Books, Maps, Magazines & Films

Alfred Gaspart une année dans la vigne: Photographies 1936 – Rafaèle Antoniucci (2006)

By billn on May 14, 2010 #books, maps, magazines & films

alfred-gaspartHere’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.

Adventures in Burgundy, Lincoln Russell (2008)

By billn on May 03, 2010 #books, maps, magazines & films

lincoln-russell-burgundyA book that arrived in the post last week. I’ve seen it in the Athenium bookstore in Beaune, but otherwise I found it available only from the book’s own website and this is quite canny if you’re publishing yourself; you receive the full $50 per copy, not $5 or whatever you get from amazon while they discount it to $22! Of-course you are much harder to find without amazon…

This is a reasonably large size book, roughly the same size as ‘Remington Norman’s’ updated book – but its 168 pages are in landscape format versus Norman’s portrait. Matt, burgundy cloth covered, it’s only decoration is a wine-bottle styled label.

If it’s not obvious from the title, this is a book of Côte d’Or photos, shot over about 2 years – and what lovely photos they are too – you almost have a sense of getting under the skin of region.

As I normally moan about ‘forewards’, this book laughs in my face with a ‘foreward’, an ‘introduction’ and then an ‘afterword’ – but then it needs them as it is the only text – that the words are contributed by Aubert de Villaine, Allen Meadows and Guillaume d’Angerville lends them a certain gravitas.

There’s no getting away from it, this is a very pretty book but it is also a coffee table book. Given that my coffee-table remains clutter-free I find I don’t engage with such books enough. You spend many hours with a written book before consigning it to the bookshelf, photobooks are looked at only a few times before finding their place on the shelf; I don’t regret buying it, but personally get more value from a book with words.

bordeaux/burgundy – a vintage rivalry, jean-robert pitte (2008)

By billn on March 08, 2010 #books, maps, magazines & films

bordeaux-burgundy-jean-robert-pitteIt was while visiting Aubert de Villaine way back in 2005 that he recommended this book to me, and despite it only (at that time) being available in French, I picked up a copy. It’s probably a measure of my French niveau that I recollect scarcely a thing – except for a quote to the effect ‘when I drink Burgundy, I piss Bordeaux’ – not sure how I remembered that one!

Anyway, once the English translation came out I felt compelled to revisit, and I’m pleased that I did. This book is about the histories and interactions of and between France’s two great wine regions – Burgundy and Bordeaux – effectively the ‘how and why’ the regions are as we know them today. It’s not just about how one region uses merlot and the other pinot, rather it is how history, politics and their respective trading partners shaped the regions as we see them today.

This is such a thoughtful and studied book and it manages, as close as possible, to toe a very difficult line that seems bias free – a tough task, you can be sure! Excellently researched, some 50 of its 230 pages are given over to detailed references and a bibliography – though I note that the one quote that I remembered from the edition en Français seems to have migrated from the main text to the reference section – maybe it sounded better in French!

Translations can always be tricky, but this really is a first-class piece of work – it is beautifully written. Not just a book for the shelf, this deserves to be revisited over and over, I can’t recommend it highly enough. I’ll leave you with a few quotes:

There is more history than geography in a bottle of wine.

Bordeaux is made in the sun, Champagne in the cellar, and Burgundy in the soil.

The very idea of garage wine, as we shall see, exasperates some connoisseurs and critics. Their annoyance is misplaced, for no-one is obliged to buy over-priced wines.

A certain number of domaines have embraced the methods either of organic agriculture or a stricter version, biodynamics, formulated in the early twentieth century by the German philosopher Rudolf Steiner, who nonetheless condemned the consumption of wine.

