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Book Review – Inside Burgundy, By Jasper Morris MW

By November 28, 2011No Comments

‘Inside Burgundy’ joins ‘The Great Domaines of Burgundy – 3rd Edition’ by Remington Norman & Charles Taylor MW, also published in 2010, and ‘The Wines of Burgundy’ by Clive Coates MW, published in 2008 as the current essential references on the region of Burgundy for the general, but enthusiastic wine drinker or Pinot Noir winegrower in New Zealand. All three books have a slightly different approach in covering the intricacies of this most important vignoble. Coates’ book is scholarly and presented with an emphasis on the facts that anyone would want in a good overview of the region and its appellations. It has excellent, succinct profiles of the important growers and producers. A feature of Coates’ work is the presentation of his tasting notes and ratings of thousands of wines he has tasted. Norman and Taylor’s book, while also providing a good overview, is focussed on profiling a selection of producers, and goes into much greater depth in the philosophies, growing and winemaking methods employed at each of these domaines. Jasper Morris’s book is, however, a very personal, but professional expression of his understanding of the vineyards, the wine they produce and the people who live on the land making the wines.

The first section of ‘Inside Burgundy’ sets the scene, with Morris touching on the history of the Burgundy region, the establishment of winegrowing, making and trading, the physical environment and the act of transforming white and red grapes to burgundy wine. The writing is clear, concise and thoroughly understandable for the layman, with many insights gained from over three decades of working and living in the region. It is his personal findings and research that lifts this section, making what could be a tedious schooling lesson into something that is a recounting of human lives and a way of living.

The heart of the book is his coverage of the vineyards, the wines that come from them and his sketches of the people who make them. The primary focus is on the Cote de Nuits and the Cote de Beaune, and pleasingly, he also covers the greater Burgundy regions of Chablis, the Auxerrois, the Chalonnaise and Macon as well as the styles of basic Burgundy and the specialist Cremant wines. These areas are easy to ignore and previous books have omitted detail on them, and thus current information about these is relatively scarce.

What makes ‘Inside Burgundy’ particularly charming and delightful is the personal and simultaneously dispassionate writing style of Morris. The beginning of each appellation description includes an overview with a profile of the vineyards of note, from grand cru to lieu-dits at the village level. No other book on Burgundy notes and describes so many vineyards, and on this point alone is why the book is an essential reference. Showing modesty of his own opinions, Morris incorporates the work and influence of others, notably those of the historical authorities of Lavelle and Rodier in providing his perspective of, and the ratings and standing of the vineyards. The history, the lie of the land and the feel of each appellation and vineyard listed by Morris is given, as well as his appraisal of the style and quality of the wines. It is Morris’s own thoughts and experiences that come through, and his words are truly his recollection and summary of his learning the finer points of Burgundy as he has journeyed through his career there.

Following the descriptions of the land and the wine from it, Morris profiles many of the key producers in each appellation. Again, they are generally his personal profiles, here he talks of people rather than process, though key winemaking practices are discussed. It is easy to see that many of the producers are more than acquaintances. Morris unravels the confusing interrelationships from intermarriage of famous winemaking families, such as the Gros of Vosne-Romanee and the Moreys of Chassagne.. Looking for the positives in each domaine, Morris however does state if progress is, or can be made. One could level a criticism of the selection of domaines reviewed, some given more depth than others, and some of your own noteworthy ones given a cursory description or possibly omitted altogether. But one must keep in mind the selection is very much Morris’s personal choice.

There are plenty of facts and figures provided, with the key vineyard sites broken down to who owns how much. And for many of the domaines, how much their holdings figure in different vineyards and appellations. Worthy of mention are the maps, reworked versions of the original yardsticks of Silvian Pitiot and the late Pierre Poupon. There are higher resolution maps of Montrachet and Clos de Vougeot, showing plot by plot ownership. One could be critical and say that the book lacks the detail and comprehensiveness of Coates’, and Norman and Taylor’s works, but then again those two books do not quite express the persona and passion of their authors as much as ‘Inside Burgundy’ does.

‘Inside Burgundy’ is completed by a reference section that features an appraisal of Burgundy vintages from 2009 to the 19th century, again the author’s assessment taking into account the views of others. And a wide ranging bibliography credits the writing of many others who have been enraptured with the region and its wines.

The book is a serious, but easy read, and I recommend it highly, even if one drinks just a bottle of Burgundy wine infrequently. It is obtainable directly from Berry Bros. & Rudd, but a number of fine wine retailers in the country offer it for sale.
Inside Burgundy, Jasper Morris MW, Berry Bros. & Rudd Press, London 2010
RRP £50.00

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