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Noble Rot: A Bordeaux Wine Revolution Hardcover – May, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From 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.
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A truly fascinating book. -- Peter Mayle, author of A Year in Provence

Echikson has produced an accessible, thoughtful book so filled with interesting material...that it begs to be sipped and contemplated. -- Lewis Perdue, Barron's

Will be the controversial wine event of the year...Echikson courageously chronicles...the dark side of Bordeaux. -- Robert M. Parker, Jr., author and publisher of The Wine Advocate

Will turn a few things upside-down in Bordeaux....heavy-hitters will put a price out on Echikson's head. -- Gil Lempert-Schwarz, director of

[Tells] real stories with real people and allowing them to talk in the clearest terms about claret. -- Danny Meyer, co-author of The Union Square Café Cookbook

See all Editorial Reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; First Edition edition (May 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393051625
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393051629
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,576,437 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Bevetroppo on February 23, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Noble Rot offers an interesting and in-depth look at key developments in Bordeaux over the last decade or so, a time that has probably seen more upheaval than any since the horrendous scandals of the early 1970's. In many ways, the birth of the garage movement in parallel with the apotheosis of Robert Parker, two phenomena made for each other, set off a revolution that will reverberate for decades to come, even if Steven Spurrier and other learned interlocutors have already proclaimed the whole garagiste thing a fad on the way out.

The book's narrative spins several threads together to tell its story. The primary focus, hence the book's title, is on the history of Chateau d'Yquem, the most famous sweet wine in the world, whose grapes owe their insane concentration to a mold that "ennobles" them while they rot. The other major storylines are a primer on the influence of Robert Parker, a history of the garage movement including the rise of Parker's partner in crime, Michel Rolland, and a profile of a leading Entre-de-Mers co-op and its peasant-farmer president. Along the way are sprinkled a variety of entertaining digressions and insights into the workings of other significant Bordeaux properties producing both red and sweet wines, as well as portraits of some key figures like Jeffrey Davies (hitherto unknown to me) who played a key if somewhat quiet role in the emergence of the garage movement.

The deepest treatment is naturally enough reserved for d'Yquem itself, and here the author retells the entire history of the property since the 18th century, not only the more recent events. Others may well disagree, but I found this tale of seemingly endless family feuds, intrigues and falling outs to be fatiguing over time. Too much "Dynasty" or is it Knott's Landing (?
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24 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Ronald Holden on February 24, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Echikson is one of these writers who feels that if he was there, whatever he saw must be described as if it were the most important part of the story. And if he wasn't there, he'll make it appear as if he was. He applied the same technique to Bernard Loiseau's quest for a third Michelin star in "Burgundy Stars," a book about gastronomy that failed to show how anything was actually cooked or what it actually tasted like.

In this volume, he muddles two good stories. First is the family upheaval surrounding the sale of Chateau d'Yquem. Second is an attempt to pin down changes in winemaking style influenced by wine journalist Robert Parker. The former is a classic drama; the latter a Wall Street Journal feature. The timeframe of these two tales overlap, and Echikson intercuts the narratives to give some vague sense that they're somehow related. No way.

Worse, it's clear, time and again, that Echikson hasn't got a clue how wine is actually made, so he relies on gossip about the winemakers. A very frustrating book. Thin, bitter, stylistically simplistic. Ptui.
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22 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Gary M. Greenbaum on June 23, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
William Echikson gives us a very accessible look at the Bordeaux wine industry and how it has changed in recent years. The "noble rot" of the title refers to the fungus which aids in winemaking, but it also refers to the collapse of the traditional, often aristocratic men who once dominated the trade.
We are shown the traditional growers, the "garagistes" or new small growers who have revolutionized the trade, the merchants, the brokers, the consultants--and perhaps most important of all, the reviewers, led by the highly influential Robert Parker, whose reviews can make or break a wine.
Among those who are discussed at length are Michel Gracia, stonemaker and garagiste, whose wine at its peak sold for over $100 a bottle, and the family Lur-Saluces, owners and producers of the famous Yquem, whose family infighting and arrogance leads to foreign takeover. They are fascinating stories, spread out through the book inbetween looks at co-ops who produce vast quantities of less stellar wine, and explanations of the hidebound 1855 classification system that, pre-Parker, once dominated Bordeaux.
A worthwhile read from someone who clearly knows his field and loves it. Highly recommended.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Stephen B. Selbst on February 6, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
William Echikson has written a solid account of recent events in what is France's most important wine region, Bordeaux, but it's not a book for a general audience. Most non-wine lovers just aren't going to care about some of the wine-making minutia he gets into, nor will his profiles of the personalities be very compelling. But for wine lovers, the book offers a very thorough look at Bordeaux's recent triumphs and travails -- and the people who are making that happen.

As virtually all wine lovers know, Bordeaux has been roiled by various controversies in recent years, the emergence of upstart "garagiste" winemakers, the hotly-disputed powers of Robert Parker, the world's most influential wine critic, and the changes in ownership in many of the leading chateaus and estates.

Another controversy has been the recent spike in prices. Echikson does a very good job of explaining how the Bordeaux market works, including the roles played by merchants and brokers in the process. And using the 2001 vintage, he shows how the system worked to help establish prices for what was a decent, but hardly outstanding year.

But the real dish in Echikson's book is his look at some of the larger-than-life personalities in Bordeaux, including Michel Rolland, the oenologist to the stars, Robert Parker, Count Alexandre Lur-Saluces, and some of the leading garagiste winemakers. For people who know and care about fine wine, Echikson's book contains detailed profiles of these major players, and while some of the information in his book is not new, it is surely the best overall source of information about the people who are important in Bordeaux today.
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