(By Xavier, not Elizabeth!)
(By Xavier, not Elizabeth!)
(By Xavier, not Elizabeth!)
It is becoming a golden period for books on Burgundy – or perhaps it is literary overkill – or at least semi-literate! You only have to cough and another book on Burgundy appears – I just got a copy of Remington Norman’s Grand Cru – 20-30 pages in and I’m pretty happy.
But back to the real benefit of books on Burgundy: after Jasper Morris trumped Burghounds pathetic attempt at a book by at least 200 grams (the delivered package), it looks like Jasper is also being relegated to the category of a lightweight.
Jean-François Bazin, the former president of the Burgundy Regional Council has written numerous books, but here is his first contribution to aerobics and the avoidance of muscle wastage. At over 900 pages this ‘compendium of knowledge’ has, possibly, only one barrier to improving the muscle density of multiple countries (if not the postman’s back) – it is only available in French right now!
So a late-80s book from an author whose other books I’ve never seen. I assume that this once had a dust-jacket, but I never saw it.
If you include the Beaujolais section with the ‘rest’ of the text on Burgundy then this accounts for about 90 pages of this book’s 270. And what a strange book! Given the Burgundy text I thought I’d better check some other section to see if I had a similar view – but not – Alsace looks to have been dealt with quite well, so I assume it is just Burgundy that Baxevanis doesn’t like.
There is good research underpinning many sections, particularly I like the tables/graphs depicting the rise and fall of wine volumes pre/post phylloxera, red vs white development etc., but I’m not sure from the text and commentary whether the author has actually visited the region. Clearly this book was positioned as a reference work but given the commentary, some informed, some not, and even some of the similarly informed inferences I can only recommend it to you if you’d like to have a chuckle! That said, for the time there are some good producer recommendations. I provide a sample of what lies in wait for the unwary:
Although it is meant to be consumed young, it is better in its second year, and only in exceptional circumstances does it offer any value.
Discussing Bourgogne Passetoutgrains
The apparent decline in quality Chardonnay is attributed mainly to the use of less desirable clones and to overcropping, At the turn of the century, yields of scarcely more than 20 hectolitres per hectare (yields have since quadrupled) produced bigger more flavorful, and far more concentrated wines… …it should be emphasized that excessive fertilization is now quite common.
Unfortunately a good percentage of all available red Burgundy is pale, with tasteless flavour and flimsy structure. Its name and reputation have been severely tarnished by debasement and scandal over the past forty years, so that Burgundy today is but a former shell of its illustrious predecessor and offers little value.
White Burgundy does not fare much better. Not only is overcropping a standard feature, but the density of vines per hectare exceeds 10,000, one of the highest figures in France.
I guess he wasn’t introduced to the concept of vines competing for scarce resources 😉
The wines, all red, dark, and full-bodied contain more sève than any other on the Côte de Nuits. Although they lack the elegance of Chambertin…
The 7-hectare Ruchottes-Chambertin climat is somewhat over-rated… It produces fewer than 1,000 cases of wine annually, most of it undistinguished and overpriced.
The 13-hectare Griotte-Chambertin output, rarely seen in the United-States, is known for rather bland, often dull wine.
The ministry of transport owns 2 acres and uses them to store utility poles.
Discussing the Clos de Vougeot
Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, a 25 hectare property whose quality rarely befits its image or asking price… Although the wines are made to last, inconsistency and high prices remain obstacles to a rejuvenated reputation.
Although darker and fuller than Volnay… it is lower in tannin, earlier maturing and lacks balance and roundness. The wine is almost always overrated, overpriced, often adulterated and/or carelessly imitated.
As dull and lifeless as the bulk production tends to be, it is difficult not to like the output of first-rate Meursault.
Because Santenay is not widely known, the wines are honest and occasionally offer good value.
I think that’s enough for today!
