Books, Maps, Magazines, Films even Podcasts!

Reading Between The Wines, Terry Theise (2010)

By billn on July 19, 2012 #books, maps, magazines, films even podcasts!

Published by UCP.

I finally get the time to place my fingers on the keyboard, about two weeks after I’ve actually finished this book – I’m already a third of the way through a follow-up volume…

‘Reading Between The Wines’ (with the addition of a little, but not too much, writing) sounds just like my current existence – so this must be a book written for me – and largely it is. Terry Theise (that would be pronounced ‘Thizer’ if his German connections follow through…), or TT, as I will from now-on refer to him, certainly has a gift for writing; though his American roots shout out from the pages as he ‘kibitzes, schvitzes and schmaltzes (and many other words with ‘zeds’ (zees) in them that I don’t comprehend) his way through the pages.

TT’s prose is both evocative and flowery, and it paints pictures in equal measure, it is often ‘overly-fantastic’ too; it would be a great source for people wanting to cull quotes for definitive proof what nerds wine ‘enthusiasts’ can be. Some of the earlier chapters show this extreme and even had my attention wandering, but despite the emotional connection to wine that is the book’s central contention, I found the last third of the book completely absorbing.

I think it’s enough to give you a few short examples, to see if it’s a book for you, but I enjoyed it very much and would offer it a strong recommendation:

  • “Sometimes when I talk with growers they like to remind me that they’re farmers first, before anything else. That’s easy to forget when you’re dealing with the New World, but in the Old – or the parts of it with which I’m involved – you never forget. Yet their world is not only farming; it’s also selling, marketing, publicizing, engineering, and craftsmanship. If you plant carrots, you eventually harvest carrots. There are things you can do to ensure you have wonderful carrots, but once you put them in the customer’s basket, your work is done. Imagine if picking the carrots were followed by processing them into a soup or a beverage that was then evaluated alongside everyone else’s carrot product, deconstructed, given scores, and all of this so you can be ranked as a producer of carrot drinks. I don’t know about you, but this would make me bonkers. Small wonder the vintner likes to be out in the vineyard where he can escape the noise for a while.”
  • On writing tasting notes: “But some wines embody a story – not merely a narrative, but a kind of curiosity, as they cast out tentacles into the ether. Other wines stimulate the imagination, and you’re off and running. I am very sure these things are worth getting down, but if you seek to share them you will sometimes run afoul of a certain kind of person who actually does want to know that your 2004 Domaine du Crachoir tasted like ‘beer-battered kiwi fritters, boysenberries, and pork snouts.’
  • “In many cases the quietest beauty and the deepest stories live in older wines. This is in part because they grow less brash and frisky, less explicit – but more searching and, at best, more sublime.”

take a break…

By billn on February 03, 2012 #books, maps, magazines, films even podcasts!


The mid-fourteenth century was a time of maximum distress across Europe. The Black Death struck in 1348, though it was by no means the last irruption of the bubonic plague. France was about to descend into the bear pit of the Hundred Years War with England, and the Holy Roman Empire was in uproar over the Golden Bull of 1356 and the introduction of a consolidated imperial constitution and electoral procedures. Thanks to the papal schism, there was one Pope in Rome, and another in Avignon. Those few parts of the Kingdom of Burgundy which had not been lost were often disputed amongst neighbours. To cap it all, mind-boggling crises of succession erupted simultaneously in the Kingdom of France, in the Duchy of Burgundy and the County-Palatine. At this point, faint-hearted readers are advised to take a break.

Phew – I will Norman, I will!

FWOB book review #1

By billn on January 25, 2012 #books, maps, magazines, films even podcasts!

An overgenerous review from Jamie Goode of the world-renowned wineanorak site. I have to say that I laughed when I realised that he correctly spotted that the domaines are all listed in the index under ‘d’ because they start ‘Domaine…’!

new year reading…

By billn on January 01, 2012 #books, maps, magazines, films even podcasts!

A happy new year to all.

My pre-xmas cold returned with a vengance for Christmas, but slowly the coughing and spluttering is subsiding – I’ll probably be on great form when I return home!

I suppose that if I can’t drink, I can certainly read: I don’t seem to be able to ‘pdf’ this so I guess the link may not be extant for long, however, this section (of a very big book) looks quite interesting.

The Red Wines of Burgundy, Mark Savage (1988)

By billn on December 21, 2011 #books, maps, magazines, films even podcasts!

red-wines-of-burgundy-mark-savagePublished by Octopus Books

Following on from Christopher Fielden’s White Burgundy, 1988 seems a good vintage for books. This is, of-course, the sister book to Jasper’s The White Wines of Burgundy also of that year.

