Books, Maps, Magazines, Films even Podcasts!

“sour grapes”

By billn on July 28, 2009 #books, maps, magazines, films even podcasts!#other sites

the billionaire's vinegar
Remember this? That was June 2008. Well now we have the following:

Wine buff sues after being accused of a vintage rip-off
Among wine connoisseurs, Michael Broadbent reigns supreme. The 6ft tall, pinstriped oenophile, who launched the peerless Christie’s wine department in 1966, has spent a lifetime travelling the world tasting fine vintages, keeping notes of every one he has sipped, and writing the definitive wine handbook.
But at the age of 82, his famously sensitive nose is wrinkling not at an unwelcome bouquet – but at assertions in a new book that accuse him of being involved in a notorious wine fraud.

Well the pinstriped 82 year-old has taken more than a year to decide this course of action – I’d say that’s unacceptable…

[EDIT]:Well, with a 12-month (public) wall of silence, it appears to everyone that the pinstriped 82 year-old has taken more than a year to decide this course of action – I’d say that’s unacceptable…

From Bartholomew Broadbent’s comment to this diary entry, that clearly was not the case, but I remain critical; I’m not saying I would have recommended Max Clifford, but it’s a PR gaffe for sure. 12 months of silence indicates to all and sundry (i.e. not just me) acceptance if not agreement with what is written.

[EDIT 21-Aug-2009] Mike Steinberger also points to the lost cause

TONG – a wine magazine

By billn on July 23, 2009 #books, maps, magazines, films even podcasts!

tongTONG – note, that this was a promotional copy, so I’m honour-bound to say nice things – right? Yeah-right, just like here 😉

It’s worth pointing out, that I’m drawn to things that have been ‘designed’, or perhaps I should say that I’m drawn to things that have not just been made to look good but where people have clearly spent their time on attention to detail. Right from the point I open my letter-box this publication is hitting my design ‘g-spot’ (actually in the sunshine it was blinding me!):

Robust, space-material envelope – cool!

My benchmark wine publication is the ‘World of Fine Wine’ magazine which invariably was 30%+ parting with it’s cheap envelope by the time it reached my letter-box – in this respect WOFW is not a very good benchmark. Hmmm, but taking a more modatorial step back; is this very environmentally friendly? I await a note telling me that metallised, reclaimed, supermarket plastic bags use 30% less CO2 than recycled paper…

Slicing my letter opener through the space-material – and you need a sharp one for this job, hmmm (again), maybe it’s also self-sharpening my letter opener, then the envelope would class as dual use, how do you calculate the CO2 burden now? – out slides Issue #2 of TONG (looks better capitalised!). The publisher is now reeling me in with the high-quality matt paper-stock, typography, white-space and overall design – frankly I don’t care about the words to start with, though I notice on the inside cover “This magazine carries no advertising” – wow! – not only is that rather cool, it’s somewhat radical; either the publisher is of independent means or is barking mad. I read also that the design of each issue will be different:

Q: What makes Tong different from Wine Spectator or Decanter, for instance?
There’s a playful, organic, almost biological concept behind the magazine. Everything is linked, from the paper and the font to the photographs. The paper we used for the launch issue on Sauvignon Blanc, for instance, is smooth and hard, but for the issue on terroir, I’m using a grainier, thicker paper. Each magazine must be a print version of the wine variety.
Excerpt from Wall Street Journal

Now I realise that the publisher is of independent means AND is barking mad! Did I mention that this magazine is €28 per copy, or €100 for the 4 quarterly issues? No? Then perhaps it’s time to look at what it delivers on an intellectual rather than purely aesthetic level.

