2010, Kyle Cathie
Subtitled: The great wines of Burgundy through the perspective of its finest vineyards.
The second book ‘by’ Remington Norman in 2010. The first was actually Charles Taylor’s reworking of Norman’s largely ground-breaking 1992 work, ‘The Great Domaines of Burgundy‘.
This book is in the format of the above-referenced work; hardbacked, roughly A4 sized and has about 240 pages. The dust jacket has a different design in Europe and the US – so here I show it nude! The sticker-price in Europe is £40 (today €45 or $65) but Amazon are selling for about half that.
Imagary is a mix of new work from Jon Wyand plus some obviously older shots taken by Mr/Mrs Norman.
- If I’m honest, I prefer the prose of Charles Taylor; Norman’s words often sail close to the winds of pretension, interspersing golden nuggets of information with with ‘high-brow’, perhaps isolating language. He does throw up some good phrases though – I liked ‘cash connoiseurs‘ for instance – the overall tenor of the observations in the introductory chapters do, often, seem entirely compatible with my own, but it’s up to you to decide whether that’s a good thing!
- Some of the photos are a little dated but that triviality aside, this is effectively a generic book about Burgundy that has skimped on the vineyard contents by concentrating on only the Grand Crus and the premier Premiers (pages 51-123) – which rather shreiks of elitism. For all that, it’s a good book, full of insight, experience and in some cases new material. Overall it’s a schizophrenic book – a perfectly focused title and subtitle, but the last two sections – which account for half the book – are generic ‘a book about Burgundy’ fodder, not part of the focus of the first half of the book.
- As I was approaching the last pages I suddenly had Monty Python in mind; this book could really be part of the “What have the Romans done for us?” sketch. My first response was “Nothing!” but then I heard myself saying:
– ‘Well it’s the first book that uses real (Google) maps‘
– and ‘Geology, look at all the geology!‘ was the cry…
– then I ‘heard’ ‘Practical information on the different vine clones‘
Clearly there is very interesting information here – that you won’t find in another ‘generic’ Burgundy book. To augment a growing library of Burgundy books this would be a must buy for that novel content. As a standalone – your only tome on Burgundy – there is too much missing to recommend it.
- So does Remington pull it off – giving a new insight into burgundy by discussing only the best vineyards? Largely not I would say. There is new or rather a more extended insight but that’s down to his expansion of previous texts relating to the geology of the Côte d’Or – but that is a subject in no way limited to the grand crus. Overall, I find no coherent thrust or focus from the text that might deliver the book’s subtitle; the discussion of the grand crus (less than 1/3rd of the book) seems rather ‘standalone’. Essentially the argument can be made that the tenor of the book is both elitist (language and focus) and shows a disdain for people who might have money, but possibly no empathy (my inference) for Burgundy in general.
Page by page…
So, discard the dust-jacket and you have a slightly ostentatious gold hardback which has the advantage of being wine and grime-proof – a wet sponge is all you need to bring it into good order. Although the photography is from Jon Wyand, actually a lot of the images are not; a great list precedes the contents page, listing those that are ‘not his’ – perhaps he asked for this as they weren’t up to his standards(?) After three pages of introduction you have the meat of the book split into four sections – we can take them in order:
This book is not, however, written as an ode to political ineptitude or beaurocratic defalcation, rather as a paean to the exhilaration and excitement that Burgundy is uniquely capable of generating.
There is a genuine, albeit recondite, debate to be had on the contribution of individual experience to taste – on absolutes of quality and to what extent taste is intrinsic rather than influenced by extrinsic factors.
Those two quotes reference the first part of my summary…
…it is facile to assume that a description, however complete, or a numerical score convey anything that is truly important about great wine.
Those who hurry from one fine wine to the next or line-up an excess of grand bottles, betray a desire to impress rather than a genuine interest in what they are drinking.
I’m not sure. Personally I don’t like to drink 10 Montrachets with dinner because the great merely becomes the average, but I won’t turn down an invitation and neither will I besmirch another’s reasons for doing so. The pseudo academic narrative coupled to the concentration only on grand crus, allied to the questioning or second-guessing of the motives of people with cash (should we read instead of taste?) seem to me to be elitist and, perhaps worse, implies some people are not good enough to drink Burgundy. I hear warning bells, because for me, Burgundy should be for everyone.
- Excellence & Progress: The evolution of the Côte d’Or
I understand the evolution part, but I’ve no idea what the link between a geological passage of time and consequent shaping of the land has to do with Excellence‘ and particularly ‘Progress.’ The section is split into the headings: The Côte in the context of history, The genie of terroir in the Côte d’Or, and The origins of the Côte d’Or.
At one level, the human contribution should indeed be self-evident: owning a top of the range item – golf-club, piano, video camera or vineyard – is no guarantee of the ability to extract the best from it.
Here under morphology, geology, pedology and faults is the best description of the base of the Côte d’Or’s vineyards that you will find anwhere. Almost worth the cost of entry for these eight pages alone.
- The concept of Grand Cru
Two chapters; the universals of quality and the central subject matter of the book the grand crus and the ‘nearly’ grand crus.
(Discussing Clos de la Roche) The precision of delimitation is exemplified by the fact that the top section of Monts Luisants, beneath Ponsot’s small villa, is classified as Village (there are some ancient Aligoté vines here)…
As a collector of trivia I’m surprised that Remington has never tried a bottle of Ponsot’s Premier Cru aligoté from Monts Luisants…
There is much subjectivity here of-course, Remington decides to choose Volnay Caillerets as the best of Volnay; I would personally put both the Clos des Ducs and Clos des Chênes a little higher. “Quintessential finesse and delicacy” is his description for Caillerets, which I don’t think is a perfect description of some of the very mineral wines that come from that place – even with fifteen years in their bottles! Note I’m not saying I don’t want minerality, just that the descriptor doesn’t always fit.
Discussing Bienvenues, Remington lets slip that this can also be called Bâtard, but not vice versa – I dind’t know – thanks! Overall not enough info about the grand crus given the title of the book. Note quite a number of the listed producers are already out of date – time waits for no book!
- The making of Burgundy
Multiple sections that are the core of all generic books on burgundy; the grapes, how to make wine, etcetera. Only one real point of note and that’s the discussion of the particular clones of pinot noir and chardonnay – limited, but not seen elsewhere – also of limited interest for the grand cru section as more and more vineyards are being replenished with massale selections.
- Modern challenges
Words about tasting and buying Burgundy plus food, media and the ‘New World’. Like the last section, almost no relevance to the title/subtitle of the book, more for a generic book describing Burgundy – essentially this is a bit schizophrenic…