I came across this book by chance while wandering the quaint touristy downtown section of Half Moon Bay, where they have the famous pumpkin harvest festival every autumn. Published a few years ago, this is not one of those stuffy-Oh-Lafite-Oh-Latour-can-do-no-wrong Bordeaux snoozers. Instead here Echikson examines the region from the Left Bank perspective of garagistes, new wine makers and those trying to update the stuffy and often dowdy image of this celebrated wineland.
I love the title: Noble Rot. Of course, that’s the name for the desirable pourriture noble, the grey fungus that attacks the white grapes of Sauternes, thereby transforming them into the sweet dessert nectar formerly prized around the world. These unctuous stickies have suffered a steep decline in popularity with the 20th century rise of dry table wines. Sauternes and the flagship Château d’Yquem remain exalted but struggle.
The plight of that Superior First Growth has a special place in this well written, light yet informative book—here I almost wrote “novel” since the Yquem story itself is so convoluted and bizarre that it seems like fiction. This, then, represents the second form of “noble rot:” the gradual, painful-at-times, yet inexorable decline of once great châteaux.
Of course, as the subtitle suggests, most of the book deals with attempts to fight off the lethargy, and, dare I say, greed, that has apparently overtaken Bordeaux in past decades. Focused on the ”new”-ish “garage movement” primarily based in the St Emilion appellation of the Left Bank, the book champions American Robert Parker and those local winemakers that want to make more powerful, ageworthy, nuanced wines, instead of the typical plonk that has allegedly been foisted on the world marketplace for ages.
Whether you believe old school Médoc has fallen behind the times or not is largely irrelevant here. Though there’s little doubt in Echikson’s mind that a refreshing breath of change is called for.
The book introduces you to some key players from traditional Bordeaux—Alexandre de Lur-Saluces from Yquem primarily, but with cameo appearances by Paul Pontallier director of Château Margaux—and some new-wavers like Michel Gracia in St. Emilion and Yves Vatelot, from Left Bank Château de Reignac and visionary at the Margaux estate, Château Lascombes. These people and their stories completely bewitched me.
Sadly, I’ve hardly ever tasted Bordeaux. And, when I’ve done, often it hasn’t left much of a favorable impression on me. But this book made me really excited to expand my horizons. And really, isn’t that enough?
Certainly, others might find Echikson’s opinions inaccurate and distressing. Nobody wants to think that their prized wine and fabulously valuable and venerable estate are junk I suppose. So for you, I offer my third take on the title: noble rot is nothing more than glorified nonsense.