This is already Issue #2, titled “Terroir”, issue #1 was titled “Sauvignon Blanc” – I’ll leave you to work out what that was about. There are a mere 48 pages – of-course with this paper-stock, they are thick pages – and 21 of those pages are pictures or title pages for the next article! I must say though, it’s more than a mere pamphlet; if there were the normal adverts/classifieds etc., then perhaps this would be a 60-70 page publication and no-one would blink an eye. Back to the content – ‘Terroir’ – and it’s not a bad list of contributors; Kees van Leewen, Claude & Lydia Bourguignon, Serge Wolikow and Olivier Jacquet, Olivier Humbrecht, Alex Martin and John Watling and finally, Brian Croser. Those contributors are set against a contrary/realist (delete as appropriate) editorial from the publisher Filip Verheyden titled ‘Terroir Terrorism’, let battle commence…

Actually I’m not going to tell you what they wrote, rather I will say that some content is self-evident, some annoying, some is ‘new’, and I do like the long list of source material that follows most of the articles. The articles are well enough written given non-English mother tongue of most contributors, more importantly the words are written by people with a deep knowledge of their subject, even if each may have their own ‘angle’ – but that’s the key – it’s not just one writer’s composite view from their own subjective standpoint, it’s a range of views properly represented – in this issue at least.

If I won’t tell you more about the content, I will tell you why I’ve subscribed to this magazine after letting my World of Fine Wine subscription lapse (for the second time); WOFW has great contributors a number of whom I know quite well, it also has some equally great articles, yet it is also a significant ‘establishment advertising vehicle’. Then mix the articles that seem to exist only to pad out the content for more advertising with the articles that simply disappear up their own rear-end and I became bored/frustrated. TONG is stripped down, it is pure content – intense and mineral if you prefer – it fits my inner radical ‘self’ and it’s actually the only wine-related subscription I have today…

I am supporting its first year. Only time will tell if this radical approach can remain viable with a content to match – let’s see.

a life uncorked, hugh johnson (2005)

By billn on June 25, 2009 #books, maps, magazines, films even podcasts!

hugh johnson a life uncorkedThis is quite a big book – not quite a coffee-table book, but close to 400 pages that have weighed down my laptop bag for 5 months or so.

5 months?

Well, it’s a book that you can dip into, returning after 2 weeks absence is no loss…

Frankly, I was expecting great things – it was the fault of the first page and a half, the preface, it left me with a level of writing expectation that was met only patchily throughout those 400 pages.

Wine is first and foremost a social game; only secondarily an interest like music or collecting. It is about human relations, hospitality, bonding, ritual…

And what an ‘interesting’ approach Hugh has taken for his book; A tour through ‘how did I get here?’ followed by bubbly, white wine, red wine and sweet wine; yet gardens, fish eating and sailing are liberally interspersed throughout the text. I was particularly bemused by the fish ‘section’ though I suppose we were within the ‘white wine’ chapter!

You will eventually come across a ‘critique’ of the influence of one RM Parker; paraphrasing, Hugh thinks scores irrelevant to him, but is concerned that wines are now very often made with scores/tasting in mind, rather than drinking. A fair point, but one that is easily countered for the vast majority of buyers with significantly higher average quality at medium and lower price-points – buyers who may be less interested in micro-oxygenation or the amount and type of new oak in a Grand Cru Classé…

If Hugh’s grape tastes appear rather catholic – Cabernet and Riesling seem to be his mainstays – there is nothing catholic about where he takes his wine from; USA, Chile, Australia even the Languedoc(!) – and that’s just cabernet.

I find it hard to get worked up about the book, it’s far from a ‘must read’, but even when taking your time, it’s a satisfying read – should that be the equivalent of the commercial kiss of death that is ‘only’ 89 points? Hugh seems a decent ‘bloke’ who tells a decent tale, but in the end, no rocket science here.

