Book Review: The Finest Wines of Champagne by Michael Edwards

>ART Book ChampagneWhen preparing for a trip to Champagne last year, Michael Edwards’ book The Finest Wines of Champagne was an invaluable resource.  Although published by the University of California Press in 2009, it’s the kind of solid, scholarly book that ages well. As we visited Champagne houses and grower-producers throughout the most important grape growing districts—Montagne de Reims, Vallée de la Marne, and the Côte des Blancs—we put Edwards’ book to the test. It passed with flying colors.

As noted in the IWR Report #34 Champagne Revisited, not only is Champagne a great wine, it is also one of the world’s most fascinating wine stories. A marginal climate for growing grapes, deep chalk subsoils, the myth and reality of Dom Perignon, and the discovery of sparkling Champagne provide a list of ingredients that wine writers have used to tell the story of Champagne, over and over again. Indeed, the story is so interesting that it will continue to be told as long as there are Champagne and writers.

ART Book Champagne EdwardsIn his telling of the story of Champagne, Edwards shows that he knows his subject intimately, but that isn’t why a serious wine lover should have this book sitting next to her/his wine cellar. The value of this book is the in-depth portrayal of many of the colorful producers.   It’s obvious from the writing that Edwards has spent a lot of time traveling Champagne’s back roads, getting to know the land and these special men and women who work it.

The book covers the Grandes Marques—Roederer, Moët & Chandon, Taittinger, Laurent-Perrier, etc., the names and brands that are especially familiar to consumers living outside France. But it also covers several of the smaller houses and growers who make Champagne mostly from the fruit of their own vineyards. These include René Geoffroy, Gaston Chiquet, Agrapart, Jacques Selosse, Varnier-Fannière, Pierre Gimonnet, Henri Goutorbe, and many others.  These small grower-producers are well known in France, where they represent over a third of all Champagnes purchased, but as discussed in our report they are poorly known in the US. Any serious Champagne lover should be familiar with them.

Edwards’ book isn’t a buying guide—the wine reviews are a couple of years out of date, but the rest of the book is current, and it is the kind of book that would be appreciated by any serious Champagne lover.  See Report #34 Champagne Revisited for current reviews of 300 Champagnes; it and Edwards’ book complement each other nicely.

Don Winkler, Editor

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