Tuesday, February 24, 2009

February's Wine Book Club: A Book About Bubbly

For the Wine Book Club's February read, we turned to Champagne--the world's favorite bubbly beverage--and Don and Petie Kladstrup's critically-acclaimed book, Champagne: How the World's Most Glamorous Wine Triumphed Over War and Hard Times.

The book opens and closes with a trip to a battlefield. Don and Petie Kladstrup use these bookends to emphasize the fact that what is arguably the world's most glamorous wine comes from the same place on earth where a great deal of blood has been shed.

These kinds of contrasts--between glamour and war, between the luxury-loving Louis XIV and the disheveled Dom Perignon, between the underground world of the Champagne region's wine caves (complete with banquets, cabaret, and opera) and the German bombardment taking place overhead--occur again and again in the Kladstrup's book. The result is a highly readable and engaging account not only of how Champagne got its elegant reputation, but how that reputation was zealously guarded.

Champagne is not a chronological trot through the history of the beverage or the region--although the authors do follow a rough chronological framework. Instead, it reads a bit like you're accompanying the Kladstrups on a saunter around town. Along the way you meet some interesting people, learn some history, and visit some beautiful places. The Kladstrups are excellent tour guides, and clearly know their subject inside and out.

While the book is wide-ranging, it focuses on both the wine of the region and the period of the Great War--or World War I as its called in America. Maybe I'm having a hard time taking off my history hat, but I sometimes found all the jumping around from place to place and time to time a bit exasperating. It wasn't that I couldn't follow the Kladstrups--they write well, and the stories they tell are interesting. But I sometimes felt as though I just wanted them to tell the story simply, from beginning to end, and be done with it.

Despite my occasional moments of frustration, the book includes enough riveting detail and compelling story-telling to more than make up for a few rambling moments. What I will most remember from this book, for instance, are the accounts of life in the region's caves or crayeres during the Great War. The pictures were amazing. Seeing entire schools, bedrooms, banquets, hospitals in the caves was something else, and drove home the Kladstrups' point that Champagne, for all its elegance, is made from soil on which hundreds of battles have been fought.

Reading the Kladstrups' book made me want to visit Champagne myself and explore the region, its wine, and its history. I'd recommend this book to armchair travelers, World War I buffs, and anyone who truly loves the wines of Champagne.

I'll be back on Thursday with the wrap-up, so if you have a review to share, please send me a link or put the link in the comments here or on the announcement post.


Kori said...

Thanks again for hosting the WBC. Here's a link to my review:



Dr. Debs said...

Thanks for participating, Kori.

rj's wine blog said...

as bummed as i am to say it, the month of february got away from me and i wasn't able to finish this book. i did really enjoy the first 1/3 of the book (a lot more than i thought) and plan to finish it at some point, but i didn't get to enough of it to publish a well thought out post. i've got the books for the next two months and plan to find the time, so, see you again next month.