Yet again I seem to have picked up, quite unintentionally, a signed copy – at least this time I don’t need to change my name to Ian!


  • This is a hardback book of indeterminate size – almost, but not quite, A4 – with less than 80 pages of content.
  • A couple of minimalist maps are provided to give you a basic idea of geography.
  • The forward is by Simon Loftus – how I wish there were more books by him. The content of the book is split into three sections;
    1. Burgundy and its Red Wines
    2. A Buyer’s Guide
    3. Through the Vineyards

  • Included in the content is a description of not just the Côte d’Or, but also the reds of the Yonne, the Côte Chalonnaise, the Mâconnais and Beaujolais.
  • Mark writes well and has the insight of somebody with a long history in the trade. Particularly in this book I found his snapshot of Beaujolais to be highly informative. Likewise, much of the early chapters like to compare and contrast what is done in Beaujolais with the same in Burgundy. Beaujolais may not be (officially) part of Burgundy anymore, but this is certainly material worth having.
  • This is clearly a book of its (1988) time, still asking the question ‘should burgundy be a big powerful wine(?)’

In more detail
Just a selection of quotes that I found interesting.

p10: But few can hope to drink really great Burgundy even once a year: in a lifetime, such wines may be counted in single figures. It is rare stuff indeed.

Personally I hope it’s not that rare – maybe we have much better quality now…

p22: In recent years there has been a good deal of justified grumbling about the quality of red burgundy. Are production methods at fault, or is it simply that a misconception exists as to the true character of the wine?

p25: Merchants’ wines receive more treatment at every stages of their elevage than do growers’ wines, and it is this extra handling which is so dangerous when dealing with naturally fragile wines from the Pinot Noir grape. If there is a single reason why consumers should think twice before buying négociant’s wines, it is that they may simply have less character.

Here there is also a good description of the role of the courtiers.

p29: Rule #2: Beware Bargains: There is never enough good red burgundy to go round, so no quality producer will ever have to discount his wines.

p34: As for basic Beaujolais, most of the best wine is now sold as Beaujolais Nouveau, and because this market is so competitive, it is usually easy to find drinkable wines at a relatively low price, especially in a good vintage.

p46 (discussing Vosne): In practice, the winemaking style of the grower is of more importance than the difference in the soils.

p60: I used to think that like was too small to drink Santenay! Fortunately, I was able to revise my opinions after tasting some splendid wines…

p66: Too often, Mâcon Rouge tastes like an indifferent vin ordinaire and its right to Appellation Contrôlée seems based more on historic reasons than on any inherent quality in the wine itself.

White Burgundy, Christopher Fielden (1988)

By billn on December 09, 2011 #books, maps, magazines, films even podcasts!

Jointly Published by Christopher Helm (UK) and The Wine Appreciation Guild (US)

A head-cold had determined that, for much of the last week, there was no value in opening bottles, so I thought I’d finish reading this book instead. And what a lucky boy, I even (somehow) managed to buy a copy through Abebooks that was dedicated by the author – although I’d need to change my name to Ian…


  • This is a handy A5-size, hardback book of about 180 pages if you include appendices that cover vintages (1987-1968), appellations, suggested sources (producers) and the bibliography.
  • Just a few black and white photos adorn what is essentially just text and an occasional map.
  • After a foreward by John Arlott, there are few pages of introduction by Fielden followed by some history and a chapter titled The Burgundy Factors which is essentially about the rules of AOC, the allowed grapes, how to make white wine and things like that. There is one more chapter headed The Generic Burgundies before moving into a description of Chablis, Meursault, Puligny and Chassagne. Other White Wines of the Côte d’Or are shoe-horned into the chapter of that name; the wines of The Côte Chalonnaise and The Mâconnais and Beaujolais get their own chapters. Last is a chapter The Future of White Burgundy.
  • Despite having seen such content re-hashed over and over again, the description of the main villages is on a much better level than ‘workmanlike’ and offers the odd snippet of ‘fact’ that may have eluded other writers. Fielden, unlike many commentators, is quite happy underlining how he likes oak and plenty of it in his chardonnays.
  • Despite such a large area of vines being lumped together in the chapter Other White Wines of the Côte d’Or, I find this and the chapter on the Côte Chalonnaise that follows to be the high-point of the book: Slightly irreverent, grounded, clearly insightful and with so many remarks and references of historical note that the book is worth buying only for these two chapters – great stuff indeed.
  • I liked it, it’s easy to carry around and it’s a good book for dipping in and out of.

