Book Review: Bettane & Desseauve’s Guide to the Wines of France

France is probably the most complicated wine region in the world, full of viticultural areas that not only are most consumers unable to locate on a map, but which they can’t even pronounce.

The thick and unwieldy Bettane & Desseauve’s Guide to the Wines of France will be of little help to most drinkers, an 831-page behemoth that’s as difficult to hold open as it is to navigate. Almost entirely comprised of ratings of wines from hundreds of different chateaux, the book is indeed a guide to the very wines of France and is not a hand-holding introduction to what French wine is all about.

That’s fine, but organization represents a long-term challenge for this book, as finding a producer will test the patience of even experience wine drinkers. Wineries are split up by geography, and Bordeaux, say, is divided into its various sub-regions. If you’re looking for a specific producer (which is really the only reason anyone would open this tome) the goose chase begins in earnest. Hope you understand the peculiarities of French proper names: Chateau La Tour Figeac, for example, can be found alphabetized after Etablissements Thunevin (both are under “T”), and only then will you find them if you know they are Right Bank Bordeaux.

This is, by all accounts, the “correct” way to alphabetize a winery, but without good signposting it won’t mean much to most. The index is more help, dispensing with all the preamble and alphabetizing by whomever’s last name is on the label, but only if don’t make the mistake of looking at the second index, which is again organized by appellation and sub-appellation, basically just repeating the organization of the main text.

Another challenge comes int he form of the book’s odd design: 11 inches tall and just 5 5/8 inches wide, it is the shape of a pocket book but, at 2 inches thick, will not fit in any pocket you have. The odd shape makes it hard to hold open for long and impossible to lay down without using something heavy to keep it from closing on you. Sticklers will also find that the binding breaks within minutes of first opening it.

All in all Bettane and Desseauve are comprehensive in cataloging the world of French wine (though, as with many of these books, their ratings hover around a very narrowly-defined area), but better books about the wines of France can be found.

B- / $26 / [BUY IT HERE]

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