Book Review: The Great Domaines of Burgundy (Remington Norman, 2nd Edition, 1996)

Book Review:
The Great Domaines of Burgundy
A Guide to the Finest Wine Producers of the Cote d’Or
Written by Remington Norman
Photos by Janet Price, Geraldine Norman
Maps by Kylie Cathie Ltd
1996 publication, 2nd Edition, 288 pgs

Remington Norman MW is a long time fine wine professional who also has a PhD, although the dust cover is unclear if it’s from Harrow (?) or Oxford. [EDIT now clarified to be Oxford] He has released a few books, and I half read but enjoyed his book on the Rhone. His writing style is lovely - layered and precise - and might require even the most erudite to check a glossary from time to time. This book is the 2nd Edition, and as I tap this up, I realize there was also a 3rd Edition, released in 2010. As those who know me, my interest in pinot and/or Burgundy is limited, with dollar expenditures just as limited. If anything, I like the gamay/Beaujolais more, especially when it’s hot, and they become poolside sippers, replacing my usual heavy red sustenance. So consider that perspective as one reads on – I’m one of those who has no idea of what the acronyms Chang uses mean!


The 2nd Edition follows a slightly inverted format, with a brief forward (from Michael Broadbent) and a brisk introduction, and then segues into the major AOC overviews, with producer highlights included. The large negociants are generally slotted into where there ‘center of gravity’ makes the most sense, but I suppose close watchers of the region could quibble, or even argue for a separate section. Jadot, Drouhin and Louis Latour are folded into the ‘Beaune’ section for example.

The first 220 pages cover the appellations and ~150 select producers, whose names I suppose must be far more recognized today, than they were upon publication. In terms of coverage, Norman only grants the privilege to the Cote de Nuits and Cote de Beaune – there is NO mention of Chablis, Beaujolais, or the Cotes Chalonnaise. I am not sure what the convention was 30+ years ago, but it seems like modern Burgundy fans would consider those wines, but perhaps that is more a function of how prices plus availability have pushed oenophiles to broaden their mental Burgundy borders.

The maps seem high quality to me, although I’m sure there have been plenty of adjustments over the decades as plots were recognized, and promoted. They are larger than the other wine atlas types of books I have. What I like about each AOC section is that there is a content filled prose to pair with the maps that covers important highlights - micro climate issues, soil composition, visitation issues etc. For the communes fortunate enough to have grand cru plots, there is a table presented which identifies them, the size, number of vintners working it, and the total (minuscule) case output.

One differentiated point is that for many highlighted producers, there is a table which shows the spectrum of bottlings made, with details on its commune, level, lieu dit, acreage, vine age, and then commercial terms (domaine, farmed, or sharecropped). I realize all that information is a generation old at this point, and either stale or non germane now, but it’s interesting nevertheless, as it explains how the region has evolved.

What is great about Norman’s writing is that he very good at letting the producers ‘speak’ as they themselves discuss their viewpoints on vineyard work, winemaking, cooperage, marketing and so on. He is able to transmit the feelings of the interviewees, in a voice that sounds authentic, without imposing his own MW worldview. So there can be differing outlooks on soil treatment, stem inclusion, cuvaison time and so on, between each producer. But it comes across coherently, rather than disjointedly.

The final 40 pages of the book are very content rich, and feel like they would have been typically in the beginning of a wine book. These are not appellation related but on overall topics and include AOC & Quality Control, Soil, Varietals and What to Plant (clone discussion), Vine care, Wood, issues with making red vs. white, two individual profiles (Guy Accad and Henri Jayer), the marketing/distribution process, how to buy allocated Burgundy (more from a trade perspective), and then vintage overviews. The last sections - especially all the groveling needed to get grand crus - are so alien to me that it was almost bizarre to read. And this information is decades old, and the situation has presumably only gotten worse, for those on a quest for the top 1% sites.

It took me a long time to read this book - at least a year - slowly nibbling on a few pages every week but it was a great book. If one likes reading wine books, and is not space constrained, it’s worth a slot on the shelf, or perhaps the newer edition (published 14 years later) might win the spot. I’d give it a solid A on my scorecard.

Used copies of the 2nd Edition change hands for $10 on eBay, Amazon etc. but it’s worth more. I still have Clive Coate’s (1995 edition) Burgundy book to read so it will be interesting to compare with other critics.

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Thank you for the detailed review. I enjoyed reading it. Minor addition regarding the question where Mr. Norman got his Phd. He obtained his Phd in Philosophy in Oxford. Harrow is a very exclusive boarding school for boys - so exclusive that you will mention it for the rest of your life, even if you hold a Phd and taught in Oxford.