Reviewed by Wes Marshall, Fri., Feb. 18, 2000
French Wines: The Essential Guide to the Wines and Wine Growing Regions of Franceby Robert Joseph
DK Publishing, 240 pp., $19.95
The French like to torture foreign wine lovers. They produce an enormous quantity of wine in a bewilderingly wide variety of styles. Add to that the mystifying expectation that a buyer will know by the name of the district what type of grape they use. It can wreak havoc on the consumer. Unless you have devoted a massive amount of time to the study of their wine, you are guaranteed to make an occasional expensive mistake. Robert Joseph's French Wines is an outstanding "path through the maze."
Joseph is the wine correspondent for the London Sunday Telegraph and the author of the annual Robert Joseph's Good Wine Guide. Though he is not well-known in the U.S., Europeans respect him as a capable and instructive reporter concerning wine. In French Wine, Joseph begins with a superb introduction covering history, terms, food combinations, and vintage descriptions. A cogent, 14-page summary of how the French make wine explores the effect of grape varietals, climate, and soil conditions. Joseph is a firm believer that, to understand the wine, you must understand the local environment, people, and food.
French Wines is organized by geographical region. For each region, Joseph provides both a national map that shows the location in France and a regional map that shows more specific locations. A description of the region provides helpful information about its size, climate, soil, and reputation. In France, regions are generally broken into smaller areas called appellations. For each appellation, Joseph provides a detailed map, a description and a list of important winemakers.
Have you ever wanted to travel to France, rent a car and go vineyard hopping? If so, this is your book. Joseph's driving tour recommendations are as good as I have seen. In the space of a few pages, he covers a route, tells you which wines are available for tasting, recommends interesting sites and views, and zeroes in on some praiseworthy restaurants and hotels. His recommendations are not the normal touristy places. Instead, he shares his insider's knowledge of places frequented by the locals. Thankfully, like most of the rest of us, he appreciates a bargain.
This is not a book for people trying to decide if a specific bottle of wine will be to their taste. Nor is it a book to describe the style of a particular winemaker. However, for a concise introduction to French wines, French Wine is a real discovery. For the wine-loving tourist going to France, it is essential.