Wine Books: Tom Stevenson
Stevenson's interests are Champagne and Alsace, and his words on these regions are invaluable. For a few years he also co-ordinated the publication of his Wine Report, one of the best annual guides to have ever made it into print. Sadly, the project ultimately folded, finishing with the 2008 edition.
You know that the end of the year must be approaching when the latest edition of Wine Report arrives in the post. Having missed out on the 2007 edition, it has already been a pleasure to be able to dip into the cumulative knowledge of Tom Stevenson's band of merry men (and women, of course), assembled to report on all that is new, be it good or bad, in the world of wine. The team in question remains strong, with many familiar faces, on the whole nicely paired up with their specialist subject - Bob Campbell MW for New Zealand, John Radford for Spain, Julian Jeffs for Sherry, and so on. The format is also unchanged as far as I can see, with all sections still receiving an equal weighting, but I wonder if this isn't a strength rather than a weakness? The world is awash with information on developments in Bordeaux or Burgundy - a trawl through any wine magazine's news section or preferably their website will keep you well informed - but where else can you find eight pages on what is hot and happening in the vineyards of Luxembourg, Belgium, the Atlantic Northeast of the USA or the new wineries (now 800 in 12 countries, I am informed) in Asia?
The non-regional reports remain interesting, and no doubt there is something here for everybody. Wine on the Web receives its usual run down from Tom Cannavan, who has his finger on the pulse with his treatise on myspace.com and newly developing wine sites that are run on a similar theme, and he expresses some interesting opinions on recent developments in the team of writers over at Robert Parker's site. Beverley Blanning MW does a good job of reporting news on Wine and Health, although it still has the feel of the regurgitation of medical opinion rather than a critical appraisal. I would like to see more of Beverley's views on what is published, interpreting the data for her readers, rather than her simply directly quoting what the authors have said. Nevertheless, for those with an interest in the field, this is an unrivalled resource and a very good starting point for discovering what is newly published in recent months. Overall this is a simple 'must buy' text that will be invaluable to all with an interest in wine, and what is more it remains excellent value, with a cover price that remains less than £10 - although it is considerably cheaper on Amazon. As a stocking filler, you can't go wrong.
This noble tome returns in its fourth incarnation, newly updated and hidden inside a stylishly fresh black and gold dust jacket. Despite its trendy new exterior, however, this book remains as academically comprehensive as ever, with as complete a coverage of the world's established wine regions as you could possibly wish for. Each appellation, DOC or AVA is accompanied by a useful shortlist of recommended producers, and a number of significant regions - the Bordeaux communes, Port, Napa, to name just three - see a little more detail in the assessment of their respective winemakers. Valuable information, but the gold dust within this book are the data on the wine producing regions themselves, rather than the recommendations.
Pore through this attractively illustrated (decent maps, labels and appropriate use of colour photography) book and you will find unrivalled detail on, for instance, the Grands Crus of Alsace; a full account of each of the fifty-ish (the book explains why it isn't undisputedly fifty) classified vineyards, the terroir, varieties successfully grown on each, associated regulations, the style of the wine and, of course, those recommended producers. It's high quality information that knocks my own account of the classification into a cocked hat. The quality of data isn't surprising of course; Tom is an Alsace (and Champagne) guru. Outside of Tom's specialist areas, though, the information remains of reassuringly high quality, and inordinately useful; even I can forget where Jasnières is once in a while. And when I next receive an enquiry about Napa's Wild Horse Valley AVA, Chile's Marga Marga Valley or South Africa's Tulbagh WO, I know to which book I will turn.
That doesn't, however, quite complete the picture. Certainly worthy of mention are the additional sections that precede and follow the wine region reviews; help on wine tasting, an account of terroir, some excellent articles on vine training, viticulture, vinification, oak, grape varieties, a vintage guide, a glossary of technical terms and even some advice on food and wine matching. On second thoughts, academically comprehensive doesn't sufficiently describe it; this is an absolute must for those who really want to understand what they're drinking.
The ultimate Champagne guide has received a makeover and update for 2003, and for any wine lover it's the perfect gift. For any Champagne lover it is a vital purchase. Both the 1998 and 2003 editions provide extensive coverage of sparkling wines outside of Champagne, but for me it is the first 140 or so pages that really make this book a vital addition to my library. It opens with detailed explorations of the winemaking process, the soil and climate of Champagne, the likely effect of global warming on the Champagne region, an analysis of Champagne flutes and more. This is before Stevenson, number one when it comes to Champagne in my opinion, begins his house by house analysis of Champagne's producers. Big names and small, some familiar - Veuve Clicquot, Bollinger, Krug - some less famous but still, going by Stevenson's write up, stuffed with quality (and value for money) - Cattier's Clos du Moulin, Clos des Goisses, LeClerc Briant and more. Following on from the Champagne section, Stevenson deals very well with the rest of France and the world, covering important wineries such as Roederer Estate, J Winery and Domaine Chandon in as much meticulous detail, and with as much enthusiasm, as their Champagne counterparts. Glossy and well presented text, label images and photographs is the style here. A brilliant book that I wouldn't be without.
Tom Stevenson’s two areas of expertise are Alsace and Champagne, and although this guide to all things vinous in Alsace is not given the glossy treatment that Champagne receives in his Encyclopaedia, it is no less authoritative. Stevenson opens with a fascinating history of wine in Alsace, revealing how radically the region has changed over just the past century. Like many of the other books in this Faber series on wine regions, there is a lot of valuable technical detail, with subsequent chapters covering viticulture, vinification and terroir. Stevenson then moves on to a full account of the wine villages of Alsace, and more importantly he discusses the Grand Cru system and its inherent problems, before an in-depth analysis of all the vineyards currently accorded this status. There is also a useful section on other named sites, the châteaux, clos and other lieux-dits. This chapter, in particular, has yielded many valuable nuggets of information when researching a particular wine or producer. The book, which approaches 600 pages in size, rounds off with an alphabetical assessment of significant (and not so significant) Alsace producers, including contact details, very useful for those choosing and locating producers to visit in the region as well as those looking to buy Alsace wine at home. A great book, and although the presentation of the Faber wine series books often leaves a lot to be desired (coarse quality paper, and the only nod here towards the need for illustrations are the 50 monochrome Grand Cru maps, which look as though they have been coarsely embellished by hand) it is nevertheless indispensable.