A review of an old book:
What a kind man – thank-you Raymond!
A review of an old book:
A review of an old book:
What a kind man – thank-you Raymond!
If you want a novelette, a ripping who-dunnit of a phylloxera story, then perhaps this is not a volume to consider – you should go for this one.
Here is a book written by a Professor of Philosophy but it seemed a little ‘dry’ in the opening pages as author, George Gale, recounted the differences between two philosophical schools of thought that considered whether phylloxera was the cause of thousands of vines dying, or whether the bug was simply a symptom of some other malady. Important enough stuff, as it delayed the focused search for a solution for years – but as mentioned a little dry. Thereafter I was hooked – full of detail and reference – it’s a great book! What brings ‘added value’ to this narrative is that once the author is done with France, he turns his attention to the march of the bug through other countries too – not just through the ‘old world’ of wine production, but the ‘New World’ too – with just one rather glaring omission – New Zealand. I suppose I’ll have to add a few notes on that myself when I finally publish a few notes on my February trip!
And finally, traditional viticultural practices underwent massive changes as vignerons had to learn how to plant, manage, and, most importantly, protect by spraying the new grafted-type vines, thereby developing what came to be called the “new viticulture.”
“phylloxera did not appear everywhere at once, and its impact was variable in time and space” (Pouget, 1990, 50). For example, even by the mid-1870s in the Hérault, the most extensively planted department, “some communes possessed not a single producing vine, while others, often quite nearby, registered a record harvest” (Pouget, 1990, 50).
In 1870, eight million people in France lived directly off the vine (Millardet 1877, 82); 17 percent of the French workforce was involved in wine production, which amounted to 25% of the farm economy.
When, in the early 1880s, the phylloxera threat began to lessen, the committees were perfectly placed as the next threat from America – black rot – exploded on the scene.
One well-accepted estimate has the reconstitution costing France more than the Franco-Prussian War (Convert, 1900, 337).
The only soils exempt from phylloxera were pure sands; every other imaginable soil type, everywhere in Europe, eventually succumbed to the invading bug. And with it went all the vines as well.
All this reminds me that I still haven’t picked up a copy of “The Great Wine Blight” by George Ordish. Eventually I suppose it will happen…
I’ve read the 250 pages of ‘Authentic Wine’ on and off, for about the last couple of months – and I’m so happy I did. NB, that’s 250 pages in a relatively small font – so it could easily have been 400 pages in a different format – this is, after-all, no pocket-sized book, weighing-in at somewhere between A4 and A5 size.
I assume that writing a book such as this is far from straight-forward, not from a content perspective, but rather because there were two authors – Jamie Goode and Sam Harrop – and I’m really left wondering how they put together such a seamless piece of work. I have to assume that they have different writing styles and that their thoughts didn’t always dovetail, hence, I would have expected the text to have occasional ‘clunks’, but the introduction excepted, far from it. The introduction sets out what to expect from the book and also sets forth the various starting points for the authors – I actually found that text less easy to read and for a while wondered what I’d taken on, but this section only lasts for about 8 pages, and it is pretty-much an essential baseline for what follows, i.e. that the divisive term ‘natural wines’ is to be avoided, and that:
“by coining the term authentic wine, we aim to differentiate between wines that are headed in the direction of homogenization, and wines whose origins have their roots in terroir, which are made from appropriately right fruit, free from faults, and made sustainably.”
