2008, University of California Press
I usually give my thoughts on books here, but given that this is the most important book published in over 10 years that is devoted to Burgundy, I felt that I should make a more considered comment. ‘Important’ could also be synonymous with weighty given that Amazon quote a shipping weight of 1.9kg for the (close to) 880 pages!
This is, in the main, an update of the 1995 ‘Bible of Burgundy’ (the publisher’s description); Côte D’Or: A Celebration of the Great Wines of Burgundy.
This new opus covers the major vintages 2006-1959, geography of the region including small domaine profiles from the areas under discussion, and includes two new geographical additions – Chablis and the Côte Chalonnaise.
- Some might call it unorthodox, but I would characterise the contents pages and separation of sections and articles throughout the book, i.e. the navigation, as woeful – it’s a complete mess. Despite much copy being verbatim from the first book, there is none of the ease of navigation of that book to found in his first tome. The only way I could find what I wanted was to continually refer to the index, starting on page 855…!
- On a similar level of complaint is my regret that Clive chose to remove much of the domaine profiling, citing little change in the last 10 years as the reason (there’s a hint, there are 13 years difference between publishing dates, but some of the ‘new’ content has an older feel to it). The implication is that ‘geography’ is more dynamic! His 1995 book is a reference point for domaine profiles – so you now definitely need both volumes despite the former being quite out of date. Note there is much new domaine information, but in the form of ‘domaine thumbnails’ rather than ‘profiles’ – they are good, but I’m left wanting for more.
- My last ‘gripe’ is one that I expect to have limited resonance with most of you that read this. Almost two-thirds of the pages are given over to vintage assessments – actually the vintage assessments are fine, rather it pains me that 98% of the text is tasting notes. Except where you have intention to demonstrate the longevity of wines/lieu-dits etc. the notes will largely be of no value in 5 or-so years, I personally think they are unnecessary – which is not same as saying I wish I wasn’t at the tastings! I know from those pages that most of my readership visit, that 60+% of you will totally disagree with me!
- The book was clearly rushed out with inadequate editing/correction as mistakes abound, but they are mainly of the decimal point in the wrong place variety – regrettable, but insufficient to sully the remaining content. As I will demonstrate in much of the text that follows, the attention to detail – at least in terms of proof-reading – has been wretched, I also think that a lot of the text could have been written as much as 10 years ago. The design in terms of usability is also poor.
- Clive seems to polarise opinion, yet, despite its legion of faults, his insight and experience are distilled into the pages such that this is the single most important and useful book that you can buy to learn about burgundy today (Anthony Hanson’s book needs a thorough up-date if he is to regain his trophy). It’s a book that is so important that I would have done this proof-reading for nothing – but they didn’t ask, and it saddens me that so many mistakes ‘got through’!
- Despite such reservations as the laziness of proof-reading, the laziness of wholesale cut-and-pasting from old to new volume, and the awful separation of texts, there is still nothing, believe it or not, on the market today that is so up-to-date about burgundy – particularly the domaine thumbnails that are offered – for those alone, this is essential reading and I recommend it.
Summarising the sections:
Subtitled, the good the bad and the ugly!
- Today’s Côte d’Or
This is as good a summary of the many, many steps from virgin ground (latent vineyard) to, eventually, when and how to empty a bottle as you will find anywhere – and it’s all wrapped up in 35 pages – of course that’s quite small text and largish pages! The author is clearly in the text – it’s more soap-box than sermon – but the opinionated passages are what make it interesting to read , and let’s be clear, the opinion on all aspects of viti/viniculture is the distillation of decades of learning – even though, it’s still just ‘an’ opinion. This section is well-crafted, but clearly it is also a long time in the making: “one of the raisons d’être of magazines like The Vine… p31” – that sounds like ‘present tense’, and as we all know, Clive ended publication of The Vine in late 2004. It least he shows he’s internet savvy with a short mention of “the US internet” 😉
Excellent. This is a very readable section that would certainly class as much more than an ‘introduction’ to Chablis – it’s at least as good as any I’ve read – also the last two pages cover other areas of Yonne such as Irancy etc. Clive just doesn’t cover the history/location, he’s quite upfront about the challenges (as he sees them) for the region, amongst which is the proliferation of the area under vine – admittedly at the lowest end of the classification – oak, picking machines, and he certainly takes the region to task over yields. We finish with the shortened domaine ‘thumbnails’; much as I decry how concise they have become, they still offer quite enough information to be of use.
– Charlopin: “deliberate prefermentation maceration for up to 8 days in 1988” – I hope the date is a typo! You will also find (many pages later) some discussion of what Latour-Giroud did back in 1999 (?!)
– EDIT: See comment here –
Chézeaux: “1999 Ponsot Griotte is a disgrace” – let’s quickly cut to the vast section of tasting notes: 1999 Ponsot Griotte, very long, fine, 17.5/20
– Fourrier: “Ploughing in the vineyards via a vibrating sorting table” 😉
The menu seems all screwed-up; Hautes Doix on the end of Les Amoureuses, but without any header, likewise Les Feuselottes and Chatelots tagged onto Les Charmes.
– Domaine Rene Engel Profile: why?
– “The recent elevation of La Grand Rue to grand cru” – approaching 30 years, I guess that’s ‘recent’ in geological terms…
– “Jayer has now ceded his vines to his heir and nephew” !!!
Except that one of the thumbnailed producers happens to be based in Gorgolion, no complaints
This is quite the best historical perspective I can recollect for Corton – but it did seem familiar, a quick check shows that it is virtually verbatim from his first book I guess he decided it wasn’t appropriate to try and improve upon perfection. I chose not to check if all other historical section required the same amount of work! If the history is good, there is a certain level of ‘balance’ that makes the ‘principal proprietors’ section a mess to read:
– The principal proprietors of Corton-Charlemagne is punctuated by a list of red and white vineyard surface areas.
– The list of principal producers of red comes before the end of the text on the whites
– Half-way through the text on whites Clive begins a discussion of the Hospices de Beaune red Cortons before jumping back with “Corton-Charlemagne is a quite different wine to the grand crus of the Côte de Beaune…” and continues about white again
This whole section needs revisiting, though certainly not from a content perspective, rather a presentation perspective.
- Vintage Assessments
– The dates of the tasting notes start as early as 2000, so already past their sell-by date
– 2002 Bâtard-Montrachet by Henri Boillot must be a monument, “Drink 2009-2918”!
– I’m surprised that there are instances of corked wines being ‘scored’.
Done specifically for this volume, apart from a few suspiciously spelled lieu-dit names (Clive was probably taking local custom!) they are very, very fine indeed…