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Book Review – The Finest Wines of Burgundy, By Bill Nanson


16-Apr-2013
I looked forward to reading this volume in the ‘Fine Wine Editions’ from the team of ‘The World of Fine Wine’, as every book has provided excellent overviews of the regions they cover, and a fascinating and broad range of producer profiles, which do not quite meet up to their subtitles "A Guide to the Best Producers of…” in this case the "Cote d’Or and Their Wines”. That has been a minor quibble with these books, as they are not strictly the "Best Producers”. I acknowledge that a selection of wine producers reckoned to be the best is subjective. However many of the books have omitted producers that are clearly the very best, but included a good number of those that are not quite at the ‘best’ level. I am pleased with this approach however, as it does give a wider outlook, not just focussing on tried and true and those which received plenty of coverage. This approach also allows a bit of licence for the author to put their individual stamp on the book, allowing readers a bit of extra insight into the mind and values of the writer.

Bill Nanson seems an unlikely choice as the author of the Burgundy region, as there are many noted members of the wine trade, including a good number with the exalted M.W. initials after their name who might be more obvious, but as quite of few of them already have publications on the subject, a fresh face could be very desirable. Bill Nanson "is a chemist by profession with no connection to the wine trade”, but he has visited Burgundy regularly for 15 years, often working vintage. He publishes the ‘Burgundy Report’ as an independent commentator. And from reading this work, he is clearly a buyer and an avid consumer. As such, Nanson actually has a closer connection to the majority of readers.

The author’s consumer approach is evident from his introductory chapters. He has an excellent overall understanding of each of the important aspects, and presents them simply and clearly in a manner that is easily accessible for the layman, and doesn’t get bogged down in detail or drawn away on tangents that may be particular issues or fascinations that a trade or technical writer can be inclined to do. The subjects of geography and geology, history, culture and the market are discussed, with good insights. Nanson also works through the concept of classifications and hierarchies which is a foundation of burgundy structure. The grape varieties, viticulture and winemaking lead to a discussion on how and when to enjoy the wines of the region, and describes what to expect. The introductory chapters are ‘Burgundy 101’ for sure, but essential for a novice and a good recap for anyone familiar with the region.

The heart of the book as in all of the other books in the series is the collection of producer profiles. This is conveniently divided into the Cote de Nuits and the Cote de Beaune. Again, as in the introductory chapters, Nanson’s lead-in with the descriptions of each of the appellations and villages is excellent. He captures the physical, cultural and wine traits exceptionally well, and I’d imagine most readers will connect with his words. On the way, he dispels a few myths and misconceptions, and when one learns a little this way, the book grows in its value.

As mentioned above, the choice of producer profiles is rather subjective if not controversial, and I’m rather disappointed that some of my favourites are not included. I note a couple of the significant domaines who are also negociants are missing, yet others are there. The actual pen portraits are rather brief and really lack sufficient data and hard facts to make this a proper reference book, but Nanson captures the feel and personality of the producers and conveys this with ease to the reader. And again, as with most of the other books in the series, the actual wines selected to be representative of the producers’ best are not actually that, but more representative of what the author sees as personally attractive, interesting and unique. This does has its benefits as it brings attention to wines that would never normally be mentioned in a book keeping strictly to the title of ‘Finest Wines’.

In other my reviews of the other books in this series, I’ve not made mention of the photography of Jon Wyand. He captures his subjects, the producers, extremely well, and one easily gains an impression of their personalities and their surroundings. Maybe we have been ingrained with the notion that Burgundy is about people and the land, as opposed to Bordeaux which is more about business, but the photography had an empathetic impact on me, and added significantly to gaining a sense of the characters of the producers, and thus the enjoyment of the book. Wygand’s photography achieves this in all of these books I’ve come across to date.

In summary, this is another useful addition to your library of books on Burgundy, very much in the style of the rest of the series instigated by the ‘World of Fine Wine’. They’re not reference books by any means, but they introduce the region and many of the people very well, and as the collection of titles in the series builds, they are becoming valuable, up-to-date elements of a good and readable resource.

The Finest Wines of Burgundy, By Bill Nanson
University of California Press, Berkeley, 2012 ISBN 978-0-520-27201-9
RRP US$39.95
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