Finally, a book about French wines by French wine experts – in English!

I don’t know why it hadn’t occurred to me before that this was lacking.
Well, problem solved: the new Guide to the Wines of France is out in English. It’s by top wine critics Michel Bettane and Thierry Desseauve, who have both been prominent in their field for several decades. They have published this volume in French for many years; finally, we get to read it in English.

When I first started going to France a lot (about 10 years ago) I would run into Michel Bettane everywhere. In Alsace, in Bordeaux, in Champagne… He was always there at the winery, had just left, or was about to arrive. Luckily for me. I knew if he was around, this was a winery worth covering. And later, when I got up the nerve to talk with him, he actually answered my questions.

When you start reading Bettane and Dessauve’s new guide to French wines, you realize this isn’t about whether or not French people would favor their own wines over other countries’. It’s about men who have grown up in France, know the history of the wine regions, and can provide context for each winemaker as well as current evaluations of the wines.

One of the best parts of this book is also the worst part. It’s the front section of the book, where the authors talk clearly about wine in general and French wine in particular. This includes everything from wine labels and grapes to “How to Use this Guide.” Unfortunately, these pages were given to a designer who slapped these fascinating paragraphs into large, unreadable blocks of text: they look good on the page, but are impenetrable to a reader.

Design in the rest of the book is much more user-friendly. Divided into wine regions, each page contains short, pithy paragraphs about each winery’s history and how it fits into the region. These descriptions are followed by brief wine tasting notes, along with guidelines on when to drink both current and recent vintages.

This is a great book to pick up, after you’ve introduction to wine. Assuming the design flaws are corrected in future editions, I would recommend the Guide to the Wines of France as a great source for anyone who wants to delve a bit deeper into one country’s wine.

Bettane & Dessauve’s Guide to the Wines of France. By Michel Bettane and Thierry Desseauve. New York: Stewart, Tabori and Chang, 2011. $35.

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