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Book Review: Noble Rot (A Bordeaux Wine Revolution)

Vinted on April 28, 2008 binned in wine books

Book Review – Noble Rot: A Bordeaux Wine Revolution by William Echikson

“…the soil of Yquem is like that of a Stradivarius”
- Lur Saluces

The second edition of the on-line Wine Book Club is being hosted by Tim over at the venerable Winecast.net blog. For more information on the WBC, or to jump on in and participate yourself in a book review, check out the official Wine Book Club website and the the Shelfari WBC reader group.

This time around, Tim has chosen Noble Rot: A Bordeaux Wine Revolution by William Echikson. The book is not short on accolades, having been a James Beard Foundation Award finalist. Echikson is also no slouch of a writer, having worked for Dow Jones, the Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek, and written a handful of other well-received books (on wine and other topics).

The Low Down
Noble Rot centers (for the most part) on the history (ancient and recent) of Chateau Yquem, the Sauternes-based makers of some of the sweetest, most expensive, and most intoxicating elixirs known to winemaking…


Similar to Hungary’s famous Tokaji, the sweet wines of Sauternes receive their special magic by virtue of the fungus Botrytis cinearea (aka noble rot). The fungus draws out the water and concentrates the juice left in the grapes while on the vine, and also imparts exotic hints of yeast to the final ultra-sweet wine. High in acidity and sugars, the wines of Yquem are typically capable of aging for decades, if not hundreds of years, while still retaining sweetness and fruity complexity.

Nature doesn’t always cooperate to provide the right environment year-on-year for noble rot – so sweet Yquem is not always produced in every vintage, and grape selection is a laborious (and therefore expensive) process.

[ On a side note, I’ve often wondered who the first poor schlep was that decided to ferment the grapes affected by Botrytis. Like lobster, there is nothing appetizing about their appearance; that person must have been really, really desperate at the time – “I don’t give a sh*t what they look like – throw them into the vat!”… ]

The result is an ultra-expensive, ultra-complex wine, from a Chateau with extreme cache factor (having been run by a single family of nobility for generations). Even at restaurants where it’s offered, Yquem doesn’t always make it onto the wine list.

With a big spender who doesn’t know anything about wine, putting a bottle of Château d’Yquem on the table is like giving a Porsche to a 16-year-old.” – Aaron Brown, Sommelier of L.A.’s Ortolan restaurant.

The term “noble rot” could also be applied to the nasty struggle for power within the ranks of Yquem itself, to which Echikson devotes a good portion of the book.

Most interesting for me in Noble Rot was how Echikson skillfully details the work ethic of love-him-or-hate-him wine critic Robert Parker. It’s fascinating to watch how a small parcel of Right Bank Bordeaux land, modern winemaking techniques, and a rising Parker score can take a Bordeaux family from near-poverty conditions to fame and fortune (as was the case for the makers of Valandraud), culminating in bad blood between business relations. As Jacques Thienpont (the force behind the similarly meteoric Le Pin) says in Noble Rot: “Life is like a river… You follow it and it takes you on a strange course.” Some stranger than others, no doubt.

Buy It or Skip It?
This is a tough call for me. The book is certainly well-written. But I struggled to understand the best audience to appreciate what the book has to offer. If you can put yourself in one (or more) of the following categories, then you’re liable to love Noble Rot and should probably buy it as soon as possible:
a) You love you some Bordeaux wine
b) You prefer your history shaken, & with a twist of gossip
c) You are in the wine industry.

Otherwise, you may enjoy it as a decent read – or you may wonder what all the fuss is about and why Echikson is spending so much time dealing with stuffy old EU nobles fighting each other over stylistic differences and the merits of class. “Just pass the damn Le Pin already!” you may find yourself shouting. So, I hesitate to recommend this book to the casual wine aficionado – there are more accessible (and equally interesting) reads out there for the budding wine lover.

I struggled to understand the best audience to appreciate what the book has to offer.

Lur Saluces (who heads Yquem) has said that “Yquem basically belongs to those whom love it and no matter from whence they come… it belongs to its admirers.”

In other words, it’s not for everybody. And neither is Noble Rot.

Cheers!

(images: amazon.com, antique-wine.com, och.free.fr)

Shop Dude! Wine, Accessories, and Tools for Wine Learning Available on 1WineDude.com

Vinted on April 5, 2008 binned in about 1winedude blog, wine books, wine buying, wine eBook, wine tasting


I’ve been getting some reader feedback that the various items we’ve got for sale via 1WineDude.com are arranged in a, let’s just say, less than optimal fashion.

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Book Review: Vino Italiano (The Regional Wines of Italy)

Vinted on February 25, 2008 binned in book reviews, Italian Wine, wine books

This post, the Dude is offering his review of Joseph Bastianich’s & David Lynch’s weighty tome on all things Italo-wine-related: Vino Italiano.