This book is a treasure-trove of interesting information – much of it technical – and even as a chemist, there were some passages that I needed to read two or three times to make sure I was following, I can’t realistically comment on how it reads for somebody with no technical basics, but I’ve finally found a text that cements my understanding of the role of SO2 and equilibrium between free and bound sulfur (discussions) – I can almost say the same for the chapter on yeasts, despite the potatos analogy 😉
Actually, I think it’s almost worth buying the book only for the three pages written by Ted Lemon (Littorai Wines) to listen to the thought-processes behind his winemaking philosophy. Interestingly the book finishes with sections on the carbon footprint of wine and the marketing of (authentic) wine – here the authors change tack, choosing to make comment and recommendations in many areas, their-own value judgments contrasting to the more explanatory earlier chapters. I’m not sure it actually sits that well with the rest of the content, but if authors cannot use such a rostrum, then who(?) It is a book I heartily recommend, not just for those with a horse/dog/vine in this race, but for anyone who wants to know just a little more…
A few quotes, observations and talking points form the book:
“…and while the makers of agrochemicals are clearly motivated by profit, it would be wrong to cast all agribusiness as an evil empire plotting to conspire against the earth.”
Amen! The ‘chemicals are unclean’ mantra has become too much of a fetish. The agrobusiness as essentially about keeping the global population alive by feeding people – yields are king – vines are something quite apart.
“Chilean producer Cono Sur, part of the large Concha y Toro group, has moved a significant portion of its vineyards to certified organic status. Currently it has 266 hectares of certified organic vineyards…”
“…the biodynamic grower won’t always get a polite response, but what we are increasingly seeing is that while initially the presence of biodynamic vineyards may arouse contempt or suspicion, in time it is the conventional growers are reaching out and asking questions…”
But how long is ‘in time’? A far from untypical experience for biodynamic growers in Burgundy can be outright aggression: “You are the one that has contaminated my vines with rot and cut my income – what are you going to do about it?” Some of the aggressors take solace in sabotaging the equipment of biodynamic domaines – almost inverse Luddites! It will be a long road as exemplified by the next quote (even if it is at odds with the Cono Sur example)…
“Although many practitioners may disagree, organic and biodynamic farming will likely remain the preserve of relatively small, high-end wineries.”
“Because vines are highly disease susceptible, in the EU grapes account for 3 percent of all cropland but are responsible for 15 percent of synthetic pesticide applications.” (!)
(Elevage:) “At one extreme, exposing wine to too much oxygen simply results in oxidation. At the other extreme, total exclusion of oxygen slows the development process of wine; what is more, it alters the pattern of the wine’s evolution. A different destination will be reached.”
“Dr. Elizabeth Waters and her colleagues have found that hydrogen sulphur is in some cases generated in the…”
Above, the only typo I spotted…
Table 12.1 (p230) tries to come up with a numerical value for the carbon footprint of bottle closures. ‘Natural’ (or should that be authentic ;-)) cork certainly looks to come out the best, but I have a feeling that if you were to factor-in losses due to TCA, i.e. not just the loss of the cork, but the capsule, bottle and wine, the position of DIAM might become much more attractive…
Not the worst ‘critique‘ (good thing!) but one I’d been waiting a while for…
For those with an interest, there’s a new book been published about the Hospices de Beaune – in theory with new material from the archives. At almost 500 pages you will have to work hard to find the new material, if for no other reason than the book is published in French! Looks like a true reference work…
(No affiliation, etcetera…)
Oh, and for your interest – and a bit of fun – how about trading-up?
I’ve just loved the working my way through the first edition of ‘wine magazine’ Repast. I usually have a long line of ‘worthy’ books to work my way through, but rarely do I just sit their chuckling-away, having to read out passages to all and sundry – but this is just such a publication. Written by Jeremy Holmes, an Australian wine importer, together with his wife and photographer Heidi. Just over 160 pages are filled for your entertainment, not just with words but images of mouth-watering dishes. Actually you could knock-off the whole thing in a couple of hours – but it will be worth it. I found the discussion and selection of restaurants to be the most interesting part – more addresses for a rainy day in Burgundy!
To be honest, it’s uplifting writing such as this that makes me even question why I bother – pertinent as my Summer issue remains largely in note-form at the moment!
