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On Champagne

compiled by Susan 


 I love these curated works that are published by The Académie du Vin Library and really enjoyed their Bordeaux offering. Before you even open them up you have a lovely looking tome that looks great on your wine bookshelf (or any bookshelf for that matter) particularly if you have other publications by them. There a no-nonsense feel about the books, and I feel this almost gives them the air of weighty knowledge being imparted.

 The ‘On’ books are collections of essays that take a look at various aspects of the subject, in this case Champagne, and can range from short essays about the more famous producers, general offerings that praise elements of the wine and the oddly concise pieces that cover areas such as history. All is bite-sized, easy to digest and just the thing to accompany the wine enthusiast on a trip (I read most of this book on journeys to and from London).

 I'm going to be a little trivial at the beginning and let you know that I've quite a soft spot for books that have a built-in bookmark. It saves me using my dwindling supply of business cards for the purpose. Thank you Académie. Please keep doing it as you've a fan at Winefullness Towers!

 I want to throw a few comparisons with the 'Hugh Johnson' book I've reviewed on the previous page.

 Firstly, the paper used in this book feels glossy and more tactile. This makes the initial experience of holding and reading quite enjoyable. It also helps that the photographs are spread out and enhanced by this glossy texture. On the next reprint of 'The Life and Wines of Hugh Johnson' could his work be given the same treatment. Right, that's my little rant over and it's time to see if the writing is worthy of all this extra luxury.

 'On Champagne' is a collection of writings about the various aspects of Champagne by familiar names in the world of wine writing. It's great to see pieces from people such as Tyson Stelzer, Andrew Jefford and Kelli White, and lovely to read what luminaries such as Evelyn Waugh, Jay McInerney and Joe Fattorini have to contribute.

 Before I delve into the text I'm looking at the names for these pieces and enjoying titles such as 'Fizzing Forwards', 'Bolly and Pol', 'Death to the Flute' and 'Bubble, Bubble, Toil and Trouble'. Let's be honest, good titles can draw you in, and they are here in spades. The problem is the way one reads books like this. Should one start at the beginning and read until the end, or should one just dip in where the title makes it seem as though a good yarn will be told. I plump for the former in this case.

 Each chapter starts with a brief resume of the writer, and this is a welcome thing because one or two of the contributors I've not heard of, and my grandmother always warned me against reading the works of strange people until one has been introduced!

 These chapters are pulled together through a variety of themes, and these include such areas as 'Eleven Eras of Champagne' and 'Blame it on the Fizzics'; so if you did want to dip into this book then if might be a good idea to concentrate on each theme.

 For me, there was a problem with this book which I'll get to shortly, but don't let my worries ruin your enjoyment because works like this are great. The wide range of writing styles mean that if you don't enjoy one, then something you might enjoy will be along shortly. This is where my slight moan comes in because there are a lot of pieces written by the same writers; so Tyson Stelzer contributes three pieces, Tom Stevenson gives up four articles and Henry Vizetelly weighs in with three. I can't help feeling that there are a wealth of talented writers who have either written about the world of Champagne or could have worked up a suitable piece. Enough of my moaning, what sort of pieces are in 'On Champagne'? 

 I loved 'Jewel in the Crown' by Fiona Morrison for its light style that throws beautiful nuggets of writing your way. In this concise article one is taken on a trip from her first encounter with Champagne (she tells us that it was like a blind date) to her observations of gnarly old vines and where this beautifully exotic wine might be heading. All is done effectively in three pages.

 I've reviewed Hugh Johnson's book, but in 'On Champagne' he, and Oz Clarke, give us a great piece about drinking Champagne at 30,000 feet and their thoughts about the influence of altitude on Champagne, and what being a wine consultant to British Airways involves.

 I do get the impression from reading this piece that humour is rarely far from their thoughts (especially Oz) and like other works by these two, they are so enjoyable that they read quickly.

 'On Champagne' is a good edition to the books of Académia du Vin Library, and though I wanted a greater range of contributors this isn't a suitable reason to ignore this book, although it might have made it a little bit more interesting.

 Christmas present time is almost over, but what about giving it to somebody whose New Year's resolution includes thoughts about wine!

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