Blight was rampant in the 1970s and up until 1985. The use of potash (potassium) was encouraged by a government viticulture official, André Vedel, who recommended the staggering proportion of 2,400 kilograms (more than 5 thousand pounds) per hectare; see Renvoisé, Le Monde du Vin,222. The potash mines may have been shut down in Alsace, but they could have been reopened in the vineyards of Burgundy. It needs to be kept in mind that its effects are not transient, since potash remains in the soil for a very long time.

desert island wine, miles lambert-gócs (2007)

By billn on March 03, 2010 #books, maps, magazines & films

desert-island-wineAfter I exhibited something approaching enthusiasm for ‘Is this bottle Corked?‘ a reader suggested that I might like to try this tome, so…

Desert Island Wine, is a paperback of 190 pages, the back page boilerplate starting with:

Who says wine is no laughing matter? No such thing as a wine book to take to the beach? Desert Island Wine will leave you howling on your towel as sand collects between the pages. …

Our first ‘chapter’ is a CNN interview of Dionysus; seemingly more designed to show the author’s knowledge of ancient Greek literature – at least I learnt how to spell Dionysus – well I thought I had until I started to write this!

Chapter 2 is a field-guide to Anthropos oenopotis, a big-nosed wine drinker/taster (what on earth is a winebibber?). We all have our own tastes and nothing here has made me howl on my towel – not yet anyway. I’ll persevere for a while…

The next two ‘chapters’ I couldn’t engage with, so, after 3 weeks where I couldn’t force myself to pick the book up, I leave it here. But don’t just take my opinion – this person apparently liked it:

If I ever find myself on a desert island I would want to arrive with a container of champagne and Miles Lambert-Gócs as my fellow castaway. Miles’ encyclopedic knowledge of wine, his classical erudition and his satirical insights into the absurdities of the contemporary wine world, seasoned with literary parodies and dexterous puns, would enlighten and entertain me until the champagne ran out. Cheers!
Tony Aspler, www.the wineguy.com

Maybe he’s saying he has to be drunk to enjoy it 😉

[I read (some of) this, so you don’t have to!]

guide to the wines of burgundy, graham chidgey (1977)

By billn on January 28, 2010 #books, maps, magazines & films

burgundy-graham-chidgeyWhat a little gold-mine this book turned out to be!

A compact, if not quite pocket-sized, volume of around 120 pages. Published by Pitman in 1977 and reprinted (my copy) in 1978 – also signed by the author. But what of the author? – it’s the first time I’ve heard the name.

According to the introduction, Graham has a background of 25 years in the business (ITB), and whilst he indicates some work together with Pierre Maufoux of Santenay, it’s not initially clear if that is in France or the UK. About 40 pages into the book we find that he works (worked) for Laytons Wine Merchants.

The book is structured around the following sections:

  • History
  • How Burgundy is Made
  • Bottles, Labels and Buying
  • Burgundy Wine Journey
  • The Food of Burgundy
  • An appendix on how to taste wine – not by Graham – it made me laugh until I became bored!

Early on, Graham suggest that he’s not much of a writer, and there are a couple of ‘clunks’ in the opening pages, but then either he got into his stride or I got into mine, because it reads well and his depth of knowledge and pragmatism shines through. He does seem rather ‘suspicious’ of the trend towards domaine-bottling, but there’s an ‘old shipper’ for you 😉

Given that this was first published in 1977, we can assume the text was put together sometime 1975-1976, yet portions of that text could be culled from almost any generation:

“when Burgundy prices, even for the more ordinary wines are rising sharply and some of the cherished names are now in a price-bracket that seems beyond decency…!”

I liked the early discussion of various ‘fraternities’. We all know the Chevaliers du Tastevin and most have heard of the Piliers Chablisiens, but what about the Cousinerie de Bourgogne or the Comité de Bourgogne et l’Ordre des Grands Ducs d’Occident? There is even a hint of a Neal Martin – style observation:

[Observations on a Clos de Vougeot banquet…] “At intervals the whole company in invited to join in by singing the Ban Bouguignon, a song that consists chiefly of the syllables ‘la, la la’, with wagging of the hands held above the head and clappings”

Clearly from the text, the 1970s was a time when many smaller vine-owners came home from a ‘steady’ day-job to tend their vines – I assume a slightly better ‘living’ has been made from the vines for that last 10+ years.

