Finest Wines of Bordeaux: A Regional Guide to the Best Châteaux and Their Wines. Photography by Jon Wyand.
University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 2010
Reviewer: Richard E. Quandt
This is a very welcome book, in spite of the fact that there must be hundreds of others dealing with Bordeaux wines. It is printed handsomely, on durable paper (it is noted that it is printed on alkaline paper), has a cloth book marker, and the last 20 or so pages are devoted to the classification of wines determined at various times in the past as well as to an evaluation of vintages since 1982.
The text falls into two parts. Part I (pp. 6–54) consists of five brief chapters con- taining general discussions of (1) history and culture, (2) climate, soil, and grape varieties, (3) viticulture, (4) winemaking and terroir, and, finally (5) classification of wine and regulations. Part II, comprising the bulk of the book, is devoted to a case- by-case description of individual wines, listed by subregion of Bordeaux. Before we lose sight of one of the best features of the book, let me say that every chapter and each discussion of individual wines is accompanied by handsome photographs of vineyards, châteaux, and appurtenant structures, as well as maps, and in many cases of the current owners of the various vineyards.
The history of Bordeaux goes back to its medieval beginnings, when the region belonged to England, as discussed in Chapter 1. Originally, Graves was the principal wine-growing region, and the author quotes Samuel Pepys who said in 1663, “I drank a sort of French wine, called Ho Bryan [sic], that hath a good and most par- ticular taste I ever met with.” Wine making expanded in the eighteenth century, Médoc developed, the Rothschild family arrived in the nineteenth century, and finally American interests started to buy vineyards in the twentieth century, to wit, the Dillon family, which acquired Château Haut Brion in 1934. The brief historical overview is informative and useful. Chapter 2 deals with climate, climate change, and climate hazards as well as soil. A brief discussion of permitted varieties of grapes and their characteristics concludes the chapter.
Chapter 3 covers matters that may be unfamiliar to many, specifically soil manage- ment and, equally important, canopy management, diseases of grapes, and a discus- sion of the all-important question of when to harvest. Chapter 4 goes on to discuss the all-important questions of fermentation techniques, barrel aging, and blending, and has brief section on dry white wines and sauternes. Chapter 5 begins with the 1855 classification and also discusses changes or additions to the original classifi- cation, the nature of the wine market, the role of the negociants, of en primeur, and much more.
The rest of the book is a detailed analysis of individual vineyards, with a brief (one-page) description of the vineyard itself, followed by a discussion of the individ- ual wines, that is, the “first” wine of the vineyard and any “second” wines that it may have. All of this is extremely sensible, and readers will find all three parts of this handsome book very useful indeed.