Le Guide du Vin 2007 by Michel Phaneuf

Book review edition

Editor's note: The order originally intended for this post has been reversed.

... and while I haven't lost any admiration for Michel Phaneuf I definitely have for his publishing house.

Let me first give you a disclaimer. This is not a proper book review as the following criticisms came after only a brief scan. (But wait, isn't that what reference guides are for -- brief scanning?) Okay, I take it back. This is a real book review.


I have not bought this book, though I'm sure I will. No squabble would be big enough for someone like me to go without this valuable publication. But after today's glance at a copy, I've got plenty to say. What I saw over a five-minute perusal may take a real long time for me to get my head around.

Le Guide du Vin 2007 Michel PhaneufFor the 2007 edition, Le Guide du Vin introduces chapters, which are by region, that are subdivided by producer. Producer! This removes the separation of red wine reviews and white wine reviews. This is great if you're trying to get a better handle on distinguishing your Castello di Fonterutoli offerings from your Casanova di Neri offerings. It's not so great if you're having seafood and want to make a purchase based on Phaneuf's rundown of various Chablis, Muscadets or Sauvignon Blancs. To compensate for the confusing white-red intermingling, Phaneuf's rating symbology now acts to indicate whether a wine is red or white. As a result, readers now have to look at the symbols at the end of the review to determine what bottle's red and what bottle's white. They fixed what wasn't broke!

I'm sure I'll get used to it, but this move seems to be more Wine Spectator than classic Guide du Vin. The Wine Spectator wows its readership with its annual Top 100, which just started its yearly unveiling this week. The Guide du Vin is supposed to do the opposite and dumb down offerings so Quebeckers can figure out what to enjoy with their contrefilet and frites. Le Guide is a wine-buying guide; the Top 100 is not. So this new arrangement by pedigree instead something more down to earth like "red or white" is hard to swallow.

At almost 500 pages -- the same as last year's huge anniversary retrospective spectacular -- I suspect that increasingly large fonts with greater pitch are overinflating the size of this guide. The type is so unwieldy it hangs in a jumble. Illustrations are not inset with text running around them (they have no layout whatsoever leaving them to absorb massive chunks of space on the page). Even the newly introduced producer headings seem to show off the space they waste. This is the wrong idea for what is purported to be a pocketbook and a quick-reference guide. Design is key and this year's design is much less than expected.

Too Bad. Part of what excites me about Phaneuf's guides is the deft presentation of vast information delivered at a glance. This year it's like looking a PDF file permanently set to 200% view. The sense of survey is all but gone.

My best advice to readers doles out some buyer's guide wisdom that this book is lacking. Wait a couple of weeks till the end of the month and buy this book when vendors routinely discount it for 20% off.

Le Guide du Vin.
By Michel Phaneuf.
In French. Illustrated. 496 pp. Les Éditions de l’Homme. $26.95.

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START OF POST: The much-anticipated Guide du Vin 2007 is finally out. I saw it today, a day after it was supposed to appear on shelves. Though I noticed November 14 was pushed to November 15 on some web sites, Renaud Bray did start selling it late yesterday. Some stores still don't have it. I have no idea why dates originally indicated October 24.

What's more important is that Quebec's foremost wine critic is back and guiding shoppers through the aisles of SAQ, the province's liquor monopoly. And also important, at least to me, is that I've found that my mini-reviews are on target. The wines that Michel had been writing about over the summer met the same grade that I had assigned to them in this space during the past week. This Rhone is four stars, this Cahors is three and this Sicilian is also three stars. I am really pleased with this. I think it really means something.

I am not trying to toot my own horn nor I am trying to do his job. This matters not because I can say I could predict what a real wine critic would write, but rather because it solidifies his book as a suitable guide for me, especially the French wine section of it. We're on the page, so to speak. I tend to like what he likes, which is valuable asset when Phaneuf tastes as many wines as he does.

Finding a reputable wine-buying source with whom you can identity is far from a given. Just ask any Parker-fearing wine blogger such as myself...

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caveman said...

i like your reviews better..and i'm sure at least they would change with each new milliseme...which does not happen all the time with Phaneuf...I think the producer review is okay, but they should separate the red and whites, no?

g58 said...

The reds and whites intermingle under each producer (there's no apparent order) yet rosés and sparkling wines get relegated to the back of the book. That's the design I need to warm up to.

As for content, tasting notes have never been the reason I refer to Phaneuf. It's his assessment of good quality for the money that I find very worthwhile. Also I've noticed a new effort to talk wine composition, which is a good thing. Whether it emanates from the wine producer's notes or from Phaneuf's research, I don't know. But either way it's likely a response to growing interest in grape varieties and what their proportions are in the wines we drink (I liked your last post).

Thanks for the kind words, by the way.