An amuse bouche for you:
“We powered through some sightseeing and hit Mon Vieil Ami for our midday booking. I could wank on about how this restaurant is like an old friend. But I won’t, because an old friend wouldn’t leave us standing outside in the cold for 15 minutes after our agreed time of commencement of our luncheon. Nor would a good friend be a little slack in attention to water or cutlery requirements. But this is ‘lagged Jeremy’ being a picky prick. The service, when evident, was very warm and friendly.”
I read much of the above whilst sipping a Chambolle or two…
2005 Remoissenet, Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru
Deep colour. The nose has depth, plenty of herbs and just a hint of green foliage – it’s not a classically floral and elegant Chambolle, but it is reasonably engaging. In the mouth this is both concentrated and offers a super acid-led intensity. The greeny herbal aromatics also have a role in the flavours, the tannins are there, but remain submerged. I doubt you’d pick this blind as a Chambolle – there’s a certain masculinity to it – but in terms of the concentration and intensity, a 2005 masculinity – it’s not about chunky structure, this is well-enough balanced. Interesting and, I suppose, showing not so bad versus many from the vintage – I’ll be interested to see where it ends up…
Rebuy – Yes
2009 Hudelot-Noellat, Chambolle-Musigny 1er Les Charmes
After the 2005 this seems wan, weedy and disappointing. The nose is certainly less challenging than the 05 – faintly sweet with creamy vanilla inflected red berries – but just a little confected, perhaps. The palate also seems more about make-up than a depth of Chambolle-ness – despite a decent intensity there seems little concentration to back it up – vacuous would just about define my first 10 minutes with this wine. Recalibrate (forget 2005s), wait 30 minutes and start again. Faintly powdery red fruit with a subtle, creamy undertow. Sweet, slowly insinuating flavour, with a little strawberry that’s borne on a lovely acidity. Long and but understated flavours. Pretty and easy to drink – still short of a little substance.
Rebuy – Maybe
I’ve had this book ‘waiting in-line’ for a while now, but what a lovely introduction to the writings of Gerald Asher it is. Although the book was published only last year, the vast majority of the short essays were originally published in the 1980s and ’90s when Asher was a ‘house writer’ for the magazine Gourmet. Largely the text is in the original form and then post-scripted by ‘x is now owned by y‘ updates, only the very last entry hails from recent times – a piece on ‘Rutherford’ which was originally published in the World of Fine Wine in 2010.
Enclosed within the book’s 260 pages are 27 essays, split into three subject areas: France, Other European Wine Regions and California. I found a languid, easy writing style, though occasionally trying to fit too much into a sentence – I’m far from immune to that! The content is easy to dip into as even the individual essays have easy stopping-off points, so this is the perfect book to leave lying around the house or have in a travel bag. Personally I took the most pleasure from the last section on California; a fascinating if, in Europe (at least), much overlooked region – I learned a lot.
I have only one criticism; the format of the book leaves little room for exploring what the author has learned or how his perceptions have changed in the (often) twenty years since he wrote the original pieces – I’m sure that would have been as fascinating as the original words themselves!
I’ll leave you with a couple of snippets to whet your appetite:
- “There was a time when weekly shipments to the bars and cafés of Paris absorbed much of the production, but that demand seems to have disappeared along with the Art Nouveau décor to which a glass of Vouvray, it must be admitted, once added a shimmering dimension. Vouvray is a period wine with an intrinsic style that is not always in accord with present sensibilities. A white wine that needs a modicum of sweetness to be in balance and some age to show its quality meets resistance when the first duties of a modern white wine are to be dry and young”
- “In fact, Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Sauvignons remind me of Médoc wines in the once-upon-a-time before it became fashionable to edge Bordeaux closer to the engagingly forward fruit and blaze of flavour we normally expect of California Cabernets. If I’m saying that Dry Creek Cabernet Sauvignons are not typical of California, that might be why I have felt particularly at ease with Pedroncelli’s Cabernet Sauvignon when I first arrived, my palate still attuned to the more restrained style of European wines.”
Dry Creek Valley, 1990
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