Champagne: A Compendium Of Information

I met the Swedish writer and champagne expert Richard Juhlin in Rheims a couple of years ago, mingling with a dozen or so other people in the wine trade who had been invited by Krug to attend a fascinating three-day seminar and blending workshop that took place in their vineyards and historic cellars. I found Juhlin to be charming, witty, confident, opinionated, and humorously arrogant in the way that men in their late 40s often are when thrust into a group of their peers, whether it is on the playing field, at a dinner party, or in a tasting room.

In other words, I liked him.

And those of us who disagreed with his tasting opinions — and that frequently happened — were not daunted by his reputation. We gave him a lot of crap whenever he went over the top, especially when he was a participant/provocateur in the experimental blending sessions.

Now anyone can judge him for themselves. His new book is A Scent of Champagne: 8,000 Champagnes Tasted and Rated (400 pages, Skyhorse Publishing, $75), which goes on sale today, and it is a gem of information.

There is no doubting Juhlin's broad range of knowledge. Frankly, it is doubtful that any other person alive has the breadth and depth of pertinent information that Juhlin has about champagne, whether it is stored in his mind or in his notebooks. Having read little of his previous writings, I was quite interested in seeing how his persona translated to the page and whether his knowledge of champagne would manifest itself into something interesting and wise or simply be a sedate encyclopedia that we could reference from time to time.

There is some of both, but more of the latter.

Juhlin is not the sort of person who hides his feelings about himself to himself, and, although self-aggrandizing, his accounts of how he grew to love champagne and his abilities of recall long-ago tastings with just a whiff — or a scent — of the bubbly are indeed interesting, well-written and, in their way, even romantic. If these observations were part of a novel told in the first pages, we would be hooked to see where his adventures would lead him.

But the large hole in the book is that Juhlin has had access to the great winemakers of champagne and — even with his flawless memory — he tells us little about them and their philosophies. Think of all the anecdotes he could share, the observations to be made late in the evening over many glasses of champagne chatting informally with the great minds, the great artists of champagne. We won't find these insights behind the numbers here, unfortunately.

So while the reader may give a smile here and a chuckle here at Juhlin's self-indulgences, the real worth of the book is that it's an invaluable catalog of champagnes made and tasted. I cannot imagine a serious champagne drinker who wouldn't check constantly to see what Juhlin knows about this producer or that or how his tasting notes square with that of the drinker. Yes, it is a great book for holiday giving — though too massive for any stocking — that could be comfortably housed either in the recipient's study or on his or her coffee table.

It's a book I will use often as a reference for information, but much less so for insight into the true wisdom of the producers.