My review is part of a larger blog-carnival-type effort with near-simultaneous reviews of the same book happening at other wine blogs, called the Wine Book Club. You can check out some of the haps and conversation at the Shelfari book group. For more on the background of WBC, and a bit about the authors of Vino Italiano, check out my previous post on the subject.

The Low-Down
You’d think that a 500+ page book would warrant a lengthy review, but that’s simply not the case here (thankfully!). This is mostly due to the well-considered layout of the book.

Vino Italiano is divided into three sections:

  1. A primer on Italian wine history & wine laws (essential information if you hope to understand an Italian wine label!)
  2. A tour of each of Italy’s major wine regions in turn, starting with cultural interactions / story-telling, moving to well-written descriptions of the wine styles of the region, and ending with a recommended regional food & wine pairing
  3. Reference material, including a glossary of Italian wine terminology, and a wine producer directory.


How To Use This Book
Novices will find the first section particularly useful. When you’re dealing with Italian wine, expect to be confused – there’s simply no easy way to deal with it, so you might as well jump right in; this section will help make that jump as painless as possible.

Wine geeks like the Dude here will find the 3rd section the most interesting, if only for a handy reference to remind us what some of the Italian wine label terms mean, or digging up the detail on what is and isn’t permitted in some of the regional quality classifications, etc.

Most people, however, will find the book’s large midsection the most useful. That’s because the authors of Vino Italiano know what the Italians know: the only way to truly appreciate Italy’s regional wine treasures in full is to experience them as part of a larger picture – that picture including a unique blend of regional culture, history, and (most importantly) food.

The majority of Italian wines are meant to be consumed with their regional gustatory counterparts – the recipe and wine pairings (provided by Lidia Bastanich and household-name Mario Batali) at the end of each chapter are not after-thoughts – they are essential components if you want to “get” Italian wine. Personally, I’ve been hoping to try the Spagheti alla Luganica and Anglianico del Vulture pairing (see pgs. 330-331). If you don’t get hungry at some point when reading Vino Italiano, then you’re missing the point.

You needn’t read the book cover-to-cover – the book is structured so that skipping around to read about a particular region will give you a perfectly good understanding of that region and its wines.

Buy It or Skip It?
Buy it. Vino Italiano is well-written (Dude majored in English Lit. in undergrad, so he does not offer that sort of praise lightly!), and its harmonious blend of regional Italian culture, food, and wine make it a winner. It’s also a book that will provide benefit for a wine lover at nearly every stage of his/her wine knowledge development. This is one of the few instances where a book’s many accolades (on the jacket, and in its on-line user reviews) are well-deserved.

Cheers, and happy reading!

Wine Book Club 1st Edition, and Tasteless Exploitation of Naomi Watts

Vinted on January 31, 2008 binned in wine books


OK, so Dude is waaaaaaaaaaaaay late in giving this event props and publicity blogging love… But in the case of love, later is always better than never (that’s what I always say anyway – and I come from a fine, distinguished, and long line of justifiers!).

The on-line Wine Book Club has been launched earlier this month, with the first edition being hosted over at McDuff’s Food & Wine Trail. I met David McDuff recently at Moore Brothers and I can tell you from first-hand experience that the guy has serious wine smarties, especially when it comes to boutique Italian, German, French, and Austrian wineries. So by the Dude’s standards, David seems like a splendid choice to get the wine book club ball a’rolling.

The first wine book that will be reviewed by the Wine Club is Vino Italiano: The Regional Wines of Italy by Joseph Bastianich & David Lynch.

No, not that David Lynch!…


This David Lynch is the beverage director over at NYC’s celebrated restaurant Babbo. Also, I’m pretty sure that there aren’t any bizarre dream sequences in this book… or hot naked shots of Naomi Watts either… at least, not that I’ve come across so far in my reading (but a Dude can hope…!). And if you wanna peruse glossies of Naomi Watts naked (meaning she was naked in the pics, not you naked while perusing them), that’s probably best done while learning about Aussie wines. Not that the Dude spent any appreciable time considering it. Or for that matter searching the Internet for erotic-but-still-tasteful photos of Namoi Watts for this post. At least, not too much time.

Er, uhm, was I saying something about a book??

Anyway, this mighty tome on Italian vino (which also features Italian wine region recipes by Mario Batali, by the way) looks intimidating at first glance, but it’s actually a very quick read – and there is still more than enough time for you to pick up a copy, join the book club love over at shelfari.com, and contribute to the reviews (due date is Feb. 26). Future events may be coordinated from a new website devoted to the book club – so watch this space.

Cheers – and happy reading!

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