When David White's But First, Champagne (Skyhorse Publishing, 2016) was first announced, I did not have a pressing desire to acquire it. I know David tangentially through his blog and have always associated him (rightly or wrongly) with terroir issues. I have myself done a fair amount of writing on Champagne on this blog and felt that I knew all of the leading Champagne writers; and he was not among them.
Eventually I did get a copy of the book and decided to read it. I initially approached it with hands crossed over my chest (believe me, it is tough to turn pages from that position) but began to lean forward after just a few pages.
This book is broken into two parts: a fast-paced, easy-reading history of Champagne -- that is at once informative and entertaining -- followed by a guide of the major Champagne producers and the four sub-regions.
In the first part of the book, David does for Champagne what Paul Lukacs did for wine (Inventing Wine) but in a less-ponderous, less-"gappy" (terroir debate, Algerian wine industry, for example) manner. And his treatment does not only cover the beverage; it covers major world events as they unfolded and their impacts on Champagne (both the drink and the region).
The section is peppered with sidebars that provide insight into the topic at hand but does not fit smoothly into the flow of the storytelling. I have seen this mechanism applied previously but never with this degree of timing and level of effectiveness. Topics such as "Champagnes Many Styles", "How Champagne is Made," and many others are perfectly placed throughout the text, with some relevance to the historical piece being treated, and are quick enough reads as to not meaningfully distract the reader from the thread. Rather, they are enhancements.
The wine-guide portion of the book treats the major houses in great detail and is also rich in sidebars which provide information such as leading producers, quick facts, sub-regions, and other tidbits.
This work is extensively researched and well-presented. The cover art is spectacular, with gold type on black speaking to the richness and elegance of the subject. The book is unencumbered by detailed discussions of viticulture and viniculture of the region but will be enjoyed by the Champagne neophyte and expert alike. Such is the quality of the writing style and the completeness of the treatment of the topics which the author does choose to take on.
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