Andrew Jefford's “The New France” is a magnificent book. I was going to start off by calling it a 'seminal' work, but this is an over-used word that sounds a bit pseudy and pretentious. It would be a fair descriptor, though, because this is a very important, timely publication that deserves a wide readership.
The structure is simple: after introductory chapters on wine law and terroir, it's a region-by-region guide to French wine. What sets it apart from similar books is the author: as well as being a gifted wordsmith, Andrew Jefford is a thinker. His judgement when it comes to wine matters is pretty sound, too. Jefford not only writes brilliantly readable and informative text, but he also has a message, which he skilfully interweaves through the book, without being at all ‘preachy’.
This message is that terroir matters. The strength of French wine is its diversity, and successful French wines have a strong sense of place. And far from being the disaster that it is regularly cited as, the Appellation Controllée system for the most part is a triumph, helping to preserve and promote this precious regional diversity. Interspersed in the text are short pen pictures of some of the most interesting and influential figures in each region. It's a nice feature. I'm also keen on the 'Flak' pieces, where Jefford takes well-aimed potshots at the negative elements of the various appellations.
The book is also refreshing in its focus. It isn’t all Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne: the scope is broad, and less famous regions get more than fair treatment. Jefford is to be congratulated on steering clear of the lazy option of just concentrating on the big, media-friendly names, and in most cases takes the time to identify the people currently doing good work. It’s pretty much a compulsory purchase for anyone with a serious interest in French wine.
There is only one criticism. The pictures disappoint. While there's some wonderful black and white photography of the personalities mentioned in the text (I particularly like the messianic-like depiction of Dider Dagueneau and the Moses lookalike Jacques Puffeney), what the book is short on is decent piccies of the vineyard areas themselves.
There simply aren't enough photos of the different regions to give the reader a feel of what they look like. Jason Lowe is clearly a gifted photographer - he's done good work with Mitchell Beazeley's books before, and merits a cover mention - but perhaps he didn't have time to get round the vineyards at the right time of year to provide a thorough enough pictorial account of them. It's a bit of a shame, but this somewhat minor niggle shouldn't put you off buying this groundbreaking work.
“The New France: A Complete Guide to Contemporary French Wine” by Andrew Jefford
Hardcover - 256 pages ;17 October, 2002