The wines of France in 360 compact pages? Heck, I’ve read a book longer than that on one region, the Loire! That was my incredulous reaction when I first spotted The Wines of France: The Essential Guide for Savvy Shoppers by Jacqueline Friedrich across the room at Barnes & Noble.
But upon closer inspection, what this svelte paperback ($13.75 on Amazon) sacrifices in depth, it makes up for in breadth. Friedrich has no shortage of tasting experience–or opinions–and wheels around her quick tour de France in what is essentially an annotated directory. She dispenses with such page-consuming graphics as maps, label images or chateau pictures. Divided into regions, each section leads with a one page overview and then heads straight into an alphabetical listing of producers and subregions. Her favorite producers receive a star, ones to watch get an up arrow, and she usually notes in the text if a producer is “eco-friendly” or not.
This is great for skimming and finding an instant nugget of information, as I could see a flummoxed sommelier or shopkeeper doing. Or you can say “hey what is this Vouvray region I’ve been reading about?” for example. Bam–a couple of ‘grafs on Vouvray and a list of her favorite producers including a paragraph on her six faves (Aubuisieres, Champalou, Chidaine, Gaudrelle, Huet, and Clos Naudin/Foreau for all you Vouvray junkies out there). This can be great for setting up an itinerary. But once there, you may want more info on the producers, which is possible in this case to get from Friedrich since she wrote that 400-page book on the Loire. So when can we expect other regional guides from Friedrich?
So just how are those opinions that she hands out with such ease? Well, they seem quite good on the whole–to wit, I had not tried the Chateau des Jacques wines from Beaujolais that she was rhapsodic about and included them in my recent Bojo tasting and I was very glad I did. However, the parsimony of the star system on display in the tiny Vouvray breaks down in areas where there are many good producers. Consider St. Emilion, where no fewer than 28 producers receive stars. This isn’t an undue amount, but it’s just that fast simplicity is lost. She goes some distance to making up for that with her “Bordeaux crib sheet,” which again narrows the field and includes many worthwhile producers. She seems to punt on the extracted/not-extracted issue, starring the likes of Bon Pasteur and Pavie, while commenting that the controversial 03 Pavie tasted “port-like.”
Ten months on from the publication date, as the 06s have been harvested and the 07s are about to be, I have only one question: what are the chances of getting a 2008 update to this handy little reference?