This month’s wine product review roundup requires you to get your reading glasses, as we’re taking a look at two upcoming wine reference book releases, one of them tiny (and insanely useful), the other heavy and large (and maybe a lot less useful).
First up is the venerable Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine, 2018 edition (Mitchell Beazley, 336 pages, about $17). This tiny marvel is updated annually, and at this point I struggle to say anything about it that I’ve not already said in my usual yearly boot-lickingly obnoxious recommendation of this mighty mini-tome. No wine reference book series even comes close to packing as much utility into such a small package, and doing it so consistently. That I know so may of the contributors probably only makes my endorsement seem even more boot-lickingly boot-licking, but that won’t stop me from highly recommending it. Again.
In the interests of offering a balanced appraisal, I will say that the supplemental material in last year’s 2017 40th Anniversary edition is, in my view, superior to this most recent release; so if you own that one already, you may want to skip this one and see what the 2018 edition has to offer.
Next up is a new edition of the much larger, heavier, and visually impressive Larousse Wine (Hamlyn, 656 pages, about $60). Headed by technical consultant Master Sommelier Georges Lepré, with a team of contributors that are primarily French-based or French-wine-focused, you’d think that a book with 800 photographs and 37 maps would be insanely useful. And you’d be half right…
Nearly half of Larousse Wine is a gorgeously illustrated and well-designed multi-chapter treatise on the core aspects of wine in general, including its history, how it is made, how it can best be enjoyed, and why we have so many misconceptions about it. This portion of the book almost justifies its coffee-table style size and price. The second half of the book is a review of the world’s major wine regions, with producer highlights, but is dominated to an almost shocking degree by France. So much dead tree real-estate is dedicated to French wine here that the USA and Canada get only about 16 pages in total. Chile gets only about 4 pages… and you get the picture. This seriously reduces the utility of the second half of Larousse Wine for all but the most ardent Francophiles, and undermines its subtitle claim of being “the definitive reference for wine lovers” (just put the word “French” in there before “wine” and you’re welcome, guys, I just fixed it for you).
What is potentially more interesting than these reference releases (to me, anyway) is the fact that they are being released in hardcover, printed format in the first place. Why do we still have major paper-based updated editions to them in a nigh-always-connected world? I don’t have an answer to that, but I find it increasingly more old-fashioned, like making voice calls, using Quicken, or having landline phone service. I mean, I like to page through a wine tome as much as anyone, but I recognize that at 45 years old, I’m just waxing nostalgic at this point…