The Complete Bordeaux

bordeaux

A review of Stephen Brook's book 'The Complete Bordeaux'

The first part of this book, devoted to Médoc and Graves, was published separately in 2006 and won the André Simon Award. The new volume completes the survey with the addition of Sauternes and the Right Bank. Brook was eminently qualified to undertake this prodigious task, having already written two books on the region.

In his introduction he outlines the background to his approach, makes some prudent caveats about the factual information it contains (‘...the statistics - even when obtained directly from the estates - can be wildly unreliable...') and tells us why he has decided against providing formal tasting notes: ‘because other writers - notably Robert Parker, Clive Coates MW, Michael Broadbent, Michel Bettane - have already done so...' but he adds: ‘I have, in the case of important properties, given a more detailed account of the vintages I have tasted, so that the reader can gain some notion of what the wines are like to drink.

'After an excellent potted history and a description of Bordeaux's commercial market there is a chapter on ‘The Land' (terroir, grape varieties and vititulture), and a useful one on ‘Winemaking and Style' which clearly argues the pros and cons of different winemaking approaches. The heart of the book, some 600 pages, then covers all the important appellations with a general introduction, followed by a description and assessment of each property with statistics, contact details and website. Finally there is a section on the Bordeaux vintages, from 1961 to 2006.

Brook's text is first rate, but the publisher's contribution leaves room for improvement. The two ‘blocks' of colour illustrations look like an afterthought, and contribute little. And if the maps for the Left Bank are good, clear and legible, those for the Right Bank (the ‘second volume') use a point size so small as to be hard to read, along with useless topographical ‘shading' which makes them even more difficult to decipher.

The two Graves maps are misplaced (and one mistitled) within the text, and there are a fair number of inaccurate locations: Léoville-Las-Cases, Gruaud-Larose, St Pierre... The classifications would be better in a single section. There are also some needless errors: Mouton Rothschild was not a first growth until 1973, Yquem is a premier cru supérieur, not a premier grand cru. Details maybe, but in an authoritative reference book they matter. With a bit more thought and care from the publishers, this will be the comprehensively first-rate volume it deserves to be.

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