The Pearl of the Côte, Allen D. Meadows

Update 17.8.2010(11.8.2010)billn

2010, BurghoundBooks.compearl-of-the-cote

A note in the postbox; there’s a package to collect!

And what a package; a Fedex ‘Large Box’, expertly packed with heavy duty bubble-wrap – there’s no sparing the CO2 here – unless it’s preserved in the bubbles! But the large, heavy book slides out in immaculate condition, and so it should as shipping to Europe costs almost as much as the book itself.

As I’ve mentioned ‘cost’, let’s get right into it; $59.

That’s not so expensive as a sticker-price (ignoring shipping…) but family Burghound are responsible for distribution so don’t expect to see it stickered at $24.50 on Amazon. In ‘amazon-land’ $59 would be expensive, but let’s cut the bull – you might just manage to buy a single bottle of Vosne 1er Cru for that price – might…

Remembering that Allen retired from his previous job with the idea to write a book, I’m glad that he was able to put to one side all that ‘non-core’ stuff sufficiently long to concentrate on what matters! I also note that it’s now ‘Allen D…’ in the manner of a gynacologist or film director – perhaps an unnecessary extra level of gravitas!

  • Do I need to say it’s a (roughly) 330 page book devoted to Vosne-Romanée?
  • Maps: Not enough I say, I’d crave more insight, but the bespoke villages maps are at least as good as anything else that is available at that level of detail and perhaps better at the villages level – though Allen does offer one glimpse of a map with producer’s parcels highlighted…
  • Photography is about the only ‘gripe’ I can offer; excellent as it is, many, many of the photos beg captions – I recognise so many of the views but others leave me unsure – for the level of considered detail in this book I think this is a shame.
  • Structure: throughout the book, footnotes/references are ‘expanded’ in the sidebars of the page – it is highly effective and avoids trying to find a reference deep in an appendix – it’s an effective approach.
  • The ‘abbreviated historical perspective‘ is split into five ‘key impact’ sections, taking us from page 6 to page 41. There is much material here that is aired for the first time in modern books, showing a deep appraisal of both sources and subject. First class and not even a typo to be found…
  • By page 42 and we are directly into the meat of the book – Vosne-Romanée & Flagey-Echézeaux. Page by page we move through descriptions of the premier crus before a discussion of the villages lieu-dits – it seems odd that they are considered in that order, particularly as the grand crus will follow, but why not(?)
    The grand crus are poured over in more detail, particularly historical, but at all levels the major and the best producers are (separately) highlighted. One or two things I might contend and even a typo (yes you read correctly – I finally found one). First class again
  • The final section is a glimpse into a three day tasting of (many) multiple vintages of Romanée-Conti – I’m never comfortable with displays of such largesse, but read between the lines and there is another reason (I think) for this section.
  • More insight and detail of the book can be found in the section that follows, but all you need to know in summary is that this book is without peer – only Olney’s Romanée-Conti (1991) gives such an impression of study, yet remains lucid. I needed only 4 days to read the book; the pages are large but so are the pictures and the type – it left me wanting more – I think that’s the best compliment I can bring.
In more detail…
    1. History: Given the depth to which the sections are handled, for a moment I might have liked Allen to tease out a little more of the characters who opposed each other from an ideological perspective in the shippers/growers ‘conflicts’ that led to the eventual establishment of AOCs – but then there they were in the ‘domaine bottling’ section. Actually this ‘history section’ befits a book of significantly more depth than the coverage of ‘just’ Vosne-Romanée.
    2. Vosne-Romanée & Flagey-Echézeaux: Over the next 260 pages the 1ers, AOC Vosne-Romanée and grand crus, a strange order admittedly, are laid bare. Only an observation, but the introductory pages to the villages which precede the 1er cru description, rather than concentrate fully on the villages, wander through some discussion of general geology and an even more general description of the pyramid of AOC classifications – these could have been delineated from Vosne/Flagey – particularly a full description of the pyramid (generic but worthy as it is) has no illustration of the pyramid. Clearly they would have a delivered a meagre 2-3 pages with illustration so perhaps we anyway ended up with an okay solution.
      Now we take a tour through the premier cru vineyards; I think this is the only book where you will find a clear description of the climats of Beaux Monts followed by a list of principle growers and (not the same) a list of recommended growers. This is the template for the rest of the book.
      There is a relatively small list of things I choose to take issue with, and/or small gems to bring to you attention:
      • p56: (discussing Brûlées) “Comte Liger-Belair is a new contender. Since 2006 was the first vintage, it is hard to say much except that if the quality of his Brûlées matches that of even its average wine, we’ll be in for a treat” – a real treat for sure, but only if you can get to taste it – due to only producing one barrel Louis-Michel has yet to commercialise it, so far reserving it for ‘experimentation (% of stems mainly) and commercial events.
      • p78: “compensates for their lack of brut strength” – One of only two typos I spotted, unless ‘brut’ really is acceptable ‘American English’
      • p81: “as of 2007 Louis-Michel Liger-Belair has vines in Petits-Monts” – Louis-Michel’s additional parcels of vines (ex Lamadon) had 2006 as their inaugural vintage.
      • p138: Footnote 2: “a pH… …greater than 7 is base or alkaline…” – that would be ‘basic’, that’s the last typo for today!
      • p197:

        “when it comes to the finest burgundies, you may not always get what you paid for but you will never get what you don’t pay for.”

      • p242: (discussing La Tâche) “the fruit is generally picked quite late” – I’m undecided. Maybe quite late for DRC, but given their low yields and relatively advanced maturity, they have been one of the earliest pickers in the last few vintages.
      • p262: “Brobdignagian” – it’s always good to learn a new word – it makes the effort all the more worthwhile 😉
      • Maybe I should have mentioned it a little earlier, but each vineyard description is ‘topped-off’ with a selection of tasting notes. I’m not a major fan of individual notes in books that (in this case) may have a 30+ year shelf-life, but what Allen offers is by no means overkill. Yet I have one reservation about the notes in the grand cru ‘section’. Domaine de la Romanée-Conti own a very significant proportion of grand cru land in Vosne/Flagey – perhaps they are ‘worth’ having as much as 50% of the notes – clearly over generations their bottles have been more coveted (traded!) than their neighbours, so they are easier to source, but without counting I’m left with the impression that 80% of the notes come from one domaine. It’s a little boring and distorts the balance of these sections, and that’s without discussing what happen from page 300…
      • p300-onwards: Allen says it well himself “there is a bigger is better mentality and nowhere is this more true than in wine journalism”. As if to underline the point, the last 30 pages of the book are devoted to a three day tasting for many, many vintages of Romanée-Conti, bottles from 1870 to 2007. It would be very easy to dismiss this as a gaudy advert for hedonism – and I’m sure it was for some of the participants – but read the text carefully; it is a much more personal thing for Allen, it is the search for, and discovery of ‘perfection’. Read from the standpoint of a professional who has devoted himself to his subject, it is an absorbing journey through the bottles – great and not so great – and I found it to have a real emotional context.
        It made for a really absorbing finale and to some extent it also chipped away at the only criticism I ever had of Allen’s newsletter; it’s probably a function of the emphasis on scores, but in later issues I didn’t often find the prose inciting me, inflaming me even, to open another bottle. It was good to have an impression of how much this meant…

    Shorter than my last two (major) book reviews, and for a simple reason; not much to criticise, only to enjoy. All I can say is: “thank-you Allen – I assume Pommard is next?” Speaking with Mrs Burghound, a second printing is already in the planning, and the few foibles I spotted above have all been efficiently dealt with – what price perfection(?)!

    Agree? Disagree? Anything you'd like to add?

    There is one response to “The Pearl of the Côte, Allen D. Meadows”

    1. Florence Kennel17th November 2010 at 7:34 pmPermalinkReply

      The good news is that the book is available in Beaune, France, at the bookshop “L’Athenaeum”, costing 59€ and it’s free shipping over 30€, so this book is also eligible to free-shipping delivery.
      I’ve carefully read your critics and it made me wanting the book, thus my enquiry by the Athenaeum, which also has, of course, a website.

      • billn17th November 2010 at 9:19 pmPermalinkReply

        You don’t work at Athenium do you by any chance Florence? 😉
        Still good for people to know, thanks!

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