Anyway, despite a good history section, this is a book worth having on the shelf as a snapshot of the 1970s, rather than for specific grower histories (there’s none of that). Some attitudes are timeless, others fit their time. I’ll leave you with a few:

[Millerandage, a term used today to sell a vintage, not-so in the 1970s] “A result of coloure, when bunches of grapes do not fully ripen, millerandage leaves only small green berries on the vine. If these bunches reach the winemaking stage, they impart a harsh and bitter flavour to the wine”

“…the sale of grapes in Burgundy by the grower to the shipper (négoce) is declining today”

“It is also alleged that the Côte de Nuits are beginning to suffer from over-fertilisation of the vineyards to force up production. My experience is not extensive enough to assess the truth of this particular anxiety. However, colour in these wines does seem to be lessening. Too many are lacking in body and, often, they do not have the rich generosity characteristic of the exceptional finesse found in the best wines.”

“Remember never to drink labels – just because the name, vintage and presentation appear great, do not automatically assume that the wine will be equally great. Always go directly to the wine – let it speak for itself. …Certainly in Burgundy the best dressed bottles often contain the dreariest wines…”

“Look out for the off-vintage, gradually learn to trust the shippers whose wines you enjoy by recording the taste impressions. It is no value to blindly follow one shipper or group of shippers because ‘you are told X is a fine shipper’. Discover for yourself – do not accept reputations that can be commercially advanced without quality. Decide for yourself, remain open-minded, be critical and be reasonable enough to change your mind with grace. After all, Burgundy is fun.”

Amen!

the white wines of burgundy, jasper morris (1988)

By billn on January 08, 2010 #books, maps, magazines & films

The-White-Wines-of-BurgundyNot so long ago I made a basic search using the keyword ‘Burgundy’ and up popped this book. A quick email to Jasper elicited the response that this was “obviously the single finest book on burgundy ever written….” 😉 If nothing else, it is clearly the leader in value; the purchase price was a princely £1 before P&P.

This book is a thin hardback of relatively large format – just a little less than A4 size – delivering a mix of text, tables and photos in its 77 pages.

There is a foreword by Simon Loftus: I’m not normally a fan of ‘forewords’, but in the case of Simon I’m more than happy to make an exception as his writing is, sadly, too little seen; his monograph of Puligny-Montrachet being my most favourite of wine-related reading for its insight and crystal-clear delivery – I think I should revisit it – if only I could write in such an uncomplicated way…

Anyway enough of Simon and onto Jasper:

My copy of the book is a “rare unsigned copy” of the original 1988 publication with a sticker price of £4.95 (I’m not sure if it was ever reprinted), it splits its content under three main headers:

  1. Burgundy and its white wines
  2. A buyers guide
  3. Through the vineyards

Jasper certainly starts on the right foot by immediately including a recipe for turbot with green peppercorns and fresh herbs in his introduction. The emphasis is clear, white burgundy and food, they should not be separated – a shame then, that it was the book’s only recipe!

Every vintage is different in size, quality and style. The weather imprints a different mark each year.

The beauty of older books is that there is no ‘sell-by date’ for good advice; what worked then, works now – this is particularly evident in the section how to buy wine and the tips that he offers. Jasper makes a good differentiation between the growers, négoce and all shades of capitalism in-between, though it’s interesting to note that ‘only’ 20-or-so years ago, there were many, many fewer domaine bottlers.

The label is a mischievous piece of paper containing lots of information which may mean one thing to the producer, another to the authorities and something completely different again to the purchaser.

Beaune is the vinous heart of the Côte d’Or, complacent capital of the wines of Burgundy

This section provides some nice négociant thumbnails – still relevent today – before jumping into the meat; The Great Vineyards of the Côte de Beaune. Despite being halfway through the book I was still a little shocked that we moved directly from the hill of Corton to Meursault, forgetting the subject of the book!

Meursault is the heart of the Côte de Beaune, source of more white wine than any other village and finer than all but the Grand Crus.

It sounds like Jasper prefers his Meursault to his Puligny – at least of late 80s vintages 😉

Page 66 is heralded with a title that no aspiring writer would consider suitable today – everyone is looking for a scoop – but Jasper shortly discusses the wines of the Hautes Côtes de Beaune, Ladoix, Pernand, Savigny, Côte de Beaune, Monthelie, Auxey, St.Romain, St.Aubin and Santenay under the header; “Lesser Vineyards of the Côte de Beaune” – poor St.Aubin, it was sure it had made it!

