Noble Rot: A Bordeaux Wine Revolution

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"Echikson's understanding and explanation of how the business works...is fascinating and easy to swallow."—Michael Philips, Wall Street Journal
For wine lovers the world over, Bordeaux is the center of the universe. But in the past two decades, revolutionaries have stormed its traditional bastions, making their mark—and their fortunes—modernizing the production and marketing of wine. Noble Rot introduces us to the figures who epitomize the changes sweeping Bordeaux—the noble family behind Château d'Yquem; a ...

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Overview

"Echikson's understanding and explanation of how the business works...is fascinating and easy to swallow."—Michael Philips, Wall Street Journal
For wine lovers the world over, Bordeaux is the center of the universe. But in the past two decades, revolutionaries have stormed its traditional bastions, making their mark—and their fortunes—modernizing the production and marketing of wine. Noble Rot introduces us to the figures who epitomize the changes sweeping Bordeaux—the noble family behind Château d'Yquem; a stonemason turned winemaker whose wine, made in a garage, sells for $100 a bottle; the Maryland-based critic Robert Parker, whose opinion routinely makes or breaks a wine; the New World operations that have used branding to undercut Bordeaux's supremacy—and delves into the mysteries of the legendary classification of 1855.

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Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
..."Noble Rot" is based on the implicit assumption that the reader is familiar with these wines not just as famous old names but also as gustatory pleasures. I felt a bit like the boy pressing his nose against the toy-store window since purchasing most of the wines so lavishly praised by Echikson would require taking out a second mortgage. You, dear reader, may well feel the same, leaving you to share my lament that Echikson did not devote more attention to the lower end of the Bordeaux market.

Still, conflict in the wine business is as amusing and occasionally as instructive to read about as conflict in any other business, and for several decades Bordeaux has had plenty of it....[I]t is always fun to watch the elite squabbling in their sandbox, and that is the chief pleasure provided by "Noble Rot."
Jonathan Yardley

Publishers Weekly
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.
Kirkus Reviews
Wall Street Journal wine columnist Echikson explores the return of quality to Bordeaux over the past 20 years, as well as the economic flat-lining that will put a check on the recovery. Although his satisfying portrait of the Bordeaux wine industry in the late 20th century concentrates on a few producers, brokers, and merchants, it nonetheless provides an overview of what is happening in the region as a whole. What looked like "another painful lesson in globalization, the latest chapter in France's ongoing and mostly losing struggle to balance its artisan traditions with the unyielding demands of the marketplace," produced an interesting twist. A good number of producers decided to cut back on quantity, no longer making "the vine piss wine" and taking a more severe approach to the selection of grapes. This was most evident in the work of the garagistes, whose social battles with the mandarins are chronicled in sprightly fashion by Echikson, as is the whole depressing ballyhoo at Chateau d'Yquem. The author considers Robert Parker's impact on the area-wide move toward a denser wine, which infuriates many of the 10,000 producers who understand the existential mandate of terroir to be the delivery of variety, not homogenization. He brings his background in economics smartly to bear on challenges to bureaucratic regulation, the rise of cooperatives, and the overpricing of bottles (particularly those that get the Parker nod); when the stock market tanked, Echikson notes, so did the Bordeaux bubble. The most original materials here are the close portraits, in broad cross-section, of a few Bordeaux winemakers, including the profoundly artisanal garagiste Michel Gracia, arriviste Yves Vatelot atChateau Lascombes, and Chateau d'Yquem's difficult feudal paternalist, Count Alexandre de Lur-Saluces. Echikson's sleeve across the pedigreed windpipe of undeserving premier crus is a welcome reminder to seek quality, not fancy names. An entertaining introduction to Bordeaux, though little of it is new. (23 illustrations, 1 map)Agent: Michelle Tessler/Carlisle & Co.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393326949
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 12/12/2005
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

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.

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Table of Contents

Map of Bordeaux 10
Preface 11
1. Millennium Madness 21
2. Broker Business 54
3. The Rothschild Revolution 77
4. Parker Power 89
5. Sweet Injustice 111
6. Right Bank Revenge 135
7. Luxury on the Block 153
8. Riding the New Wave 164
9. A Garage Dinner 184
10. Paysan Promises 195
11. Battle Royal 218
12. Harvest Hurdles 230
13. Cellar Time 243
14. Report Card 263
15. Reality Check 276
Acknowledgments 293
Index 295
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