This is a scholarly volume by Remington Norman better known for his three editions of ‘The Great Domaines of Burgundy’. ‘Grand Cru’ is subtitled ‘The Great Wines of Burgundy through the Perspective of Its Finest Vineyards’ and is a comprehensive examination of Burgundy through the understanding of its top vineyard sites. The book has been out for some time now, but the material is essentially timeless, thus the content is very much current. ‘Grand Cru’ takes his earlier works on the ‘Great Domaines of Burgundy’ to a further level, but also from the perspective of the land, rather than the man, and in doing so provides a complementary approach to the understanding of arguably the world’s most complex vignoble. It is informative to have both of the author’s works (the most current the best, of course) to maximise learning from him.
Remington Norman is an ardent terroirist, believing the differences between vineyard sites can be explained in the framework of terroir. He states his position clearly in his chapter ‘The Genie of Terroir in the Cote d’Or’. The factors of the soil, topography, geology are further conceptualised by morphology, pedology, the expression through the grape variety, and the hand and history of man. He espouses the superiority of the grand cru sites of the Cote d’Or based on the criteria set by these factors.
An Examination of the Grands Crus and Finest Premiers Crus
Profiles of the Cote d’Or’s grands crus vineyards and a small number of premiers crus, deemed to be of grand cru status make up around one-third of the book. There are 29 grand cru vineyards covered, from Chambertin and Clos de Bez in the north, through Bonnes Mares, Musigny, Grands Echezeaux and Romanee-Conti to Montrachet and Criots Batard Montrachet in the south. The author has chosen 9 premiers crus for profiling as well, these being Gevrey’s ‘Combottes’ and ‘Clos St Jacques’, Chambolle’s ‘Les Amoureuses’, Nuits-St Georges’ ‘Les St Georges’, Pommard’s ‘Rugiens’, Volnay’s ‘Caillerets’, Meursault’s ‘Perrieres’’, and Puligny’s ‘Cailleret’ and ‘Pucelles’. Clearly he has thought hard about the inclusion of these on their merits, which are debated openly.
The profiles describe the vineyard, giving area and production statistics, a list of the owners, some history, and importantly details on topography and geology. Norman also describes the wines that come from the vineyard too. Adding to the profiles are topographical maps which include all the vineyards profiled. This is the meat of the book, and the author’s stance on what constitutes the most important aspects to each site’s terroir is very clear. Accompanying the profiles are evocative photographs by Jon Wyand which capture the nature of these special vineyards.
The remaining half of the book comprises a series of comprehensive chapters about the making of burgundy wine and appreciating how it fits in with the modern world. Norman gives a thorough background on the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay varieties, with a worldy perspective, discussing the clones available. There is a chapter on the influence of climate, achieving ripeness and meso- and microclimates, as well as the styles and outcomes of different vintages. The vineyard is given plenty of attention with essays on composition and the aim of quality. For the technical minded, the author discusses the vinification and elevage processes in depth for both red and white Burgundy wine.
Norman finishes the book with chapters on tasting and appreciating Burgundy wine, methodically covering the different componentry to be assessed while tasting, and advises on the benefits of cellaring, as well as understanding the character of grand cru wine. Buying wine wisely, matching with food, and awareness of hype and media are also discussed, and the bigger picture of Burgundian-styled wines from around the world are touch on.
The author does all this with an academic and scholarly approach, but he allows his humour to come through along the way. It’s a thoroughly decent and in-depth background, supporting the examination of the grand cru and premier cru vineyards. While the title may seem specialised and elite, the book offers much more insight into the growing and making of fine Burgundy wine in general, making it a very worthy addition to the wine library.
Grand Cru, By Remington Norman
Sterling Epicure, New York, 2011 ISBN 978-1-4027-8548-1