‘wine magazine seeks discerning palates’

By billn on June 15, 2009 #books, maps, magazines, films even podcasts!#other sites


Tong: Sounds like my kind of wine magazine – not full of adverts for cigars and wine ‘investment’ funds. I must get hold of a copy sometime. Interesting article in the Wall Street Journal, but it will revert to ‘subscription’ in a few days, so read it now!

a book of french wines, p.morton shand (1960)

By billn on March 06, 2009 #books, maps, magazines, films even podcasts!

a book of french wines, p morton shandWhilst this book actually covers 399 pages, I’m basing this discussion only on the 59 page section about Burgundy – including appendices. Despite my skin-deep approach, this book can be truly described as a reference work for its time. My copy is a 1960 reprint from the original 1928 work, and is clearly and largely based on that original text as there is no mention of AOC – merely a few statistics are changed to reflect reprinting dates. AOC is later discussed in quite some detail, but only as an appendix. [Edit: I later note from Mr Shand’s Wikipedia page that he actually died in April 1960]

The burgundy section opens with an erudite discussion of the enigma of the region – Maisons de Négoce – followed by a few meandering and largely unexciting pages that cull quotes from authors past – Dr Middleton, Brillat-Savarin, Stendhal – all extolling the virtues of burgundy wine. We then move onto a travelogue of sorts, taking the now traditional route from the northern Yonne outposts to the southern (essentially Rhône valley) vineyards of Beaujolais.

The text is actually very interesting once you get past the puffery, as there is detail that you don’t find in modern manuscripts – probably because the information is culled from a generation who still remembered the tracts of vineyard land that were perhaps lost to phylloxera – but those little addressed areas such as the Tonnerrois, Auxerrois, Châtillonais and particularly the Côte du Chalonnaise, Mâconnais and Beaujolais receive wordy treatment with the author listing primary vineyards, many of which that seem to be lost from today’s labels. e.g. a short passage from ‘Beaujolais’:

According to the délimitation cadastrale of 1919, both Moulin-à-Vent and Thorins (each of which is partly in the commune of Chénas and partly in Romanèche-Thorins) were entitled to the appellation ‘Grand Cru’ – a privelige enjoyed by 32 named vineyards of a total of 284 hectares in Moulin-à-Vent (the most famous being the Carquelin, or Grand-Morier, known as ‘le rognon du Moulin’ from its situation), Rochegrès, Combes, La Roche, Les Champs de Cour, Les Savarins, Les Brasses, Les Grolliers, Les Caves, La Rochelle and Vérillats, and 46 named vineyards, covering 291 hectares, in the case of Thorins.

There is (before the AOC appendix) some attempt at classifying vineyards: Chablis is quite straightforward with 1st, 2nd and 3rd class wines. The first class list extends to La Moutonne, Les Vaudésirs, Clos, Valmur, Les Grenouilles, Blanchots, Pointe des Preuses and Pointe des Bougros. Preuses and Bougros themselves are second class. Bringing up the rear are “the wines of Clichet and Milly (Lechet), together with the wines known as Chablis village and Petit Chablis”. As for the Côte d’Or, the author makes a large table and tries to make a distillation of the work of Lavalle, Danguy et Aubertin and Camille Rodier using the ‘Tête de Cuvée’, ‘Premier’, ‘Deuxiemme’ and Troisiemme’ levels.

The appendix on AOC is much more detailed than you will find in most publications, offering allowed vines, alcoholic strengths etc. e.g. for:

Appellation Contrôlée ‘Rosé de Riceys’: (Aube): decree of Dec 1947.
This appellation is confined to rosé wines grown in the Commune des Riceys, some 20 miles south of Troyes, from Pinot noir vines to a minimum 75% of the encépagement with a maximum 25% of Svégnié and Gamay. The maximum production allowed is 30 hectolitres per hectare and the musts are required to contain a minimum of 170 grams of grape-sugar per litre and develop not less than 10 degrees of alcohol after fermentation. The production of this rather delicately flavoured wine is very small; it is rarely met outside its more or less immediate area.

Summarising: Whilst P.Morton Shand doesn’t deliver up a personality like that of Harry Waldo Yoxall or Philip Youngman Carter, what he puts on paper is, as you can see, extensive and rather comprehensive for its time. Certainly a book worth picking up for the relatively low outlay required in a ‘pre-owned’ bookstore.

