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Wine Books: Bettane & Desseauve

Michel Bettane & Thierry Desseauve are two of France's most pre-eminent wine critics, having established themselves as editors of the leading French wine publication, La Revue des Vins de France. They retired from the RVF in 2004.

Bettane & DesseauveThe World's Greatest Wines (2006)
Michel Bettane & Thierry Desseauve
Stewart, Tabori & Chang Inc.
Available from Amazon (UK) and Amazon (USA)
ISBN-13: 978-1584795575

The idea is simple and a sure-fire recipe for success. Take two of the world's leading wine critics, such as Bettane and Desseauve, who each have an impressive track record as insightful and experienced tasters and though-provoking writers. Put them to work on a personal but well-researched and heavyweight publication detailing only the greatest wine estates in the world. Pepper the finished article with more high quality, glossy images than you can shake a stick at. How could it possibly go wrong?

In many respects, the above train of thought really does apply. This really is an attractive book, touching almost 600 pages in length, printed on good quality paper and with no shortage of stunning, eye-catching imagery. But the final package is little more than a coffee table book, and is certainly not for the truly dedicated enthusiast, which is perhaps surprising given the calibre of the authors. The 170 colour photographs are a joy to behold, but the level of detail on each estate is paltry, a single paragraph of large, wide-spaced type-face filling half the page (one page dedicated to each winery), the remainder a brief synopsis of the vineyards and the authors' favourite wines, as well as a single label image. This is not for the hardened enthusiast, which is where I thought these two names had their following, but is perhaps instead for the drinker who wishes to fast track to only the top estates, as judged by Bettane and Desseauve, without the inconvenience of developing any relationship with the domaines, or real depth of knowledge of them and their wines.

It is easy to pick at the estates included, and those left out, and these judgements are always open to debate (and I suppose form part of the pleasure of such a book) and so I will pass over such arguments. I think this book has deeper problems than this, and the superficial information it provides. It has an air of detachment about it; there are two great names behind this publication, for whom I have tremendous respect, but I wonder just how many hours these knowledge-rich and no doubt time-poor experts have put into this particular tome? The back cover blurb describes both authors as being editors of La RVF, something which has not been true since 2004; have they omitted to inform the publisher of this fact? The Zind-Humbrecht profile debates the great work of Olivier Humbrecht, but the accompanying picture and legend concerns Léonard, his father, who now takes a backseat. This is confusing for those who do not already know this information, as there is no mention of any such fact in the text. The description of Schlumberger's cuvées also confounds, comparing Anne and Christine (both Gewurztraminers) to mythical vendange tardives and sélections de grains nobles, of which they are themselves examples. No such non-eponymously named Gewurztraminer-based wines exist in the portfolio, and Cuvée Clarisse, the estate's most elusive wine, does not even receive a mention. The Mouton synopsis gives some very sketchy, downright false information on the artists and their labels, which disappoints greatly. Whose hand was on the tiller when this was written? I could go on, but I think my point has been made. This is a fabulous book for browsers, and those who wish to pore longingly over some fabulous wine-related photography. The fact-hungry, however, should move on.