From the Ground Up
This is the book Champagne lovers have been waiting for.
If you’ve ever read champagneguide.net, you know that Peter Liem isn’t your usual point-assigning wine critic. A former sommelier (also once tasting director for this magazine), his interest in Champagne runs deep. In 2006, he moved to the small village of Dizy, in the Vallée de la Marne, and his proximity to the region’s growers and winemakers gave him an intimate view of the place. It allowed him to focus on Champagne through the lens of terroir.
It’s an unusual stance in an industry that’s long been defined by style and status, and it’s a perspective Liem has championed since 2014, when he began shaking up the status quo with La Fête du Champagne, now an annual event held in New York and London that brings together an eclectic mix of large and small houses, growers and négociants. His new book, Champagne: The Essential Guide to the Wines, Producers, and Terroir of the Iconic Region (Ten Speed Press, 2017; $75), presents Champagne as a vibrant place just entering its golden age.
Liem starts with the basics, laying out everything you need to know about Champagne production, weaving in accounts from the cellars where he’s tasted, vineyards that he’s walked and conversations with winemakers he’s visited. The level of detail can get pretty intense, as he recounts Emmanuel Brochet’s struggle with ambient yeast fermentations or Cédric Bouchard’s fondness for precisely 4.5 atmospheres of pressure in his bottles, yet Liem’s enthusiasm for his topic keeps the text lively and brisk.
Part Two, “The Place,” forms the heart of the book, where he delves into a detailed description of Champagne’s varied soils and landscapes, with recommendations for single-cru and single-vineyard bottlings that clearly reflect their terroir. He’s supplemented this information with gorgeous reproductions of seven maps from Louis Larmat. Originally published in 1944, they remain the most detailed available. The copies, produced on poster-sized paper and packaged in their own sliding-drawer compartment, are nearly worth the price of the book on their own.
Liem closes with “The People,” a diverse selection of personalities whom he believes are moving the appellation forward by giving Champagne “a true sense of place” in the wines they create. Focused sharply on the individuality of each producer, with attention called to benchmark and standout cuvées, it’s a vivid and exciting view of Champagne as a complex, vibrant region just beginning to realize its full potential. Too often you close a book and it ends there. This book leaves you, instead, with the thirst to go explore for yourself.
In The Champagne Guide 2018-2019: The Definitive Guide to Champagne (Hardie Grant Books, 2017; $35), Australian wine writer Tyson Stelzer profiles and rates more than 600 cuvées from just over 100 Champagne producers. His first installment of The Champagne Guide earned him the title of International Champagne Writer of the Year 2011 in the Louis Roederer International Wine Writers’ Awards. This edition, his fifth, is a buying guide to the wines, independently assessed by Stelzer, who hosts Taste Champagne, Australia’s most comprehensive showcase of the region.
Reviewed in W&S December 2017.