Insight and sage advice for £1 – close to indispensable really!

chablis, bernard ginestet (1990)

By billn on November 23, 2009 #books, maps, magazines & films

chablis_ginestetThis is the second book from this series that I’ve managed to pick up. After ‘Le Montrachet‘ there is also (in theory) Chambertin, Clos de Vougeot and Corton in the series, but I’ve yet to see English editions of those latter three – if they exist(?) – but I continue my look-out!

Whereas Jean-François Bazin authored the ‘Montrachet’ volume, this was written by the series editor himself, Bernard Ginestet. By this translator’s hand (at least) the writing is completely engaging, despite the age of the material – the original in French dating from 1986, and this English translation published by Longman from 1990. Ginestet wears his massive love for the wines of Chablis – ‘the golden gate to Burgundy’ – not only his shirt-sleeves, but on most of the pages too. Nicolas Faith writes the forward – do people really need endorsements to sell books? – it seems all that people like Hugh Johnson or Robert Parker do!

Back to ‘Chablis’: In the 189 pages are lots of maps, geography and geology, plus the fine detail of the vineyards and their classifications plus, importantly, a fine supporting narrative. I have only one complaint about this book, and that is despite Ginestet setting the stage very early for some analysis and dissection of the Kimmeridgian versus Portlandian ‘battle’ between the producers, a battle that is still fought today, I got to the end of the book to find he somehow sidestepped the whole issue – never mind.

One interesting thing that I took away with me was the clear emphasis of this book that Vaudésir was the king of the Chablis Grand Crus. This is only 25 years ago, yet today, most would offer Les Clos as ‘top dog’ – is that due to a change of weather, viticulture or perhaps the Anglo-Saxon choice of the reigning critics?

You can pick this book up for (relative) peanuts from online sellers, and it’s worth buying. I leave you with with a few favourite ‘snippets’:

Near Biene, an artificial lake was created to water the hundred or so hectares of vines round about. Everything was taken into consideration – except the catfish which eventually blocked the watering sprays!

Let him who, after the third or fourth jug of wine, feels his reason disturbed to the point of not being able to recognize his wife, children, or friends any longer, and ill-treating them, let him then limit himself to two jugs, unless he wishes to offend God and be despised by his neighbour. But let him who, after drinking four, five or six, still remains able to do his work and to conform to the orders of his ecclesiastical and secular superiors, let him then humbly and gratefully drink what God has allowed him to take. But let him beware of overstepping the limit of six jugs, for it is rare that the infinite goodness of the Lord grants one of His children that favour which He has accorded me, His unworthy servant. I drink eight jugs of wine daily and no one can say that he has seen me yield to unjustified anger or ill-treat my parents or acquaintances. So then, let every one of you, my brothers, strengthen his body and rejoice in mind with the quantity of wine which the Divine Goodness has allowed each of you to absorb.
Quoting the Archbishop of Mayence (1563) !

Hugh Johnson adds a pinch of British salt to the subject: “To be on form, they need at least three (and sometimes up to 10) years’ ageing in the bottle. Those which are matured in wood (the minority) live longer and better. The aroma and flavour they develop are the very quintessence of an evanescent characteristic which will escape you if you drink only young Chablis all the time. I can define it only in this way: a combination of a flavour of apple and hay with a hint of boiled sweets and a mineral after-flavour which seems to have come from the entrails of the earth.” Hugh! dear friend, spare me the boiled sweets.

All white meats cooked in a sauce go well with Chablis, which stands up perfectly well to spicy dishes (even better than a champagne or rosé). With curried lamb, for example, however hot, a Chablis if not too old a vintage will be wonderful, whereas the best red wine would be killed. It is a well-nigh impossible challenge to find a wine to drink with asparagus, spinach, sorrel or broccoli. But the personality of the great Chablis wines renders them impervious to attack by such vegetables.

living with wine, samantha nestor & alice feiring (2009)

By billn on October 22, 2009 #books, maps, magazines & films

livingwithwineThe last book I read turned out to be a bit of a Christmas stocking filler. This one is published in time to make such a list too (and you can already buy it for a discount!), but be warned, you will need a considerably larger stocking!

This book is far too big for my bag for the trip to work and back, lucky then that there’s not that much inside to read!

