Book review: Pomerol, Neal Martin

  • Monday 1 April 2013
Pomerol Neal Martin

Neal Martin clearly adores Pomerol, and who can blame him? Moreover, there has been no recent book on the region and its exquisite wines. He has certainly done his homework, visiting with rare dedication and, given the obscurity of much of Pomerol's past, he has admirably elucidated the story of the more important properties such as Pétrus, Lafleur and Le Pin. Although many readers may skip over the more tortuous accounts of property transfers from the 18th century, I am glad the information has been unearthed.

The book is handsomely produced too, with atmospheric photographs and - a charming touch - some sketchy vineyard maps drawn by the proprietors themselves. Of the many interviews with leading château owners, that with Denis Durantou of L'Eglise-Clinet should be required reading for anyone seeking to understand Pomerol. Martin's own judgments seem essentially sound, rightly recognising the recent improvements at properties such as Feytit-Clinet and Gazin, and the failings at other domaines such as Nénin.

Yet the book as a whole is far too long, encumbered by Martin's reminiscences. We learn a great deal about his musical tastes, episodes from his childhood, his fondness for KFC, and his impressions of landscape and weather. And there are novelistic recreations of pivotal moments in certain châteaux' history - try the opening page on L'Evangile to see whether this is to your taste - and paragraphs on Clinet's Ronan Laborde's athletic prowess. A few sentences of this nature can fix a personality in the reader's mind, but at more than a page it becomes wearisome. And why is much technical information - geeky stuff on vat sizes and coopers - transcribed as winemakers' direct speech, rather than in more compact form?

Regular readers of Martin's blogs may enjoy what he calls his ‘comedic' approach, but what may entertain in the context of a fleeting blog doesn't necessarily translate onto the printed page.
Some of the writing is stylistically effortful. It's surely over the top to describe a first encounter with the admittedly beautiful Hélène Garcin as: ‘Is this how Menelaus felt when he first set eyes on Helen of Troy?' Tasting notes are generally concise but to praise the 2008 L'Enclos's ‘gourmand-like bouquet and its digestif palate' is hardly enlightening. Proust's Madeleine (p150) is a cake, not a girl. Of the Guinaudeaus, Lafleur's owners, he writes, opaquely, ‘Like Marie and Thérèse [previous owners], the iconoclasm of Lafleur does not rub off on either of them.'

None of this seriously detracts from the book's usefulness and scope, and plainly no Pomerol enthusiast need hesitate before acquiring it. But not everyone will welcome a writer's persistent insertions of his own personality onto the page, like a kid clowning and waving behind an interviewee on camera. I'm all for wit and humour, and Martin sometimes displays both, but I don't buy an expensive wine book to learn about the contents of the author's tape deck. Much of the book is invaluable, but it needed a more robust editing to tame the self-indulgence and reduce its length. 

£50 - Wine Journal Publishing

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