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White Burgundy, Christopher Fielden (1988)

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…

Summary

  • 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…

4 responses to “White Burgundy, Christopher Fielden (1988)”

  1. Joachim

    Thanks for the review Bill, but from when is this book? Regarding the reviewed vintages and the quotes, its probably about 20 yers old?

  2. Joachim

    Ooops 😉

  3. The Red Wines of Burgundy, Mark Savage (1988)

    […] 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 […]

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