay (la Côte) section; if merit is really to be the watchword, then Sylavin Pataille should also be there – is it because he can’t be a ‘great domaine’ if he only makes Marsannay?
Moving through Gevrey-Chambertin I have small questions, mainly missing things I would like to have known. Examples of the missings: Why is Burguet listed as ‘holding’ 0.27ha of Clos de Bèze when the Damoy text says that this is the source of Burguet Bèze? Charlopin, why no discussion of his bourgogne, planted on it’s own feet without grafting? Clearly minor things, but missings all the same. Errors are few, but F.Esmonin the last vintage was 1999 for their Griotte, and is it 0.73 or 0.17 ha of Mazis? Rousseau is obviously a more important producer as there are two pages of profile instead of one – of course that becomes the norm in Vosne-Romanée and eventually pales compared the DRC’s 4 pages! I note in the Vosne text that the writer (Norman/Taylor?) has taken the Liger-Belair version of the La Romanée history (was part of ‘Romanée), rather than the Richard Olney/DRC version (La Romanée was never part of ‘Romanée’) – I’m not taking sides, but, given the lack of disclaimers, wonder if the writer imports La Romanée 😉 [See comment below from Louis-Michel Liger-belair]
In the Nuits St.Georges text I particularly like the following quote:
Nuits may have a touch of the maverick, but the robust charms of leather and denim are often no less alluring than the soft elegance of silk and satin…
Aloxe-Corton leaves me bemused with the inclusion of Jayer-Gilles, not due to any lack of quality on their part, but because they have no connection with Aloxe either as a place to live or in terms of their wines – perhaps a single entry (Comte Senard) would have been deemed too few, so they added a producer of Nuits and Vosne(!?)
The introductory text that follows for both Pernand-Vergelesses and Chorey-lès-Beaune is exemplary, but then only serves to highlight the (lack of) effort that has gone into the section dealing with Beaune; the introduction is fine, but could the authors really find only 4 major négoce to discuss? Out of the hundreds of producers based in Beaune they couldn’t find one as good/interesting as Louis Latour who is profiled? Shame! Anyway, here lies the first real mistake, some lengthy text saying Bouchard’s Chevalier Demoiselles was bought back in 1791 and often a rival for their Montrachet – BP&F don’t have any Demoiselles, they have Chevalier and Chevailer La Cabotte – the latter (at least) was acquired in 1831. I guess some notes were transposed from either Jadot or Latour. A mistake that may beg an apology can be found ‘in’ Meursault (Roulot); “…married to Alix, daughter of the late Hubert de Montille” – he looked quite well when I saw him in December!
The Ramonet profile in Chassagne-Montrachet has a wonderful picture that shows the initials R & P bisected by a bunch of grapes – to Anglo-Saxon eyes, it is, however, a very unfortunate juxtaposition. 😉
Eventually the book rounds out with a sundry section of monographs on the various aspects of viticulture, philosphies and wine-making. All more than adequate except for their lack of discussion of premature oxidation.