Wine Books: David Copp
David Copp has a passion for all things Tokaj, and his book gives advice on the region and not just its wines, but also travel, hotels, restaurants and more. But his knowledge is broad, allowing him to look beyond this region to others, such as St Estèphe.
The days when Bordeaux savants expressed their passion through the publication of guides to the entire region, each edition a magnum opus in terms of breadth of coverage (and sheer number of pages) seem to be behind us. Wine writing is an increasingly niche subject (in print at least - online the opposite is true), and so we should perhaps not be surprised at this shift away from huge works of biblical proportions to texts of more limited scope. In many cases these are self-published works, another indication of wine's limited appeal to publishers. None of this sounds particularly positive, but there are in fact some very welcome sequelae to these developments. Books with a more focused subject matter can deal with it in a pointed fashion, and can drill down to a level of detail not seen in grander texts. In recent years we have had seen wine books dedicated to subregions, appellations, even dedicated to a single village of the Côte d'Or. Twenty years ago we wouldn't have seen this level of expertise (I substituted the word expertise for the geekery there) and I welcome the new approach many writers are taking.
David Copp is the latest to get in on the single-appellation approach with this attractive little book on the communes and châteaux of St Estèphe. It is indeed self-published, David having put together over 200 pages of notes on Bordeaux and in particular St Estèphe with the help of Inform & Enlighten Ltd, a company run by Peter May, himself a well-known wine enthusiast. It is a welcome addition to the writing on Bordeaux; some other communes have their own dedicated texts already (Stephen Brook on Pauillac, Neal Martin's long-awaited tome on Pomerol) but this is the first time anybody has, to my knowledge, dealt with St Estèphe in this manner.
There are of course many facets to the book, but making a coarse division between two major components, the first 70-or-so pages deal with more generic Bordeaux issues, with information on climate, soils, viticulture, winemaking and recent vintages (by which David means 2009 and 2010). I think it is vital to set the scene in this manner in such a book; anyone can visit and taste, but to give this sort of information shows a good background knowledge of the region and appellation in question. It is what makes a difference between a reference text, which is how I would regard this book, and the likes of Earthly Delights from The Garden of France by Jacqueline Friedrich, which is more of a vicarious, wine-fuelled cycle ride from one tasting to another. I congratulate David for putting down some strong foundations for what follows, which is about 130 pages of château profiles, divided into four principal communes, Marbuzet, St Estèphe, Pez and Leysaac.
These profiles vary in level of detail provided, with the obvious suspects - Montrose, Cos d'Estournel, Calon-Ségur and the like - given the most column inches. There is a refreshing sense to these chapters; knowing much about the history of these estates means that when I encounter 'new' information on them it often feels as though I have read it all before, the same old story reworked and rehashed. Not so here; the profile of Cos d'Estournel, for instance, shines the spotlight on Jean-Guillaume Prats to provide a novel and engaging new look at the estate. Less well known estates, naturally perhaps, receive a less detailed examination. Nevertheless, brief though David's words may be at times, in many cases - such as with MacCarthy, Coutelin Merville, Brame Hame and a dozen other châteaux you have never heard of - these are the most detailed profiles of these estates to exist today. The only omission I noted was in Marbuzet; isn't there a Château Marbuzet, also owned by Michel Reybier of Cos d'Estournel, in the commune of Marbuzet itself?
My only criticism of David's work, which on the whole I find exemplary, is that the quality of the maps used detract from the overall standard of the book. In this era of digital desktop publishing and paint-shop software it is clear that David has eschewed such tools; instead a biro and felt-tip pen are his weapons of choice. These hand-drawn maps are also inaccurate; on page 105 the road heading south out of St Estèphe is incorrectly labelled as the D2 (when that is the road to Leysaac), and Château Laffitte-Carcassett seems to lie some way west of its true position. This might be a consequence of David's road confusion, the château having been located relative to the wrong route. Alternatively, it might be deliberate on the part of the owners who may, by hiding their true location, be trying to stem the tidal wave of wealthy Asian visitors desperately hunting for anything Lafite. Well, maybe.
On the whole though this is a great little book and I'm delighted to have it in my possession. Importantly, it seems to be bang up to date; I checked up a number of profiles looking for recent developments in the commune and they were all reflected within the text. In the little world of print publishing, that's quite an achievement. As a consequence, especially as it retails at a very fair price, this book would make a valuable addition to any wine library.
All of the world's greatest wine regions have their guides; those interested solely in Burgundy, Bordeaux or similar can feast on specialised texts. So pity the poor lover of Tokaj, Hungary's historic wine, who lives in a world void of relevant information. At least, that was the case before David Copp published his book dedicated to all things Tokaj. In this guide Copp brings together a wealth of information on the region and its wines, but he goes beyond the call of duty in the breadth of his advice.
Like any regional guide this book gives plenty of opinion on the producers, divided up into the regions of Sárospatak, Erdöbénye and Tolcsva, the Mád Basin and Tokaj Hill, and as we might expect for each of these Copp furnishes us with maps, producer profiles and details of the best wines. He also tells us where to dine, where to stay, and he even gives a nod towards the notable attractions of the region, making this a handy guide for the traveller. For those wanting a more detailed knowledge of the wines, the opening sections provide information on climate, terroir, viticulture, varieties, winemaking, vintages and a potted history. And for the visitor, he has more than a few words on transport, itineries for the tasting traveller, hotels, restaurants, shopping, the local telephone system and some useful websites. In fact the only unusual feature of this text is the foreword, where Hugh Johnson's remit seems to be drift off into his own Hungarian dream, before he suddenly remembers he is introducing an author and a book, and they appear in his final sentence. Nevertheless, this is a little gem of a book which embodies the passion that Copp clearly has for the region and the wines, and which will be extremely useful to both the Tokaj drinker and the traveller in Hungary.