What is the point of a wine book?
How do you review one?
Is Neal Martin’s book, “Pomerol”, any good?
If you are just starting to learn about wine you need two books: “The Oxford Companion to Wine” (Jancis Robinson) and “The World Atlas of Wine” (Jancis Robinson and Hugh Johnson). These two are so good and, between them, so comprehensive in their coverage of just exactly what is what that, unless you need to start pretending to be some sort of authority, they’ll do you forever.
But what if you do want to be an expert, or at least pretend to be?
If, like me, your calling is Burgundy then again you need just two books: “Inside Burgundy” (Jasper Morris) and “The Wines of Burgundy” (Clive Coates). And I haven’t outgrown either of them; indeed I have a copy of the former at both home and office. I refer to each of them weekly, occasionally daily.
So: I think the answer to question one is that the point of a wine book is information; education. A good wine book isn’t necessarily something that you read from end to end – there is rarely a plot – it’s something that is dipped into from time to time; something that helps you. And a good wine book is well written; it’s easy to understand. It’s like that teacher that WANTED you to work out how convection worked.
The answer to question two is more tricky, so I’ll change the question: what makes a good wine book?
My favourite wine book is “Inside Burgundy”. It has everything. The detail is almost arrogant in its depth: the name of the vineyard behind my mate’s house in Junay? Vaumorillon. And most people don’t even know where Junay is. “Inside Burgundy” is for me the benchmark of what a good wine book should be: total in terms of coverage, accuracy and clarity. And in terms of the information, it contains the information that I want; it answers the questions that I am asking. Nothing is unfathomable, though with Jasper you feel sure that you have touched bottom.
Final question: is Neal’s book any good?
Like most wine books of this size, it’s not something that I’d read end to end. This is more about my attention span (think of goldfish) than anything else. So I thought I’d give it a test. More words have been written on Petrus than bottles have been drunk. Likewise Le Pin, and probably VCC, Evangile, Conseillante and all that crowd too. So I decided to randomly look up a property that is off the radar. I originally thought of something like Croix du Casse or Bon Pasteur but the card to play was obvious: Feytit-Clinet: a property that I thought I knew well until I read what Neal has written about it. Some perspective here: Feytit-Clinet is such a small place that you taste in the garden if the sun is out…
If you want to know what Neal says about Feytit-Clinet then you should either buy the book or ask Neal himself. What I’ll say about what he writes is this: all the technical stuff is there and is correct; likewise the historical stuff. That would be enough in its own right and some one-liner bit of inside info – that the dog is called Merlot or similar – would have added the gravy for most books, but there is much, much more here. In the factory that is Bordeaux, Pomerol is perhaps the only region of renown that seems to have a soul. There is something Burgundian to it in both vineyard and vigneron in that you get the impression that it’s a place where the wines can and do reflect the character of the man or woman that made them, the particular soil from which the grapes are born, and that it counts. And “Pomerol” captures this, captures the soul. As far as Feytit-Clinet is concerned, I want to own some (again) after reading it.
I think that answers question three. I wasn’t sure what I’d do if I thought that “Pomerol” was rubbish or indeed merely average to good. I’m rather grateful that it’s neither. “Inside Burgundy” remains my desert island wine book; “Pomerol” isn’t a million miles off, and not a bad companion at all if you are looking to navigate a region where the most used compass in recent years has been Neal’s employer, or perhaps just his scores.
A final word or two:
The maps in the book: brilliant.
Neal’s writing style is what some might call Marmite. I’ve always been a Bovril man myself, though do go to the other side from time to time. There is personality to this book: a good thing.
I need to write a book. If I could write one as good as this I would be more than happy.