The Great Domaines Of Burgundy
by Remington Norman and Charles Taylor MW
Forward by Michael Boadbent MW
Kyle Cathie, Ltd., £40
This could have been, should have been, a splendid book, filling a useful gap in the bookshelves. Some 140 domaines, entirely from the Côte d'Or, have been profiled, so this covers just about everyone you might have heard of: all the most important, and a large number of the 'second division'. The only gaps I can immediately think of are the Domaine d'Ardhuy in Corgolin and Francois Mikulski in Meursault. But you have to draw a line somewhere. Some from the first edition have been cast aside.
What is lacking, however, is an assessment of who are the very real stars, and who are just also runs. Why was there not a Michelin-type rating? What is also unforthcoming is any sense of personal preference. Are the authors more seduced by the styles of Cathiard, Grivot or Mée-Camuzet? Charles Taylor, who, I gather has written most of this book (up-dated from a first edition by Remington Norman some 15 years ago), is a British wine merchant who specializes in the wines of Burgundy. As such he must spend more time there than most. He must have his passions.
Passion, however, is sadly missing from these pages. There is plenty on how the vines are tended and the wines made. If you read several profiles in one go it all gets a bit undigestible, but this is not how most readers will use this book. But there is little about the personalities behind the wines. On the cover, and in his introduction, Michael Broadbent MW eulogizes about the how 'thoroughly (this book) deals with the philosophy ... of the individual growers and winemakers.' Sorry, Michael. Not so. Lots of technique. Little philosophy.
I seeked in vain for more colour: more life. Robert Groffier and his son Serge are welcoming in their quiet sort of way, but Madame Groffier eats razor blades for breakfast and will not sell you a bottle of Amoureuses, even at full price, for a tasting (despite the domaine owning one whole hectare. It used to be more. How come the change?) I don't think it would have been intrusive to point out that Frédéric Esmonin is disabled, or that cousin Sylvie obviously likes large men, having dallied with Emmanuel Humbert and now being with the 'patissier', Dominique Laurent, or that Sylvain Cathiard suffers from a severe stutter.
There are a few errors and omissions, though by and large the book, assembled as a result of interviews in the summer of 2009, does not miss much. One might be given the impression that Charles Rousseau is no longer with us. Happily this is not the case. More seriously we are told that Jean Gros managed his domaine until 1995. In fact he took a back seat in favour of his son Michel more than fifteen years prior to this. (It was in 1995 that the labels were changed from Jean to Michel.) There is no mention of Faiveley's long term problems with badly seasoned wood, instantly rectified when son Erwan and Bernard Hervet took over in 2006. Nor of the Clos des Epeneaux's change from vinification by age of plots to cuvées representing the different soils in the Clos.
But above all I searched for that odd detail which brings profiles such as these to life. I found it in the piece on the Domaine Comte Armand. Fresher flavours and more finesse, (since Benjamin Leroux took over from Pascal Marchand) point out the authors correctly. 'Perhaps I'm a calmer person.' replies Benjamin.
One further discordant note. Michael Broadbent spends most of his introduction reminiscing about the bad old days when merchant Burgundy destined for Britain and the rest of northern Europe was cut with wine from the Midi, even Algeria. 'No one complained', he says. That is not the point. The wine was ungenuine. He and his peers should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.