Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Book Review: Peter Liem's Champagne

Champagne lovers are swimming in a sea of plenty with the recent release of three high-quality books on the topic: David White's excellent But First, Champagne, Robert Walters' Grower-focused Bursting Bubbles, and the subject book, Peter Liem's Champagne. If you could only buy one of the three, I would strongly recommend the latter. This book is a tour de force that is backed by the author's 10 years of living among, and writing about, the Champenois and their wines.

Source: penguinrandomhouse.com

In objective and thrust, The Liem and Walters book mirror each other. They both feel that the traditional Champagne Houses and methods consign the beverage to a place that is atypical when compared to other fine wines. Rather than celebrating "place," Champagne celebrates the winemaking and blending processes. But having lived in Champagne for over 10 years, and having tasted myriad vin clair wines, Liem has come to the conclusion that Champagne can be a terroir-expressive wine (the same conclusion reached and proffered by Walters).

In the Preface of his book , Liem states, "The contemporary movement in Champagne ... is, rather simply, the acknowledgment of champagne as a wine like any other":
... a new generation of producers are asking a more complex and detailed set of questions, employing more conscientious viticultural techniques and deepening their understanding of agricultural expression to present a more precise portrait of place ... this proliferation of new champagnes offers an unprecedented opportunity to glimpse the intricacies of Champagnes's terroir.
 There are challenges still to be solved on the way to defining this terroir:
It is still not yet possible to write a comprehensive analysis of Champagne terroirs, given the lack of tools and information available compared with other historic regions. However, it is my hope that this book can in some small way help to push the dialogue further toward acknowledging champagne as a terroir-expressive wine, and to provide a foundation for envisioning that."
The chart below shows the organization of the Peter Liem book and, at first blush, it covers all the bases of what one would expect from a wine-region-based book. As a matter of fact, there is some similarity to the White book both in terms of organization and practice. In terms of practice, some of the same devices (sidebars, etc.) are employed effectively in both books. But there are significant differences in coverage areas; where White eschews coverage of viticulture and viniculture, those areas are critical elements of the Liem book -- and are handled masterfully. But even in the areas of similar coverage the assurance and depth in the Liem book is surpassing.

What distinctively sets Liem apart from the competition, however, is his treatment of terroir.

The conventional approach to regionalizing Champagne shows Champagne's vineyards extending over 4 districts (shown in the map below), 20 sub-regions and 319 villages.  The districts are Montagne de Reims, Vallée de la Marne, Côte des Blancs, and Côte des Bar.

Source: champagne.fr

In Champagne, Peter Liem expands the districts from four to seven. The new schema: divides the Vallée de la Marne into the Grand Vallée and the Vallée de la Marne; adds the Coteaux Sud d'Épernay; and combines the disparate zones between the heart of Champagne and Côte de Bar into a single sub-zone. The construct of this schema is illustrated in the map below.

Liem walks us through the villages associated with each of these sub-regions and the lieux-dits of note in each of these villages. He provides descriptions of the soils of these Grand Cru and Premier Cru vineyards, and included lieux-dits, and details the types of wine they produce. He tells of conversations and tasting with the principals producing wines from these terroirs. The granularity is unparalleled.

At the conclusion of each section on the reconstituted districts, Liem provides recommendations for terroir-expressive wines from that region.

The book is beautifully packaged in a two-compartment box set with one compartment containing the book and the other reproductions of long-lost maps of the Champagne region. The front cover is adorned with a picture of multiple bases of Champagne bottles and rich golden text listing the book title and the author's name. The paper on which the book is printed is thick and rich and the included photography compares very favorably with that employed by Walters, for example.

Source: Peter Liem's Champagne

I strongly recommend this book.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme


  1. I've had this book on my wish list for ages! The cost for shipping it to Turkey is outrageous though. Next time I'm in the US...

    1. You will enjoy it whenever you finally get hpold of it.