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Champagne in a Box

Peter Liem is the kind of writer who likes to dig down into the weeds, and he’s chosen the vineyards of the Valley of the Marne to do it.  His new volume, “Champagne: The Essential Guide to the Wines, Producers and Terroirs of the Iconic Region” (Ten Speed Press, $80), is probably the best book on the region since Richard Juhlin’s superb, if sometimes maddening, tome of about five years ago, “A Scent of Champagne.”

An American, Liem became interested in fine Champagne while working in a wine store, started writing about it and finally relocated there. If not a born-in-the-ferment naturalist, he does reflect the growing trend among younger drinkers to be less concerned with drinks as luxury items and instead concentrate on the soil from which the wines sprung and the people who made them – although price and quality make it difficult to consider Champagnes as anything other than luxury items.

Nevertheless, Liem takes us through the usual Champagne lock-step learning curve – the process, the place and the people – using a somewhat fresh set of eyes and palate in doing so. But for those of us always questing after maps, it is the addition of seven of them from the region, first published in 1944 by Louis Larmat and here nestled into their own box, that provides an attraction – the mousse - almost equal to the prose.

Liem’s book and its maps make the makes an ideal gift for

• People who think you actually can tell a book by its classy cover, especially it has a handsome box to match;
• Sommeliers and other people in the wine trade who, when they see a new bottle or read another article on Champagne, immediately need to look it up;
• Champagne-ophiles who constantly want orientation, who need maps to see where something is and to fix its location into their mental card files of where things belong;
• Collectors who need to fill out the book shelves in their cellar libraries;
• People who are studying for their Master of Wine exam;
• Readers who like to sample passages that look fascinating, like dipping into a chocolates sampler, rather than starting at the front and reading through;
• Wine lovers who will appreciate any book you give them as long as it comes with a bottle of Roederer “Cristal,” and
• Wine tourists who have been “thinking about” visiting Champagne for the last few years and need something to tip them over the edge.

And, if you are the recipient of such a book this year but would rather drink Champagne than read about it, if you keep it tucked safely on the shelf, you will be able to neatly repurpose it next season.

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