Review by Michael Edwards at

“Christie’s Encyclopedia of Champagne & Sparkling Wine
Tom Stevenson & Essi Avellan MW
Absolute Press (third edition), £50

The latest edition of Tom Stevenson’s classic tome is much more than an update. This is clearly the creation of Essi Avellan, who, given carte blanche by Stevenson, has shaped it in her own image. One senses a new voice – convincing, precise, analytical and mercifully free of dogmatic judgment masquerading as incontrovertible truth. Put another way, Avellan wears her knowledge and authority lightly, born of quiet self-confidence in the accuracy of her own palate, which is one of the best in the effervescence world.


Leafing through the encyclopedia’s 510 pages, the reach of fine bubbles across 41 countries is breathtaking, yet the author’s selection is always careful, her judgement magisterial. What’s more, she’s disciplined in her awards of stars and particularly of scores. No wine, not even one of the greats, gets more than 98/100 – something of a rebuke to the modern tendency of grandstanding pundits who blithely award 100/100 to entry-level Bruts riding the wave of fashion. No such gilding of the lily here.


Most engaging is Avellan’s scrupulously fair treatment of Champagnes that may not be among her favourites but which get dispassionate, proper assessment. Having known her for a while and tasted often together, I don’t think that she really warms to a fully oaked, oxidative style – Henri Giraud and Anselme Selosse are obvious examples. Yet her profiles of both masters are a model of evenhandedness, because she implicitly acknowledges that theirs is a style admired by some very fine tasters. Withal, Avellan stays honest in her appraisals of cult Champagnes. Unlike less brave tasters, she implies that the 1999 vintage at, say, Salon was not its finest hour.


The added value of this new edition is the much expanded coverage of the crème de crème of grower/domaine Champagnes. Though still only a small percentage of total Champagne exports, these now have a visibility on metropolitan markets out of all proportion to their size. Window shop down Manhattan’s Park Lane, London’s St James’ or Paris’ rue Ste Dominique and you’re as likely to see a bottle of Egly-Ouriet or Jacquesson as a flagon of Krug or Cristal. The time of the little guys has come. In compiling her grower profiles, the author has been greatly aided by Amanda Regan, an Australian who lives much of the year in Paris and is a dependable taster of Burgundy and Champagne.


The coverage of fine sparkling wines across five continents is as meticulous as for the real thing. It’s good to see, in particular, the newish DOCG Prosecco Superiore, from the classic Trevisan hills north of Venice, given thorough evaluation and praise. The delicate, refined single-site Proseccos of such leaders as Ruggeri, Adami and Nino Franco are fine wines by any standards and particularly right for today’s trend towards informal meals. With their flick of sweetness, they can be brilliant partners of Asian cuisine and irresistible to sophisticates in shirt-sleeve moments.


The encyclopedia features a model glossary and vintage notes as good as they get.”


Michael Edwards
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