This book by Neal Atherton fits neatly into my constantly repeated expression “it’s not about the wine”. French Wine Uncorked is a beautifully written book describing the authors visits to some places where wine is made, meeting some people who make the wine, who talk about the history and culture of their endeavours, while he tries to understand the almost ethereal concept of “terroir”.
From Chablis in the North of France to Collioures in the South we meet the people who, for generations, have nurtured their vines with the same loving care they would give their children:
“Again this tasting was in an ancient wine cave on the main street – it was a very authentic setting. You feel a great sense of historical and ancestral pride among the producers of this entire region and they were adding to my fascination with the whole subject of wine and its production.”
The book describes a number of visits to some of the wine regions of France made by the author and his wife, and in particular the vineyards and winemakers where they were always welcomed. In their earliest visits they were part of wine tour groups, themselves from Lancashire in England with others from the U.K. and a few Americans too. This is a good way to begin putting your toe in the world of wine, though not everyone on such tours is as friendly and engaging as Neal and Niamh as they discovered on several occasions. Organised tours usually include accommodation and food as well as visits and tasting, and as the author points out some of the advantages of this include a gaining of confidence to visit vineyards oneself, no personal organisation or bookings needed, and …… drink all you like without the hassle of driving!
I enjoyed reading this book though I have been visiting French vineyards for 35 years, and never on an organised tour. Each visit is described in the broadest of terms and without those copious tasting notes that interest nobody. The author’s interest and bafflement in “terroir” amused me as it became a regular theme of each vineyard visited, and quite right too.
“We would receive a sort of explanation of the French word ‘terroir’ although it does not readily convert into English. We would see the soil and the vines and in the case of the vineyards producing Chablis this was an eye opener.”
The book will appeal to lovers of France and French wine, but also for, and I especially recommend it to, anyone beginning their journey into wine. Have confidence, you will be welcomed in every vineyard you visit, whatever the country, but especially in France.
“We quickly come to realise that this will be one of the great pleasures of touring France, discovering how winemakers deal with the conditions they have been dealt and enjoying the differences in character. This is becoming a new hobby and a most enjoyable one.”