This book is brilliant on so many levels that it's hard to know where to start.
First up, it operates as a guide to French wine. It explains French wine law (why labels on wine tell you what they do), it gives you vintages assessments for every region in recent years, and it lists recommended producers from every region in France (and even which within their range are worth trying). The information here will bypass absolute beginners, but will still please a broad range of people, from those with just a drop of knowledge to geniune connoisseurs.
Second, it is a wonderful evocation of France. Time and again, descriptions of scenes and moments drip with atmosphere: Jefford's witty, eloquent prose is a pleasure to read. And he's strong on describing the current issues in the French wine industry.
Yet what's most significant is that Jefford is a man with a thesis whose implications are in their way both moral and spiritual. In the new France he envisages, wine should become more truly reflective of the terroir from which it grows. Far from lambasting the AOC system (tying labelling to terroir rather than grape-variety), he rejoices in it.
And this delight in the invidivuation of wines, to reflect every nuance in the land, leads him to lament two things: first, the increasing branding of wine, which inevitably seeks to iron out variation.
His vision is to get rid of the marketing departments: let the vignerons become both viticulteur and salesman. Let those who understand the land, and the wine from which it grows, be those who communicate it to the world. That way, truth lies.
His second lament is that of winemakers who do not acknowledge their land in which they work. He laments New World winemakers and British winewriters who seek only after 'fruit'. Fruitiness in wine is for him a temporary, superficial pleasure, because fruity wine can come from anywhere. Wine should emphasise its terroir, for only that piece of land can produce that bottle of wine. Choice of grapes should therefore not be decided on by what pleases the public, but by what best draws out and delineates the terroir from which it comes.
It is possibly an elitist argument, but in the five years since the first edition of this book was published, it has been substantiated rather than damaged. Chasing the consumers led to widespread planting of chardonnay in the last 90s, only for consumers to head away to sauvignon blanc and viognier. The Robert Parker inspired Merlot phenomenon led to hectare upon hectare of Merlot but "Sideways" led a counter rebellion against it.
For Jefford, yes, grow Merlot, but only where Merlot draws out the land. His heroes are those who insist on, Carignan, say, in Provence, because that's what works there. The vigneron should submit himself to the land, not try to make the land grow what is not 'true' to that land: that is too arrogant. Jefford's not uncritical of the AOC system - it's clumsy and slow to change in many places - but the fact that it that has preserved pinot noir in Burgundy, chenin blanc in the Loire, and syrah in the Rhone etc. is something for which he rejoices.
In exploring this thesis, the whole book is transported beyond a guide to French wine to something much deeper and more profound. I didn't agree with all of it, but in its quirky way it's made me think more than almost any other piece of non-fiction I've read in the last five years.
A brilliant book, then, full of pleasures and with much to ruminate on. One you will keep wanting to dip into.
This book could be summed up in two words - France and terroir. Yet to do so would be a massive injustice on such an and obviously well-researched book. Firstly, to France. The author, Andrew Jefford takes you on a memorable tour of the wine regions of France, as well as a background of the history of French Wine Law. For each region that he visits, he explains the history of the area, what is good about it, some myths and common accusations, and gives details of the top producers. Then there's the terroir. You cannot help but come away from this book understanding that the soil, climate and history of a region are intrinsic to the production of a wine, much more so than in other countries. And it is the history of French wine makers, who care passionately about what they do (if a little arrogantly in the past), that has produced these efforts. The most impressive aspect of the book, however, was it's style - I found it to be a breath of fresh. Most other wine books are full of facts, figures, maps and diagrams, with precious little in the way of decent narrative. This volume, on the other hand, paints a vivid picture of the vineyards of Burgundy, the landscape of Alsace, and the beauty of South West France. I almost felt as though I was with Mr Jefford as he described tasting white Burgundies in the cellars beneath Corton-Charlemagne. Overall, a very good effort, and a recommendation.
Excellent book showing the huge changes we are now seeing in the oldest of old world wine areas. Andrew deals with each region of France seperately and is very informative both about the changes in each region, but also about the new wave of winemakers, using a combination of new world techniques, and old world knowledge to produce exceptional wine.
Very good book if you are seriously interested in wine. The thesis is that "terrior" is the bggest factor for "fine" wine. And the French are the king exponents. While this may not immediately be self evident to the novice wine lover it will be pretty much rammed in by the time he/she finishes this book. That said the journey through the pages is always interesting because (even during passages on the AOC system) we are in the company of impassioned people and Jefford has the accomplished gift of bringing them alive as people while not skimping on the issues of land, history and politics. The pics are a major enhancement in adding appetite appeal to the text. Handled carefully, it will make a fine present on the coffee table for any English emigree you visit, but by then you will probably want to keep it yourself.