Published by: Grub Street
I have to say that I’ve never really come to an accommodation with oxidised-style wines, hence, Sherry, Maderia, Jura etc., are all off limits to me – so why buy and read a book about Sherry? Perhaps I’m just a sucker for pretty, yellow A5-format hardbacks that look like they will only take a few days to read – oh and perhaps learn something in the process too! Actually I was kind of intrigued that 20 pages – it doesn’t sound much, but it’s about 15% of the book – is given-over to the gastronomy of the area and simple (looking) recipes that incorporate the eponymous drink. In theory the publishers have a tight ‘food-focus’, so those 20 pages must have been the key to unlocking this particular commission.
Even without the recipes for dogfish, cuttlefish and mallard, this seemed an interesting book, not-least due to the ‘blend’ of two authors; Christopher Fielden, a serial wine-book writer and Javier Hidalgo, producer of (wait for it…) Manzanilla.
One of the early things to learn is that Manzanilla is very much like Chambertin Clos de Bèze! ‘In what way?’ you clamour. Well, all Manzanilla can be labelled as sherry, but not all sherries can be labelled Manzanilla 😉
Anyway, given that book was first published (in 2009) in Spanish, it’s perhaps not surprising that the text is workmanlike rather than delivering a lyrical feeling. One thing I found a little disconcerting was the use of a descriptive term, only to have to wait another two or more pages for an explanation that term. I think it only happened a couple of times though. I didn’t perceive an obvious progression of information as offered by many books, but I’m indebted to the knowledge that Manzanilla is not just made for dogfish and tuna, it also works well with “the humble British fish and chips“. It’s fair to say that this book proposes Manzanilla with just about anything edible – a shame for me I suppose!
The ‘hints for the visitor’ section seems very useful and is home to the only ‘diagram’ in the book – a rather rudimentary map of the region sat next to small map of Spain – don’t ask me to place the region on the map though – it would have been better without it!
For a ‘compact’ book the price is relatively high at £15, with (very unusual) almost no discount on Amazon just now, but I really think people should pay a fair price for worthwhile work; I think those two criteria fit together well here. A worthy read, even if you don’t like oxidised wine 🙂
Jancis has some books for next year’s Christmas stocking!
If you can get by in French, let me introduce you to a great guidebook to the Côte d’Or.
Published in the summer and described as a ‘roadbook’, it seems quite up-to-date, and is filled with the (obligatory) Pitiot-Poupon-derived vineyard maps and some lovely photos from the same people that do the Panogeo images.
Unlike a traditional book about the region this offers additional schematics (maps) of the villages – as opposed to the vines – showing where the hotels, bars and restaurants of note are – i.e. the ones they’ve each profiled in a couple of sentences. There is a little introduction to each village, a profile of a couple of producers and/or wines of note too. Finally a little place for you to jot some notes of your own!
It’s not a book to read if I may say so – in fact it’s not really a book, it’s a guide – rather it is for dipping into. And a good dip it provides.
In this case the Côte d’Or is defined as Marsannay to Maranges and includes pages on the Hautes Côtes de Nuits and Hautes Côtes de Beaune. The index begins on page 207 – so lots of info for a paltry Euros 13.90. Great for a few days break, though possibly worth trying to get hold of a copy before you leave – you might even decide to camp! 😉
I’m away for a couple of days and a big pile of envelopes are waiting for me.
Once or twice a year I scour a few favourite booksellers to see if they have anything new (old actually) for me. You can buy books for relatively nothing – such are authors reduced to, their book becoming less expensive than the stamp needed to send it! – nine new (old) ones arrived for the price of a villages Burgundy.
Actually talking of wine I should open something nice.
2007 Jomain, Puligny-Montrachet 1er Les Perrières
A depth of aromas, slightly musky with hints of creme brulee. This is rather unctuous for an 07, lots of depth but very understated acidity – again lots of complexity, plenty of creamy vanilla from the barrels. The flavour grows in the mid-palate, before a long diminuendo in the finish – and there really is a lot of complexity – only here do you find the characteristic minerality of this vineyard. There is no overt toast shown by this concentrated and impressive wine, but all the same, I’d have preferred a little less barrel flavour in this relative youth.