PS – anyone ever heard of Svégnié?

the widow clicquot, tilar j. mazzeo (2008)

By billn on January 05, 2009 #books, maps, magazines, films even podcasts!

The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled It.

the widow clicquot tyler j mazzeoThe story of the redoutable ‘Widow’ who, despite the misfortunes of war and family loss, became the equivalent of a billionaire in her epoch. It’s another Harper-Collins’ title – following on from their very readable ‘Billionaire’s Vinegar’.

I read ‘The Widow Clicquot’ written by Tilar Mazzeo over the Christmas break. The style of the book left me cringing quite a few times, but, overall, it is clearly very well researched and provides quite some insight into the life and times of wine-makers (not only from Champagne) during the almost constant backdrop of war and upheaval in the late 1700’s and into the 1800’s.

The first thing to bug me was the language style – I found it so typical of US-sourced academic writing – as I persevered it jarred less and less, and indeed on re-reading the opening pages I didn’t get the same feel – perhaps I had immunised myself! The second thing that bugged me was the constant reference to Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin (The Widow!) as a woman in a man’s world, unique in a man’s world etc., etc. – even just once per chapter might have been sufficient! The third thing that bugged me was the peppering of the text with technical references to (for instance) TCA with some background or racking with no further info etc.; it was almost as if there was a list of things that would have to be in the book (because it was aimed at a wino audience?) regardless of whether it was part of the unfolding story or not. In my opinion the last, and worst, transgression is that despite us being constantly told by the author that little information personal to ‘the widow’ had survived, the author constructs a web of ‘make-believe’ and speculation for her storytelling, e.g.

Staring at the ceiling of her bedroom in the early morning hours of February 10th, 1806, Barbe-Nicole was perhaps already feeling queasy. The church bells tolled six o’clock, and without turning to look, she knew the horizon was still only a dim wash of early gray.

etc., etc.. I’m sorry but for such an evidently well researched book, I’m not looking for make-believe! Late in the book, there is some justification of the approach in the ‘Afterword’ where she points to the lack of surving personal information and describes writing the book as:

…an exercise in the oblique…

…The dilemma for any curious historian is a simple one: Without this sympathy there is silence.

If the larger explanation had been in the foreword, rather than the afterword, I’m sure I would have been less constantly annoyed whilst reading.

That was all the bad stuff I can think of, on the other hand you only need look through the notes section to get a feel for how extensive the research was and the historical backdrop to the narrative is fascinating. I have already taken up a number of references. Overall this is a book chock full of fact, many new to me, so despite having to weave your way through some fiction too, for the historical perspective alone of a wine-trade in such tumultuous, waring years, I’d rate this book as ‘close to’ indispensable.

There is also a ‘book review’ in the NYTimes; rather I would say it simply outlines the story of this remarkable lady as ‘pieced’ together by the author. As ‘reviews’ go, this is a better one.

the billionaire’s vinegar, benjamin wallace (2008)

By billn on June 07, 2008 #books, maps, magazines, films even podcasts!

1787 - the billionaire's vinegarBillionaire’s Vinegar is first and foremost a book that I really enjoyed – in the manner of well-researched fiction – perhaps not a thriller, but certainly a who-dunnit.  Secondly, it’s a book from which you can learn much of the auction market machinations and importantly if you are tempted to buy old wine, it will ensure that those rose-tinted spectacles will be left at home – oh and we are supposed to believe that it’s all true!

For those that may have lived in a cupboard for the last year or so, it is a story that starts with a bottle of wine with the initials Th.J. dated 1787.  Actually there may have been as many as 30 “Thomas Jefferson” bottles purportedly found in a Paris cellar, the first of which being famously sold by Christies for a world record price.

Despite multiple pages of reference and source materials, Christies (Decanter) claim there to be many ‘inaccuracies’ in the book, though as Mandy Rice-Davies would say – ‘they would say that wouldn’t they’. Of course Christies were not the source of those bottles, one Hardy Rodenstock is the primary target of the book, though from the narrative it’s clear that the author sees Christies in general and Christies’ Maître dit Michael Broadbent in particular as willing dupes at best.

