Christmas is always a time when people like me and you turn to new wine book releases. My trip overseas meant I wasn’t able to review this book in time for most people’s Christmas lists, but for those reading in more affluent countries this might be in time to prompt you as to where you might spend any welcome book tokens, or to cheer you up with some wine reading to compensate for the Christmas jumper or the three chocolate orange gifts.
Anthony Rose is both an established and highly accomplished wine writer, in print almost everywhere from Decanter to The Oxford Companion, as well as being a senior wine judge at home and overseas. Perhaps eclipsing all this, for thirty years he wrote one of the best three wine columns in a UK newspaper, in The Independent. He’s equally a skilled photographer as well, and all the pictures used in this review were taken by him and used with his Copyright Permission.
Anthony is also an expert in sake, and in 2018 he published “Sake and the Wines of Japan”. I recommended this at the time and three years later I would repeat that it would, with ease, be in my highly personal top ten wine-related books of the past five years. That book was published by Infinite Ideas, and it is to this publisher’s “Classic Wine Library” series that Rose returns for Fizz! – Champagne and Sparkling Wines of the World.
This Classic Wine Library seems to grow and grow, replacing the old Faber series in covering the breadth of the wine world. The books in the series tend to follow what I call the “student textbook” format in most part. By this I mean that they start off by addressing the subject generally, including history, regulatory frameworks, viticulture and winemaking perhaps, before delving down to specifics via countries, regions, appellations etc, as appropriate.
Such a format could be rather dull, as with some of the texts I had to use for my WSET Diploma in the 1990s. These books are no less informative than any required textbook, but the best works in the series combine facts with a compelling narrative. It is this which makes a clutch of books in this series stand out from the others. Rose’s Sake book stood out as being of this type, a godsend for me as I am a big fan of Japan and had really just set out to try Japanese table wines. In fact only Covid stopped me attending the sake course Rose ran in London, and from visiting London’s own sake brewery, Kanpai (in Peckham). This book is just as easy to read, obviously written by an author with journalistic credentials, and with a nose for a story as well as for a good wine.
One word about books on sparkling wine in general. Lovers of these wines are blessed with a number of accomplished writers. Some of us wish Tom Stevenson hadn’t completely turned his back on Alsace after writing the seminal work on the region in 1993, but he remains one of the most well-regarded writers on sparkling wine, to many perhaps the most prominent. Peter Liem’s boxed tome on Champagne (with its wonderful maps) remains essential too, as in my opinion does Michael Edwards’s sensitive and deeply knowledgeable work in World of Fine Wines’ “The Finest Wines of…” series (Aurum Press). Many books circle the periphery of this core, like, to mention but one, “Bursting Bubbles” (2017) by Robert Walters (which covers part of the so-called Grower Revolution).
So, what Anthony Rose needed to achieve to enter this crowded field is something different. What he attempts to produce, and I will say now, succeeds in doing admirably, is a work which covers this increasingly broad (we are talking both geographically and stylistically) subject area via both a convincing overview and a concise drilling down into the detail. He does it within this broadly textbook style, whilst taking the reader along via a strong narrative.
Fizz! begins, as one would expect, with a brief history of bubbles in wine. This introductory section, which also covers winemaking techniques, aspects of sparkling wine viticulture (including a really useful summary of grape varieties used for sparkling wine production, very useful if like me you rate Trepat or Pinot Blanc as a sparkling wine variety), and an overview of wine styles within the genre, is excellent. It somehow seems concise and focused but at the same time broad in scope. The author achieves this through text, very good diagrams where useful, and the text boxes highlighting both central and peripheral aspects of the story which we have come to expect from the Infinite Ideas format. This takes up the first seventy-five pages.
The remaining 280-or-so pages before the Glossary and Bibliography come under the umbrella of “Country introductions and profiles”. Here, Australia/New Zealand, England, France, Germany and Italy all have their own chapters, along with Central and Eastern Europe, South Africa, Spain and Portugal, USA and Canada and, importantly, Japan and China. For completeness the book ends with some appendices on Champagne.
First up, in each chapter, you generally get a survey of the sparkling wine regions within each country followed by a segment on the major producers. By major I don’t mean in volume terms. I think that Rose’s primary focus is on quality, though many large producers do require coverage. I would say, for example, that in the chapter on England Rose includes all of my favourite producers, none of whom are large in volume terms…although he does miss out a personal favourite, and important name, in Wales. However, a book like this has to have some element of personal selection, so it is good fortune that the author’s opinions do more than broadly concur with my own here. If you want to read just one chapter (as opposed to a whole book) on English Sparkling Wine, then this is your man.
The chapter on France is by its nature very broad. Here we get Champagne in all (well most of) its glory. The hardest job in this book must have been to fit Champagne, a wine on which countless books have been written, within a work on the whole world’s sparkling wines. To his credit, Rose manages to do this pretty well, giving prominence without allowing it to both dominate and overshadow the rest, despite its obvious pre-eminence within the genre.
