I must confess to already being a bit of a Jancis Robinson fan. Her light hearted writing style has already graced my bookshelves for a number of years now and her website has a huge wealth of interesting and useful articles about wine. The first person to achieve Master of Wine outside of the trade, she is a highly respected critic and journalist – considered by many as one of the finest in the world. A wonderful aspirational figure for British women everywhere if you ask me.
Odd to start a review with a picture of another book? Works for me.
A not inconsiderable CV then, for the compiler and editor of the Oxford Companion to Wine, now totally overhauled and updated for its fourth edition, the first to be released since 2006. Every single entry has been scrutinized and checked by Robinson and her team of illustrious contributors. Around 300 new entries have been added, including my favourite, orange wine (see, I keep telling people that’s going to be the Next Big Thing).
The cover of this decadently heavy hardback is a rich magenta, it certainly won’t get lost on your bookshelves! It weighs in at over 900 pages of definitive wine information and has been described as ‘The greatest wine book ever published’ by the Washington Post. It is essentially the ultimate wine encyclopedia with every aspect of wine covered in glorious detail, from abboccato (the Italian word for medium sweet) to zymase (the enzymes which help to turn fruit sugars into alcohol in fermentation).
Key figures of global significance are in there – you really have to have made a significant contribution to warrant an entry. The wine traditions and modern practices of individual countries and appelations are listed, and the major grape varietals all have their own entry as you would expect. There is also a handy appendix which matches appellations to their permitted grape varieties, something that I imagine will become an absolute go-to for me.
The process of growing grapes is of course covered in magnificent detail – from descriptions and handy diagrams of techniques like chip budding, to explanations of popular and traditional trellis systems and pruning methods. Pests, disease and threats are also given due respect – the entry for phylloxera alone takes up nearly three pages.
Of course this is open to the page for modern English wine production!
Both the processes around ripening and harvesting have numerous entries and it is lovely to see that ‘harvest traditions’ also have their own entry, which gives a supremely interesting glimpse into this key time for vineyards in France, the rest of Europe and in the new world.
On to wine production, techniques, traditions and up to bottling and packaging and naturally through to tasting, brands and a lot more besides it is difficult to describe the wealth of information in this book without ending up writing a great encyclopedia style blog post myself! Suffice it to say that this book is to wine lovers as water is to fish. You really shouldn’t try to live without it.
I have no criticism to level at such a labour of love. This book is as perfect and up to date as you can possibly require. Personally I would prefer modern English wine to feature a little more prominently (naturally) but I think that objectively it is given fair weight given the relative size and significance of our production at the moment. And the key grapes that are used in the UK have good sized entries, which is the most important sort of education that needs to be shared to help support the market at the moment. Welcome to the Companion, Pinot Noir Precoce!
This book is pleasing to read, endlessly fascinating, both un-put-downable and awesome for quick reference. I have totally fallen in love with it and it shall be treated as a child, in the same way that the Oxford Classical Dictionary I bought at uni is one of my most treasured possessions. Buy it if you love wine, buy it if you like wine and it will inspire you to love it. Buy it if you just want to gen up on enough information to become a terrible bore at dinner parties. I never get invited to dinner parties, so I think I’m going to be OK.
Many thanks to OUP for sending me a review copy, you have changed my life for the better.
Don’t miss Jancis Robinson in conversation at Jewish Book Week on 21st February 2016. She will be ‘Drawing the Genie from the Bottle’ with her husband Nicholas Lander and it’s only £10.50 a ticket!