Mini-Review




December 17, 1999:

Christie's World Encyclopedia of Champagne and Sparkling Wine

by Tom Stevenson

Wine Appreciation Guild Books, 336 pp., $50

Those of you who are not obsessed with wine have probably never heard of Tom Stevenson. But if you're a sparkling wine lover, his new book gets our highest recommendation. He has written 14 books on wine and won 13 awards on the topic of Champagne alone. He has been named wine writer of the year three times. Stevenson is known as the "Champagne Guru" in Europe. Christie's hires him annually to give their master classes on Champagne. In short, he is considered the authority.

Christie's World Encyclopedia of Champagne and Sparkling Wine is a beautiful book. During Thanksgiving, virtually every visitor to our house picked it up and admired it for the quality of the pictures and illustrations. Those who took a few minutes to read it were rewarded with a splendid description, by winery, of essentially every bubbly wine on earth. Several of our visitors plunged in immediately, searching out the wines they had purchased for New Year's.

The book starts with a wonderful introduction to Champagne, giving enough detail to add to most people's knowledge without overburdening the reader. History, production techniques, broad stylistic concepts, storage tips, proper glassware, and appreciation techniques are all covered cogently in 38 pages. Then he details the various wineries.

Stevenson has utilized several unique and helpful devices in the book. Each section is divided by country, then by vineyard. At the top of each vineyard listing is his 100-point scale ranking of the output of the winery. The scores range from 40 (for Kirchmayr Abtei-Sekt, whose wines he calls a recipe for disaster) to 98 for Krug, his pick for the best overall producer in Champagne. Thankfully, he grades all wines on the same scale, avoiding the problem of giving different scales to Champagnes and California sparkling wines. Therefore, an 88 in California should be of similar quality to an 88 in Champagne or Australia. Next to the grade, he specifies wines that are good values. He believes that a $50 wine can be a good value and a $5 a bad value.

Under this section, the book specifies the amount of wine produced, who owns the brand, where they are located, and what other labels they produce. The next segment contains a characterization of the winery, its history, the owners, and the winemaker. This is followed most helpfully by a concise portrayal of the house style and range. In this section, he describes what the winemaker is aiming for and what the final results are like in terms of aroma, taste, and longevity. Finally, the book gives a succinct rating and explanation of each of the vineyards' sparkling wine products.

At the end, he describes the various grapes used in making the wines. Even more helpfully, he includes a glossary that is remarkably complete in just five pages. The book also includes his choice for a wine for the millennium. His preference would be a bottle of 1907 Heidseck and Co. Gout Americain, which has been on the bottom of the Baltic Sea since 1916, when the ship it was on was sunk by a German U-Boat. The constant 34 degree temperature and lack of any light have left the wine perfectly maintained. Cost? If you have to ask --


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