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Noble Rot: a Bordeaux wine revolution (March 16, 2006)

book review
by Dean Tudor

Noble Rot: a Bordeaux wine revolution (W.W. Norton, 2004, 301 pages, ISBN 0-393-32694-2, $21 paperback) is by William Echikson, author of Burgundy Stars; he is also wine columnist for the Wall Street Journal Europe. I missed this fine book the first time around, but now it has come back as a paperback in 2005.

Echikson lived in Bordeaux for six months in 2001, and this is his account of Bordeaux and its changes over the past twenty years, since the fabled 1982 vintage. Some major changes include the fact that a few high-end winemakers, enologists, and merchants started modernizing their approaches to wine. This was virtually forced on them by a variety of scenarios, including Robert Parker (here, 25 pages worth), New World wine branding styles, Michel Rolland and micro-oxygenation, and a stonemason-turned-winemaker (Michel Gracia) who started to make wine in his garage at US$100 a pop by simply doing careful hand pruning. There were other problems, such as the difficulty in selling futures, the competition from the New World (US and Oz) for the under-$20 market, and the collapse of the negociant brokers.

Echikson tackles wine tasting within and without the Bordeaux Union des Grands Crus. The UGC trimmed its annual list from 4000 requests to 120, losing not only some readers but engendering ill will amongst merchants and writers (at least 3880 of them). He writes about the marketing campaigns and the pricing policies, noting some successes and many failures.

By now you will have realized that this book is not just about Sauternes but about the entire red wine market. Other chapters cover the scandals and the changes in ownership, plus a few profiles of important Bordeaux families (or profiles of at least those families who would talk to him). Consulting winemakers seem to be the rule of the day, following in the steps of Rolland and the garagistes. The book is illustrated with photos of the principal players and chateaux.

Audience and level of use: Readers of wine economics, wine schools, Bordeaux lovers.

Some interesting or unusual recipes/facts: Rolland prefers California, Chile, South Africa, and the Bordeaux Right Bank to the Medoc. "It's so traditional: if you tell the Medocains that they let their vines be too prolific, they will run you out of town."

What I don't like about this book (its shortcomings): There is nothing about the Bordeaux wine lake, which is about one-third of all the French wine lake.

What I do like about this book (its positives): He's a good writer. This story needed to be told.

Quality/Price Rating: 91.

 

 

 

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