Rebuy – Yes
The Jomain that follows seems to have missed out on the bright acidity if the vintage, but its complexity is undeniable. I followed the Puligny with Dublère’s 2008 Bourgogne Millerandes – the extra acidity of the Bourgogne gave it a different dimension and it wasn’t as disadvantaged as one might at first suppose!
Subtitled: A Forgotten Grape and the Untold Story of American Wine
Now here is a book that I didn’t really know whether I wanted to read, or not. The marketing commentary gave me the impression that the storyline might have been a little twee [adj. Brit excessively sentimental], but I’m glad I went through with it!
What we have here is part historical research, part novel(?) and certainly the narrative of our author taking a journey – though Sideways it is not!
The book follows the ups and downs – and it’s quite a lot of downs – of the Norton vine; from discovery, the immigrant population who took to the vine, through prohibition, back from the brink and then the hard slog of marketing its produce versus merlot, cabernet etc., etc. But it’s not just the story of the vine, it’s also a story of where the vine came from; Virginia, Missouri – this Midwest region that’s now fighting a similar battle to be recognised versus upstart domestic rivals such as California.
The book has a novel-like feel because the story is wrought and intertwined through the efforts of a few central characters – both historical and modern – and fortunately it largely avoids the make-believe embellishments of Tilar Mazzeo’s book. There are quite some twists too!
The prose is highly readable, though I did think it became a little florid through pages 200-220 (roughly) – fortunately it recovered it’s rhythm. For me, only one thing was missing and that was some attempt at a conclusion or, going forward, an outlook. The last chapter (it’s only 2 or 3 pages from 260) is highly personalised to the author – and why not, it is also his journey through the narrative that we are following – but it is the author in a dark place following the loss of his father, it is perhaps the only few pages of the book that didn’t hold my attention given its tangential connection to the overall book.
Verdict: Definitely worth packing into your case for the beach holiday.
Here’s a book that’s been on my bookshelf for a couple of years now, but one that I do periodically return to. Unlike the recent Lincoln Russell book of photos there is a thread of text that runs through this – though it helps if you can read French!
Alfred Gaspart only later in his life became celebrated as an artist, but he seems a fascinating individual. He was born in Argentina in 1900. Whilst his mother was Argentinean, his father was of French Basque origin. Also with two sisters Alfred and the family moved to France in 1903. Gaspart studied art and began working in both painting and photography, initially settling in Paris. From his Paris base he travelled to, and took much artistic inspiration from, the Mediterranean.
When world war 2 started Gaspart was first imprisoned in Saint-Die in Alsace (Lorraine as was) and, after unsuccessful escape attempts, he ended up in Stalag VIIA in Moosburg, Bavaria from 1940 to 1944. Much of his later artwork, including another book, drew on over 2000 sketches and portraits of fellow prisoners. Gaspard died on March 12, 1993.
For years Gaspart maintained a steady correspondence with his elder sister Paule (Paula), she appeared in many of his works, including just one photo in this book. The series of letters, in French, to Paule about his experience of “the weather, fears of bad harvests, the care of the vineyards and the production of the wine” are the thread that hold the pictures in this book together. Gaspart’s wider photographic work drew on landscapes, portraits, city-scapes and still lives, a diversity of theme that stood him in good stead for a collection that offers a glimpse of life in the Côte de Beaune where, from September of 1935 through most of 1936, he chronicled the workers and wine making in the area.
Pictures highlighting streets, vineyards and even ploughing horses could almost be contemporary! This book seems to be out of print at amazon but were still plenty of copies in Beaune’s Athaenium when I was there two weeks ago – you can probably buy direct from their website if you’re interested.
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