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Favorite Burgundies from a wine expert

Clive Coates' new book explores famed region

By Bill Daley, Tribune Newspapers

December 29, 2013

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Burgundy does not make it easy for the American wine lover, what with all the lengthy French names on the labels, the tiny vineyards masquerading as appellations, the general jumble of the geography. It takes time, tastings and, if you're lucky, a clever tutorial (preferably in Burgundy) to really begin to understand the region.

So if you are a total Burgundy newbie, Clive Coates' new book, "My Favorite Burgundies" (University of California Press, $60) is not the book for you. This very fine work is aimed squarely at true (or aspiring) Burgundy believers.

"Not a textbook on Burgundy" is how Coates, a distinguished wine writer and author who lives in southern Burgundy, describes this book. And he's right. The work is far more personal. Coates, a master of wine, is the best kind of industry insider. He knows his stuff; the writing is lively, fresh, steeped in an intimate knowledge of the wines and winemakers. But — and this is a big but — he assumes a certain level of wine knowledge among readers of this book, which he views as a companion to his "The Wines of Burgundy" of 2008. People, places, terms and processes are dropped into the text without much explanatory comment in the belief that you know what he's talking about. And, given that Coates' tasting notes for a given wine can range back over decades, there's a presumption that your tongue is well-trained and your pockets well-lined.

The book is divided into four sections: Vineyard profiles, domain profiles, vintages (when to drink that wine) and "general observations" on such issues as "premature oxidation of white Burgundy," biodynamism and global warming. Each section has its strengths. I love the detailed vineyard maps with every little plot delineated. The domain profiles offer history, personalities and lively interviews with some of Burgundy's top wine figures that both inform and entertain. The "when to drink chapter" answers all those who wonder when they should uncork that lovingly tended bottle. These first three sections are all liberally annotated with tasting notes. The final section gives Coates an opportunity to ruminate on assorted topics of the day. His essay on biodynamism is one of the best I've ever read on the topic.

"My Favorite Burgundies" is being billed as more of a personal and anecdotal book than some encyclopedic work on Burgundy. But there's still so much information here that even the most confirmed Burgundy lover may feel a bit overwhelmed — and delightfully so. As with great wine, there's no such thing as too much information.