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Noble Rot


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William Echikson, author of Burgundy Stars, lives in Brussels, where he is bureau chief for Dow Jones Newswires and a wine columnist for Wall Street Journal Europe.


In vino veritas. Yet as Echikson (Burgundy Stars) shows in this entertaining journey through Bordeaux's wine-making landscape, the truth of wine is also highly subjective and subject to change. Bordeaux has long epitomized fine wine. In 1662, Echikson relates, the English diarist Samuel Pepys described "a sort of French wine called Ho Bryan that hath a good and most particular taste...." This Haut-Brion was the first Bordeaux wine; it would soon join a handful of other chateaux that became the coveted "first growths." Indeed, Thomas Jefferson noted there were "four vineyards of first quality": Margaux, Latour, Lafite and Haut-Brion. After a rigid classification system was imposed in 1855, it seemed likely that the French reverence for tradition would make "innovative Bordeaux" an oxymoron. Over the last several decades, however, some revolutionary "garagistes" (garage wine makers) have begun using new growing and wine-making techniques to show the world that less than perfect land and less than blue blood can yield extraordinary wines. Echikson, a wine columnist for Wall Street Journal Europe, profiles merchants, brokers, enologists and the most influential wine critic in the world, the American Robert Parker. The title comes from Chateau d' Yquem, the maker of a legendary sauterne ("noble rot" has to do with allowing grapes to begin to rot on the wine to achieve concentration and sweetness). Oenophiles will come away from this lively account with a sense of how globalization and economics have challenged the rot and created ferment and growth in ancient Bordeaux. 23 illus. Agent, Michelle Tessler. (May) Forecast: Bordeaux is the world's wine capital, and few books have covered it as accessibly as Echikson does. The author's connection to WSJ Europe and his status as Brussels bureau chief for Dow Jones Newswires will help his book get media coverage. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

At first glance, a book about wine and winemaking in Bordeaux may seem too specialized to engage all but the most sophisticated oenophiles. Yet Echikson (Burgundy Stars: A Year in the Life of a Great French Restaurant), a wine columnist for the Wall Street Journal Europe, has written a thoroughly engrossing account of how tradition-ridden Bordeaux has been transformed by new money, modern technology, and international tastes. He deftly describes the personalities and events that triggered these changes and, ultimately, enhanced Bordeaux's reputation for producing outstanding wines. A key factor is the successful challenge to the French government's 1855 classification that determined whose wines were of higher quality and, accordingly, commanded higher prices. Then there are the garagistes (winemakers often literally working out of garages), who experiment with innovative techniques to create more flavorful, fruity wines. Another element, Echikson notes, is wine critic Robert Parker's 100-point rating system, which revolutionized the way wines are judged. And, finally, many traditional estates hit hard by inheritance taxes and economic necessity passed out of family hands. A fine addition to larger public libraries and wine collections.-Andrea Dietze, Orange Cty. P.L., Santa Ana, CA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

"Highly informative. . . Echikson has a journalist's eye for the entertaining anecdote and the telling detail."

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