This is – pure and simple – a coffee-table book, there are words, but not so many. This is a book of pictures; expensive bottles and expensive polished wood. Wine porn? Perhaps, but I see this more as an interior design book than particularly about wine, rather wine is merely the background motif:

“Scudiery admits that what he likes best about his cellar are the wines.”

Enough said? You certainly won’t learn anything about wine from this book, rather it is (15%) a commentary on how a few ‘eye-candy’ cellars came about, and the rest is the eye-candy (photos…). Actually a little of the technicalities of maintaining a cool, humid cellar in such a variety of styles would have been interesting (to me) but I suppose that was way beyond the brief of this book and likely outside of the interest of the target audience too – whoever they may be…

I don’t know Samantha Nestor (it seems she’s more a ‘Homes & Gardens‘ writer), but I might have expected more from a book connected to Alice Feiring – yet it’s not really a wine book – perhaps Alice was just a technical consultant and/or helped locate the cellar owners. To be honest, I find a number of these cellars to be the carpentry equivalent of a big red Porsche in the driveway. For me a cellar is where I store my wine, but one day, given a bottomless pit of cash and the enthusiasm of my wife, I wouldn’t be surprised to be greeted by the scent of polished redwood when looking for a bottle of Beaune!

Reference material it is not! But this book looks fine on the coffee table.

is this bottle corked?, kathleen burk & michael bywater (2009)

By billn on October 17, 2009 #books, maps, magazines & films

corkedDo you, like me, inwardly groan (while still offering a cheery smile) each and every time somebody buys you something to do with wine as a birthday or Christmas present? – or perhaps a card resplendent with bottles and glasses? Come-on everyone, we are individuals, let’s have a little imagination! – what about the card with the cute puppy instead? – oops, no I have 3 of those already. Okay I give up!

In front of me, I have the book ‘Is this bottle corked’, subtitled ‘The secret life of wine’. The cover seems a relatively unimaginative, as do the selected quotes from the Times (of London!), The Times (of Oxford!) and ‘The Diplomat’ – wow do diplomats get their own paper(?) It looks like like the sort of book you may find wrapped-up and under the Christmas tree – probably attached will be a label with your name on it! It’s the type of non-specific title and design that would ensure that I serially by-pass the thing on the shelf of any bookstore.

Given that I’m the lucky recipient of such a ‘present’, what do I have to say about it?

Well, actually (humble pie..) it really wasn’t all that bad(!) Over a period of 3-4 weeks I got through the 177 pages with some degree of interest. The book is ideal for those with daily travel on public transport; 10 minutes here, 25 minutes there, principally this is facilitated by there being no real structure to the book. There are 88 questions about wine, each requiring between 1 paragraph and 4 pages to answer – so all you will need is a book mark. Examples include:

  • When is rot noble?
  • Can the war on terroir be won?
  • Glass of pre-war lemonade, chaps?

Etcetera, etcetra! The writing is witty and certainly more learned that wot I am.

If you want to turn the tables and buy somebody else a book on wine (dare I say it) this could be the one for you. I’ll leave you with an excerpt from one of the last questions to give you some idea of the style:

They drank how much at a sitting?
Recently we were told that it was the unemployed and under-educated who were most at risk from alcohol. Even more recently, we were told, no, it was the middle classes who were really at risk. Most recently of all (at the time of writing; who knows what will happen hereafter), the Royal College of Physicians claimed that pubs are “pushing customers towards unsafe levels of drinking” by selling wine in big glasses, and an MP who is of course not being opportunist to increase his profile (which is why we are not going to name him) demanded a new law to make them stop it and sell us little glasses instead.
We have only two comments to make. Well, actually we have three comments to make, but will only be allowed to make two of them. The first is that people who roam around inner cities at night, roaring, vomiting, and fighting, are not usually those who have been drinking a rather nice pinot noir in whatever size of glass. And the second is that someone who cannot tell whether they are holding a big glass of wine or a little glass of wine should not really be allowed to hold any glass at all, and certainly not one with wine in.
We live in stern and purse-lipped times.

Footnote: I found this rather curious ‘review’ in the Independent – curious because it seems only to be extracts from the book!

Burgundy Report

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