"Burgundy" by Robert M. Parker, Jr. (Simon and Schuster, $39.95) is the book Burgundy buyers -- or those who merely dream of buying Burgundy -- have been waiting for. More than any other wine region, Burgundy is baffling to novices and experts alike. With admirable fortitude, Parker cuts through the Burgundy morass.
At over 1,000 pages, this book is in no rush to cover its sprawling subject matter. Divided into three major segments covering the growers, the villages, and the vintages of Burgundy, the organization at first seems cumbersome. It's not. It's a masterstroke. Parker proves that Burgundy must be approached in the way some wine (but not much Burgundy) is sold -- in tranches, or slices. Tranche one, the growers, is the insider's account of Burgundy -- who is conscientious, who is lazy or inept. Parker pulls no punches here. Tranche two is Burgundy the land, yet in a sense more biography than geography. It's the life stories of the true stars of Burgundy, its ancient vineyards, each with a name, a reputation and a personality imparted to the wines made there. Tranche three is Burgundy the wine, and here Parker does what no one else does as well -- provides comprehensive, unbiased, no-holds-barred individual assessments of most of the major wines bottled in Burgundy since Parker began regular tasting sojourns in the region with the 1983 vintage.
In short, this is a tour-de-force that should not be missed.
"Making Sense of Burgundy" by Matt Kramer (William Morrow, $24.95), though it weighs in at half the bulk of Parker's volume, and despite its perilously simplistic title, is no "Parker Light." It's a different book, with very different aims, more an extended, highly annotated, entertainingly opinionated essay than a Parker-like summa vinologica. Kramer's passion for Burgundy led him to research page after page of handwritten town-hall ledgers to answer the question of who owns what in each of the great Burgundy vineyards. Kramer also details, for the first time that I've ever seen, the climats, the vineyards within the vineyards, of the Grand Cru vineyards.
Although the ultimate destination of "Napa" by James Conaway (Houghton Mifflin Co., $24.95) is a cautionary tale about land use, the delight of this book is in the journey to get there. Conaway finds all the elements of a real life soap opera -- money, greed, and most of all, the larger-than-life folks who made the Napa Valley what it is. Conaway, who sees their way of life threatened with extinction at the hands of big business, which owns increasingly large chunks of the valley, shows just how tragic such an extinction would be by chronicling the grand passions, petty feuds, and more than a little of the insanity of those who make wine there.