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The Wines of Champagne, Burgundy, Eastern & Southern France, Baxevanis (1987)

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…
Discussing Fixin!

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.
Discussing Pommard

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!

7 responses to “The Wines of Champagne, Burgundy, Eastern & Southern France, Baxevanis (1987)”

  1. Phil Eaves

    Hi Bill

    I have seen this book on the second hand sites and been tempted glad I kept my money by the sound of that lot.

    cheers Phil

  2. Claude Kolm

    Actually, Bill, much of what you quote was fairly accurate for the state of Burgundy a quarter of a century ago.

    “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

    — Certainly true of BPT back then.

    “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.”

    — This is absolutely true. Feel lucky if you never have had a white Burgundy from the Chardonnay muscaté clone that was widely planted back then, especially in the Mâconnais.

    “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.”

    — Undoubtedly true of what you would have found on most store shelves in London or New York back in those days.

    “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.”

    –The complaint about 10,000 vines/ha is clearly stupid, but overcropping was a huge problem then, and although less so, it still is a significant problem.

    “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…” Discussing Fixin!

    — Indeed, Fixin only was all red in those days and was tremendously rustic — not at all like the wines we see today.

    “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.”

    –He probably didn’t know the wines of Rousseau, Mugeret-Gibourg, or Roumier, of Thomas-Bassot before them, but certainly there were many Ruchottes-Chambertins of that era that were not up to grand cru quality.

    “The 13-hectare Griotte-Chambertin output, rarely seen in the United-States, is known for rather bland, often dull wine.”
    — I don’t know what to say about that one. The only Griotte I knew in the 1980s was from Drouhin and it was outstanding.

    “The ministry of transport owns 2 acres and uses them to store utility poles.” Discussing the Clos de Vougeot
    — I don’t know it for a fact, but it wouldn’t surprise me. Things were very different in those days.

    “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.”
    — Pretty much the same as what Hugh Johnson and Anthony Hanson wrote in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

    “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.” Discussing Pommard
    — Remember that back in the days when there was plenty of adulterated wine around, Pommard was one of the prime suspects (along with Nuits-Saint-Georges), supposedly because it was deemed easy to pronounce.

    “As dull and lifeless as the bulk production tends to be, it is difficult not to like the output of first-rate Meursault.”
    –Bulk Meursault could be really bad.

    “Because Santenay is not widely known, the wines are honest and occasionally offer good value.”
    — Here I disagree. Like Fixin, in my experience they were unduly rustic and did not offer good value. The prime exceptions that proved the rule were the Santenays of Domaine de la Pousse d’Or. We are lucky for the advances that have transformed the wines of Santenay.

  3. Claude Kolm

    BTW, I’ve never heard of the author, much less ever saw the book.

  4. Claude Kolm

    Actually, in my experience, Alsace’s current problems date from the 1990s.

    Yes, yields in the 1980s were high there compared to other regions, but that’s the Germanic tradition and you didn’t get as much dilute stuff as in Burgundy. They didn’t have a big demand for their wines like Burgundy did, so there was no reason to overcrop.

    A lot of producers probably couldn’t afford to overfertilize, and also the considerably conservative nature of the society there may have been an inhibition to overfertilization.

    To the best of my knowledge, also, there were no inferior clones that people were planting in Alsace (possible exception for Muscat, but the amount of Muscat planted is almost negligible), unlike, for example, the Pinot droit.

  5. WildBillNV

    Bill,

    He seems to repeat a great deal of the content of Anthony Hanson’s ‘The Wines of Burgundy,’. Given the economics after WW II and before the lowering of trade barriers by the EEC, much of Burgundy suffered from the stated ills. It takes about twenty years for newly planted vines to express their characteristics, and vigor. It should be evident that given these parameters change comes slowly, and is greatly aided by an academic community which actively participates in the process.

    Increased competition forced the trade to recognize the research into clonal selection, root-stock variation, and effects of virus free stock by use of heat-treated grafting stock.

    I’ll forego the debate on vine densities, except that crop levels, and pruning techniques have to be coordinated with vine densities. This includes canopy management and green pruning of second growth, and excessive clusters.

    Does anybody employ flash pastuerization, since the infusion of foreign capital, and better educated winemakers?

    At this time, the mid-eighties, was there much of an international market for the wines of the Loire or Chianti? Competition, in what appears to be an ever increasing demand, has made ‘the great good old days’ right now. Unfortunately, some of us will not live to see the 2005 become rare antiques. Only time 25-35 years for vines to become mature enough to invest in the risk and another twenty-five in the bottle. This, the vagaries of weather, and pestulance means it takes 50-60 years from the time a vineyard is replanted to tell if it’s the right decision.

    The literal meaning of the ‘T’ word means ‘love of the land ,’ which can have an almost mystical interpretation. Maybe, we shouldn’t be too judgmental of the scolds who pass as critics, or to harsh on the agrarian grower trying to support his family, who is only a millionaire on paper and to the tax collector.

Agree? Disagree? Anything you'd like to add?

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