Books: Inside Bordeaux, Jane Anson
Inside Bordeaux: the Châteaux, their wines and the terroir
BB&R Press, London, 2020
Few wine books can be described as category busters. This term refers to the situation where competitors are totally outflanked in business: someone is doing something so well, or has such good first-mover advantage, that they rule a particular category, and can’t be beaten. There are three that have done this in the past: Hugh Johnson’s World Atlas of Wine; Jancis Robinson’s Oxford Companion to Wine; and the Vouillamoz/Harding/Robinson collaboration Wine Grapes. Now there’s a fourth: Jane Anson’s Inside Bordeaux.
This really is a brilliant book, and in part this is because it is actually innovative. There have been legion worthy-but-dull titles written about this, the world’s largest fine wine region. Some of them are quite comprehensive. But this book is better because its focus – the foundation on which it is built – is terroir. As well as a thorough chronicling of all the significant (and many less significant) properties and producers, there’s some seriously good, academic-level charting of the terroir of this region. For this is what makes Bordeaux interesting – not the wealth concentrated in the top 4%, nor the famous names, the consultants, the fancy cellars and Château, nor the sociology of the global trade and speculation of the most celebrated wines – but rather the fact that the region has quite a lot of spots that are very good for growing wine grapes.
For this, Anson has sought help from the top experts in the region (most notably, Professor Kees Van Leeuwen), and with her clear writing style and general smartness, she has translated the soils, climatic factors and underlying geology into language that is intelligible for many in the wine trade. There is also some excellent photography by Jason Lowe.
Bordeaux is a complicated, somewhat disjointed wine region. Inequality abounds. It’s also somewhat politicized. Anson deals with the tricky topics skilfully. Living in the region, it can’t have been easy for her to choose the right line, and it would be ever so easy to be an establishment stooge. She avoids this. The writing style is composed but easy to read, and there’s a genuine openness and honesty on display, which earns the trust of the reader. We feel like we are in safe hands.
It’s also the right time for this book. The region has – and to some extent still does – struggled with excess. Just too much of everything: ripeness, winemaking, ego, greed. But we are now moving away from the era of the consultant winemaker as God (even though consultant winemakers are important in the region, perhaps none more so than Eric Boissenot who is extremely busy with some of the most famous Châteaux), and back to the terroir. [At least a bit.]
The only real flaw in this book is that it lacks an index. It has an index of the Chateaux, so you can find a specific producer. But no proper index (there were a few things I wanted to look up, and I couldn’t). But that is a relatively minor quibble. This is a seriously useful book.