Without doubt the producers included, or excluded, in the profiles must have given the author nightmares. We get prominent Houses like Bollinger, smaller Houses like Veuve Fourny and Growers. Now inexplicably Anthony doesn’t include a producer profile for Bérêche, although joking aside, they do get a couple of mentions elsewhere, in particular within the boxed text on perpetual reserves for which this producer is notable. This is an example of how Rose does have his finger on the pulse of what’s happening within the region, though equally within the limits he must surely have been told to impose by his editor. In a region with thousands of producers of all sizes he includes those whose contribution goes beyond merely the wines they make.
Anyway, there’s still space to run through the rest of France in this chapter, although as a fan of many of this country’s Crémant wines, I might have hoped for the inclusion of a greater number of producers. Whilst books on Champagne will continue to appear, books on other French wine regions often treat sparkling wines as an afterthought, and as books on Jura are rare, and Alsace non-existent, the often-brilliant sparkling wines from these regions get hardly a look-in. That said, Rose does include the finest fizz in the Jura, from Stéphane and Bénédicte Tissot (in Arbois). Missing, however, are the finest sparkling wines of Alsace, perhaps because they are made by small producers up in villages like Mittelbergheim (Jean-Pierre Rietsch and Lucas Rieffel, to cite two examples), the very talented equivalents of the Champagne Growers in comparison to the Dopff et al “Houses”.
Italy is covered in as much detail as this great sparkling wine producing nation demands. With such a diversity of styles and regions, Italy’s chapter is, I think it fair to say, more evenly covered than the chapter on France, dominated by the long shadow of Champagne.
Other parts of Europe are generally seen as less important so I have no intention to criticise the commensurate size of the chapters here. The geek in me wants to moan that the author didn’t highlight the best Sekts in Germany (the wines made from Riesling in the Mosel by Florian Lauer’s father in the 1990s and released over the past half-dozen years or so would, for me, give Weingut Peter Lauer a right to a profile) and the finest Sekt made in Austria (for which I claim validation of my opinion from Gault-Millau) in Marion Ebner(-Ebenauer)’s 2010 Chardonnay.
Nor does the author take full account of what I see as a remarkable revolution in artisan natural wine pétnat production, specifically that taking place in Czech Moravia, led perhaps by the unstoppable Petr Koráb (though mention is given to Czechia’s exciting developments). But here we are speaking of the outer fringes of the wine world, areas undoubtedly for further research and study by the totally obsessed (meaning me).
Pétnat does get covered, largely in the early sections on winemaking methods. Bottle-fermented, often using the “méthode ancestrale” or variations thereof, Pétillant Naturel has become an important style, not only in France but increasingly in almost every place which puts bubbles in wine. With its often-natural wine aesthetic, it is reeling in young consumers for whom anything approaching truly fine Champagne has become economically unviable, with even good Grower Champagne topping £50/bottle now. However, if you want a resumé of the best petnat wines on the market you will need to look elsewhere (probably, to be fair, by being a regular and attentive reader of Wideworldofwine). I might be slightly prone to overestimating its importance in the future of sparkling wine.
I feel bad about making even some tiny criticisms of this book. I feel especially cagey about commenting on Anthony Rose’s approach to petnat sparklers because he did tap my brains on the subject (for which he kindly acknowledges me in the “Thanks” section, which the overly keen-eyed may spot). So blame me if you disagree with anything thus related. Of course, the temptation of any reviewer to express their own views and to supplement the author’s observations with some of their own is irresistible. My book reviews, as regular readers will know, are never purely focused on the work reviewed. I do like to spill out over the edges.
The main point to remember is that I didn’t spend months researching and crafting a work which an editor may well have asked me to cut down into a format that would be economic to produce and which would avoid getting bogged down in debate and detail which would not assist its attractiveness to the general reader. This whole series attempts to cover subjects in a way which would interest both the expert and the novice, the wine obsessive and the casually interested.
We must step back from minute detail and look at the book as a whole. In doing this, we see that Anthony Rose’s new book on sparkling wine covers all the bases in a thoroughly approachable and readable way. It should be essential reading for all WSET students, not least because of the breadth of coverage and the clear explanations of everything you need to know about production methods and the increased spread, and popularity, of fine sparkling wine throughout the whole wide world of wine. It is equally manageable for those merely interested in enjoying, and exploring further, perhaps the fastest growing and most successful wine style of the 21st Century.
So that’s a “definite buy” then. The combination of an excellent overview with drilled-down detail when required is certainly “a winner”, as one might say. It’s yet another book from this series which I would imagine few serious wine lovers would want to be without, especially when combining subject and author.
Fizz! Champagne and Sparkling Wines of the World by Anthony Rose is published by Infinite Ideas Publishing as part of their Classic Wine Library Series. It has a publication date of 2022 but I believe it has been available since 29 November this year (2021). It will appear in major book stores with a decent specialist drinks section, probably less so outside London, but it is equally available on the Infinite Ideas web site.
Important Note: This Review used a pdf file of the book kindly supplied by the author in order that I might publish the review before Christmas. My own hard copy has been ordered but is yet to arrive. Reading a pdf is not my favourite way of enjoying a book, but my point is that in this format it’s easy to miss things. If any of my minor points of difference with the author’s coverage are as a result of missing anything, I apologise sincerely.