Despite some of those bottles clearly containing excellent old wine, they were faked – analysis showed one of them to contain wine from 1962 – as they all came from the same cellar, undisturbed for maybe 100 years or more, if one falls they all fall.

I highly recommended this well-written book, but one thing disappoints; it’s still only a partly told story. Hardy Rodenstock is still being pursued, both by private detectives and through the courts – mainly by one very deep-pocketed owner of a number of questionable bottles, some with the initials Th.J.  Rodenstock’s hunter is playing a long game which the hunter appears to be both enjoying and expects to win. Perhaps the author of this book also felt hunted and needed to be sure hist book was published first. I expect the second or third edition may have one or two more chapters and a real conclusion.

reading material

By billn on May 22, 2008 #books, maps, magazines, films even podcasts!#other sites

I must remember to update my list of books to read – this seems a good start.

 Photo: Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

Also, here’s a nice article including the late Robert Mondavi and 100 year-old burgundy.

european fine wine magazine – a critique

By billn on January 14, 2008 #books, maps, magazines, films even podcasts!#other sites

european fine wine magazine

  Photo: Blatantly stolen from the publisher’s website | Copyright, them

Let me first say that issue number 1 of ‘European Fine Wine Magazine’ is quite a coffee-table magazine, the photography is really something – not just the composition but the saturated, slightly underexposed processing too – never-mind black and white, even in colour it looks almost Gothic! Whilst I’m far from an expert in this area, the photographer (Pekka Nuikki) seems to be carving-out his own genre. In the end though I must come clean – it’s not a magazine for me.

I am an egalitarian when it comes to wine; there was a time when even a modest pocket-book could accommodate an occasional bottle of the grandest of burgundian grand crus – Armand Rousseau’s Chambertin could be had for £60 throughout the 1996-1999 vintages – though unfortunately those times seem but a memory… Anyway back to my point; this publication has nothing to do with the egalitarian – adverts for Maybach, open-top Bentleys, yachts, power-boats, 8-page Dom Pérignon advertorials (the Pol Roger thing looks suspiciously advertorial-ish too) and €6,000 mobile phones etc., etc., accurately reflect the publisher’s target audience – this is the bling of wine-publishing. Articles covering Bordeaux, Bordeaux, Bordeaux and ‘investing in wine’ hammer in another nail despite the next issue offering me an olive-branch in the form of a piece on Louis Jadot(!) The final nail is what I consider the inaccuracies in the investing in burgundy section; interesting that 1971 and 1962 are vintages that you should primarily invest in whites, that you should look out for de Vogüé’s Bonnes-Mares, Musigny Vieilles Vignes and apparently their Musigny too and that one of Rousseau’s ‘top three’ is his Charmes-Chambertin.

At least then, they have taken time to think about their audience: As this publication is only about conspicuous consumption, they have come up with a new wine-scoring system too: in with Robert Parker’s 100 points, but out with his methodology. The wine is scored only on how it tastes today, with no reference to future potential. I assume, then, that their scores on 2005 Bordeaux will all be around 75 to accurately reflect their current drinkability. Come to think of it, they will anyway only be drinking 1928, 1945 and 1961 Bordeaux – oh and 1962 Puligny-Montrachet of-course!

I’m surprised then, that I got my complimentary copy courtesy of ‘The World of Fine Wine‘; editor Neil Beckett extolling its virtues and urging a subscription. That magazine whilst positioned firmly in the ‘up-market’ is essentially a magazine of writing. The pretty bunny (sorry, hare) does little to disguise that this is only a vehicle for positioning ‘luxury brands’ like Petrus and Mouton. I shall not be investing, despite the often evocative and haunting images. Hopefully, though, this will bring Pekka Nuikki’s work to a deserved wider audience, despite his surreal website.

I rightly consider myself to be ‘too nice’ ever to be a real critic – but sometimes it just flows…

Burgundy Report

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