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Saturday, 29 September 2012

Chris Kissack's Pocket Guide to The Wines of Bordeaux

Chris Kissack's Pocket Guide to The Wines of Bordeaux, published by the somewhat clumsily-named MagBook, aims to have the depth of information of a book with the turnaround time of a magazine and is priced part-way between a book and a magazine.

Bordeaux was my first proper introduction to decent, reliable wine - for me, Bordeaux has never been about particular, world-famous First Growth chateaux or the great appellations; rather, I've more generally found enjoyment and value in good, everyday wines.

And that's the problem with Bordeaux - it's so many things to so many people; with an output greater than the whole of Australia, it can be a status symbol for Asian billionaires or an investment vehicle for speculators; an eye-wateringly expensive indulgence or an everyday wine; a wine to mature for years, decades or even more or something to drink shortly after vintage.

It can be red or, increasingly, white. It can be rosé. It can be sweet.

The book is extremely well-written (all of it, unusually, by Chris himself) and is laid out logically and clearly.

In his introduction, Chris says that the book is aimed at everyone from the novice to the deep-pocketed enthusiast with introductory sections on the minor regions and more in-depth analyses of the great Chateaux, plus a review of the last decade of vintages and some more off-the-cuff magazine articles on topical issues, such as the rise of China and changes to the en primeur system.

There are also a few "static" sections on professional storage and the right type of glasses that feel like they've come straight out of the wine-book identikit archive.

Overall, however, this MagBook's strengths are perhaps also its weaknesses - the almost 150 pages of it contain vast amounts of information and Chris' enthusiasm for and depth of knowledge about the region is patently clear.

But for me, it feels in many ways like an old-fashioned reference book and would benefit from more in the way of wisdom and less base information.

Moreover, there is very little price information, and since we know prices for Bordeaux can vary greatly, it might have been useful to structure some of the sections around price - I am rarely, if ever, going to spend several hundred pounds on a bottle of wine, for example, so why not put the details of all those wines in a separate section that I know is out of my range.

Since there is also no information on where to source the wines described or recommended, the guide feels more like a compendium of background information than a useful what-and-where-to-buy.

And this is a pity - because Chris is clearly an expert in Bordeaux with a huge depth and breadth of knowledge. But with so much information available on Wikipedia and the ability to read it on the daily commute with an iPad, the general background information here is of less use than it would have been even a few years ago.

So, I'd really like to see a bit more emphasis on something different and unique - be it value-added expert wisdom or even just entertaining anecdote and opinion of which I'm sure Chris must have plenty.

Also, some information on indicative pricing would help to provide something of a structure - it is one thing to read a description of a sub-region or specific chateau, but another thing altogether to be able to afford it these days.

£6.29 (hardcopy) / £4.99 (kindle) from amazon - provided for review.

Additional review by Jim Budd here.


Chris Kissack - website, twitter
Pocket Guide to The Wines of Bordeaux - ebook on amazon

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