Book club: 'Inside Bordeaux: The Châteaux, Their Wines and the Terroir', by Jane Anson

Jacopo Mazzeo

Jacopo Mazzeo

11 June 2020

Last month, Berry Bros. & Rudd released Inside Bordeaux, a detailed and well-informed tome on France's famous region signed by Bordeaux specialist Jane Anson. News editor Jacopo Mazzeo went through its pages

Did we really need another book on Bordeaux? Historical wine merchant Berry Bros. & Rudd and Bordeaux wine specialist – and Bordeaux resident – Jane Anson certainly thought so, when they agreed on the publication of the 700-page tome, Inside Bordeaux: The Châteaux, Their Wines and the Terroir.

Bordeaux’s fame as one of the world’s most admired fine wine regions has led a plethora of influential authors, ranging from Hugh Johnson to Oz Clarke, to dedicate countless words to the châteaux, labels, and regulations that make it so unique. So, what makes this new release an appealing publication for wine professionals, sommeliers and students?

A bit of background

The tome opens with an introduction to the region, providing details on its history, economic dynamics, leading grape varieties and winemaking styles. The background features a section on Bordeaux’s different classifications, a sometimes controversial subject to which Anson dedicates a detailed explanation and offers some personal commentary, too – ‘no, no and no again,’ she replies to those who wonder whether the 1855 of Médoc and Graves classification will ever be revisited.

In this introductory chapter, Anson doesn’t miss the opportunity to touch on climate change issues. This includes a short paragraph on the seven ‘outsider’ grape varieties that, following France’s launch of its countrywide experimentation programme in 2018, were admitted to the production of AOCs Bordeaux, Bordeaux Supérieur, Bordeaux lanc, and Entre-deux-Mers last year.

The effect of the warming climate on the region is taken into account across all chapters of this book and has unquestionably informed the terroir section

Given the practical and symbolic significance of these developments for both the region and the world of wine as a whole, the topic could have been given further attention, perhaps with details on how and where these new varieties are being experimented with. 

Climate change-related issues however, haven't been overlooked. In fact, the effect of the warming climate on the region is taken into account across all chapters of the book and has unquestionably informed the terroir section (p.64-70), where readers can find Anson’s explanation of vintage variations, usefully complemented by a number or temperature maps.

Focus on terroir

To tackle the discussion of Bordeaux’s ‘terroirs’, Anson teamed up with terroir-in-viticulture specialist Cornelis (Kees) van Leeuwen, professor of viticulture at Bordeaux Sciences Agro and Bordeaux University’s Institut des Sciences de la Vigne et du Vin.

The result of this collaboration is a scientifically informed explanation of Bordeaux’s different pedoclimates and microclimates, the degree to which these cause vintage variation and how they translate into the liquid in the glass, plus some 58 brand-new, full-colour maps dotted around the book, including sets in gatefolds (you’ll be able, for instance, to compare Grave’s topography, soils, and gravel terraces all at the same time).

You’ll be able, for instance, to compare Grave’s topography, soils, and gravel terraces all at the same time

It’s such an in-depth – and unusually scientifically accurate – analysis of Bordeaux’s subregions that really sets this book apart from any previous publication on the region, and makes it a remarkable study tool.

The châteaux and their wines

Inside Bordeaux’s final chapter is dedicated to the region’s appellations, producers and wines. Appellations are grouped into four sub-chapters (Northern Left Bank, Southern Left Bank, Right Bank, Between the Rivers and Wider Bordeaux). Within these, considerable space is given to sub-regions that wouldn’t normally benefit from much attention, such as Fronsac, Lalande-de-Pomerol, and Francs Côtes de Bordeaux.

Each appellation is introduced with details on area of production (communes names), overall number of winemakers, average estate size, key terroir types, classification systems, key appellation rules, allowed grape varieties, and a more discursive, broader overview of the region. 

Anson’s châteaux entries unveil her unmatched understanding of the region and intimate insight into its producers. Each single profile is a personalised account of the people behind the labels, their wines, their philosophies, and their stylistic choices

To these follow châteaux profiles. Interestingly, although not unusual, producers are ordered first by classification – where relevant – then in alphabetical order within it, a choice that might make the book’s sorting order difficult to navigate when, for instance, the Saint-Émilion classification will be revised next (in theory as early as 2022).

The chapter features plenty of lesser-known wines and producers (from orange to natural, and from unusual varietal wines to those made from ungrafted vines) and a strict alphabetical order would have given a more democratic voice to all. It would have also valorised the author’s own rating (JA rating), a more trustworthy one compared to any existent classification – in this writer’s opinion.

Indeed, Anson’s châteaux entries disclose her unmatched understanding of the region and intimate insight into its producers. Each single profile is a personalised account of the people behind the labels, their wines, their philosophies, and their stylistic choices.

Inside Bordeaux: The Châteaux, Their Wines and the Terroir is the most complete, up-to-date, and scientifically informed book on Bordeaux currently on the market. Nearly two decades of work as a Bordeaux insider, paired with the extraordinary level of detail that characterises each page, make this book a genuinely invaluable tool for any wine student, enthusiast or sommelier serious about the region.

£60, Berry Bros. & Rudd, bbr.com

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