Burgundy Tomes

1 November 2010
Author: Jeannie Cho Lee


I have three books stacked up next to my bedside and each would qualify as a doorstopper. One is 358 pages, the second 656 pages and the third, 878 pages! All three books are about Burgundy, the region and the wines, and were published in the past two years. The 358 page book called The Pearl of the Cote is by Allen Meadows, aka Burghound to those who know him via his subscription-based website. Allen had told me about this book he was working on last year and I was thrilled to see it finally in print. Given his personality and philosophy that favours depth over breadth, the book is true to form — Allen provides painstaking detail and devotes 358 pages on just one appellation, Vosne-Romanee, a tiny sub-region of Burgundy. Despite its small size, Vosne-Romanee is the heartland of red Burgundy and the source of key vineyards held by Domaine de la Romanee-Conti. The 656 page newly released book called Inside Burgundy, is also one I have been waiting eagerly to read. Jasper Morris, fellow Master of Wine and Burgundy buyer for Berry Bros & Rudd, spent years compiling the detailed overview of the Burgundian vineyards, landscape, people and their wines. Jasper lives in Burgundy and the title of his book is apt, Jasper truly is an ‘Insider’ and he admits to knowing so many insider intrigues in Burgundy that he writes, “We were considering sub-titling the book, ‘The Sex Life of Burgundy’.” Burgundy enthusiasts will relate to his description of Burgundy wines’ alluring characters: “It intrigues, fascinates, delights, infuriates, disappoints, charms, enraptures and puzzles.” I pulled out a slightly older 878 page book by Clive Coates’ called The Wines of Burgundy, which was published in 2008. This is an updated version of a classic that was originally published in 1997 as Cote d’Or. I wanted to compare the two newly released books with this book since it is widely considered to be the benchmark for comprehensive and authoritative coverage on Burgundy. I have many books on Burgundy including ones by Remington Norman, Serena Sutcliffe and Anthony Hanson. However, they wrote in the 1980s and early 1990s and less than ten years later, there was a need for more updated, reliable information which Clive’s book filled. My copy of Clive’s book has highlights, notes on the margins and earmarks all over it. These three books have much in common: All three authors acknowledge the help received from Burgundy wine dealers Becky Wasserman and her husband Russell Hone, who over the past few decades opened up the insular world of Burgundy to the international market. All three books pay attention to usability and accuracy of the maps; not surprisingly since Burgundy is all about the vineyard and the site since there are few variations on grape varieties (Pinot Noir for reds and Chardonnay for whites). The books are a pleasure to read since it is clear that to love Burgundy, one most likely possesses a poetic soul with words that evoke feelings rather than merely describe. The books are dense and filled with a great deal of detail and are fantastic reference books. Clive and Jasper’s books are most similar in their scope and approach, perhaps not surprising since both are Masters of Wine. Both books are logically organised by geographical location within which vineyards are described and key producers recommended. Inside Burgundy is stylish with the information more clearly laid out and easy to digest. It does not include ratings while The Wines of Burgundy rates the growers by the Michelin guide’s three-star system. Both are incredibly comprehensive tomes devoted to a region that is only a quarter of the size of Bordeaux. While Clive and Jasper spend about 30 pages on Vosne Romanee, Allen extends this to 358 pages. The Pearl of the Cote is akin to examining the threads that make up a fine lace pattern. It is obvious that Allen has walked the vineyards and knows Vosne Romanee in great depth. If there is any drawback to this microscopic view of one region within Burgundy, it is that the powerful presence of one producer who owns a large percentage of the top vineyards in this appellation overshadows other producers mentioned in the book. If re-worked slightly, the book can easily be called ‘Wines of Domaine de la Romanee-Conti’. Burgundy is complex and these newly published books are testimony that brevity is perhaps not possible with a subject so intricate and rich in detail. Sadly, these books are not for wine novices – it may actually turn a few off because of its long, drawn-out litany of site descriptions. I loved the two newly released books and devoured them in about a week. But I did ask myself, “Will other people really care about micro and meso climates within a small vineyard area? Do people want to read about the perfect due east exposition of a certain gently sloping site compared to one just adjacent to it?” But for those who are under the Burgundian spell, these details are part of the magic.


Reprinted with permission from the South China Morning Post


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