The Atlas is, of course, the work of Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson, the former of whom I consider myself a fan-boy of, and the latter of whom I’m fortunate enough to consider an acquaintance (the first time that I met her, in Portugal, she tried to introduce herself to me, at which point I countered with something along the lines of “no, that’s not how this meeting is going to go down; you’re amazing, and I’m an insect!”… real smooth on my part). Its release is always newsworthy in the fine wine world; this is the first major revision to the tome since the 7th Edition back in 2013. it’s widely – and justifiably – considered an essential resource for anyone serious about obtaining fine wine knowledge, and it has no equal in terms of painting portraits of the best of the wine world’s terroir locations. But is it worth shelling out $60-some-odd?…
I’ve been inundated with wine book samples this month (which I’ll note is November 2016, for posterity’s sake, and for those of you still sobering up from Thanksgiving), both the electronic and the good, old-fashioned dead-tree varieties. And so, I’m going to use this edition of the wine product roundup to give you a little taste of the current wine book scene (all prices noted are for hardcover editions).
Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine 2017: 40th Anniversary by Hugh Johnson ($16.99, Mitchell Beazley)
Bottom line: highly recommended.
Every year for the last several years, I’ve received a sample of the latest edition in this series. Every year for the last several years, I think that this insanely useful little gem cannot possibly get any more insanely useful. Every year for the last several years, I have been wrong, and 2016 continues the trend. The high bar that’s been set for this go-to reference book for the last forty years has predictably been matched, but I’d argue it’s also been exceeded, in that the “If you like this, try that” and “wine stories” article themes that have been reserved for this edition’s color pages sections are superb (and make the book even more useful). If you’ve skipped the last couple of editions, it’s time for an upgrade.
The 24-Hour Wine Expert by Jancis Robinson ($12.95, Abrams Image)
Bottom line: recommended, with reservations.
It’s not that The 24-Hour Wine Expert isn’t a very good wine book; it is, and Jancis Robinson brings her sharp prose and equally sharp mind to pop many a wine myth balloon within its short 112 pages. The idea, espoused by Robinson in the opening Welcome section, is to use the book to answer common wine questions (how is wine made?, how should one buy wine?, what hardware should be used?, etc.) as they come up. The trouble is, the book is positioned in a way that leverages the very kinds of sweeping generalizations and shortcuts that Robinson has spent nearly her entire career in the public spotlight battling against, and ignores a more comprehensive wine knowledge resource of which Robinson has become a particularly skilled champion: the Internet. There’s useful information here, no doubt, but the usefulness of a hardcover copy is debatable…
Jancis was in tip-top form, sharing wine with us (a Moravian Riesling… yes, really…), fielding questions about her accomplishments in the once-stodgy old boys’ club world of wine, and not shying away from questions about her past spats with Robert Parker, her strong views on alternative wine closures, and what she thinks of emerging wine regions. She also professes love for the Finger Lakes region, and we geek out a bit about the Local Wine movement.
And yes, a week later I’m still a bit upset that no one said anything about the Millennium Falcon t-shirt I was wearing during this interview…
Anyway… Just another day at the office, when your office involves drinking wine in the middle of the afternoon while talking to some of the world’s best wine educators…!
Jancis has garnered nearly as many awards as there are grape varieties profiled in her latest book – she was Decanter Magazine Woman of the Year (UK) in 1999, won the Grand Award at the Society of Wine Educators in Sacramento in 2009, and in 2011 was voted third most powerful person in wine by Decanter.com.
I’ve had the pleasure of hanging out with Jancis a bit, and I think the best way to give you a glimpse into her personality is to recount the exchange we had when we first met (at an event in Portugal a couple of years ago; you know, in the time before Interest). It sent something like this: Jancis walked up to me and said: “Hello! I had to introduce myself, you’re ‘The Dude,’ aren’t you?” To which I replied, “Ohhhh, no, that is not how this introduction is going down. You’re awesome, and I’m just a bug!”
Jancis could probably be forgiven if she decided to put on airs and offer ivory tower pronouncements about what wines we all ought to be buying. She’s taken exactly the opposite approach, however, embracing social media full-tilt and engaging with wine lovers directly in two-way on-line dialog, as well as pouring much of her efforts into her online presence at JancisRobinson.com.
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