In more detail
Just a selection of quotes that I found interesting, funny or downright prescient!

p3: It must also be borne in mind that improved methods of viticulture and vinification are leading not only to the production of better wines, but also higher yields… …The authorities, and they are generally controlled by the growers,… …Permitted crops are now, in most years, considerably higher than they were under the old legislation.

p5: Whilst the better wines of Burgundy have never been cheap, they are not expensive, as long as they remained the preferred wine of the connoisseur…

p24: As the Burgundian writer Vergnette-Lamotte said, at about the same time, in withering fashion, ‘Chaptal, who was born in the Midi, and, as such, only valued wine by its alcoholic degree, has considered alcohol to be the principal preserving element in wine and upon this basis that the sad elements of vinification that govern us today, have been based.’

p25 (of Phylloxera): The area under vines in the Beaune region fell from 28,000 hectares in 1875 to 13,000 in 1897.

p27: Commercial demand has meant that white Burgundy is drunk, and made to be drunk, much younger than it was in the past. Long ageing in cask, followed by storage in bottle, is expensive and seems to be unnecessary as far as the consumer is concerned.

p39: The pressing of grapes is now done almost totally in horizontal presses. The Vaslin horizontal screw-press is now the most common in Burgundy, but there are many white wine producers who now prefer the Willmes pneumatic press, as they feel the flavour of the fruit is better preserved, as there is less chance of unattractive traces being crushed out of the pips.

p40: White Burgundies are often criticised by New World winemakers as being oxidised. This might be partly as a result of being kept in cask too long before bottling, or more seriously, because of unhygenic cellar techniques.

p42: It is the individuality of its wines which gives Burgundy its eminent position in the world vinous hierarchy. This individuality stems from two sources. The first is the obstinacy of the Burgundian grower in preferring to make smaller quantities of a large number of wines – and it must be accepted that whilst there might be more work in pursuing this poilcy, there is also much more money to be made…

wine-map of france…

By billn on November 24, 2011 #books, maps, magazines, films even podcasts!

Mine was just delivered – brilliant. I have not yet managed to convince domestic management that it would fit in our living-room. Still, there’s plenty of space in the office 😉

Wine, Millefeuille Press, (2011)

By billn on October 18, 2011 #books, maps, magazines, films even podcasts!

tong-wine-bookSubtitled: The basics of wine.

When this book arrived, I have to say that I was surprised; from the picture you have the impression that this book is constructed very much along the lines of the recent book by Jasper Morris, only after it is delivered you realise that it is actually half the size – A5.

The presentation if this book is actually first-class: The format is of a heading and a descriptive text and a nice photo. No subject gets more than two pages of text, usually just one, and as you will see below, the text pages are really half-pages. The text has been supplied by Romana Echensperger, Fiona Morrison and Filip Verheyden, a mix of MW and MW candidates; an insert to the book suggests that:

”It is meant for both the beginner who just bought his first bottle of wine [do women not buy wine…?] and the connoisseur looking for in-depth information”

You might say ‘how can it offer ‘in-depth’ information with only half a page of text per headline? A fair question, but I would say it is reasonably successful for two reasons:
First, because there are so many sections, and…
Second, because the narrative often sounds like a run-away train, presumably so that it fits into the space allowed.
One comment worth making is that there’s no glossary – the book is itself, an out-size glossary, so some of the language (polymerisation, colloids, mouth-feel) might remain a mystery to the man (or woman!) who just bought their first bottle.

wine-book-by-tong The 120 stanzas are grouped into four sections;

  • How to drink wine
  • Wine and food
  • The vineyard
  • How wine is made

Particularly the middle two sections are excellent and are highly recommended. I have but one bee in my bonnet; there is a constant error across the pages and one that MWs and MW candidates should not be making – at least, assuming they passed any of their chemistry modules – potassium, sulfur, nitrogen etcetera, are not compounds and neither are they minerals as is asserted several times in the text, they are elements – pure and undiluted. This is a bad mistake and is no different to describing a cherry as a fruit-cake; a cherry is a part (an element) of a fruit cake, but it is not a fruit-cake!

This book is delivered by the publisher of the wine magazine Tong, a magazine whose outlook and style I like very much, so I guess it should come as little surprise that I like this book too. Overall, this is perfectly proportioned for what it is; it delivers punchy, though sometimes frenetic, text; each subject is perfectly delineated and well presented. Given the format, and despite its 270 pages, you can easily read the whole book in 2-3 hours, but it is also a mini-coffee-table book that you can dip into. I would say this is a winner and just in time for the Christmas buying rush 😉 Bravo!

Burgundy Report

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