The Three Most Important Wine Books You Need Now
I don’t thank anyone who wants to develop an education in wine can do so simply by tasting. It’s critical. Yes. But without including significant “book learn’in” in your wine education, you will be bereft of a real education. This should be easy to understand. If you simply taste wine, you really have only a tiny window into the world of wine. The student needs history. The student of wine wants an understanding of the background of grapes. We want to understand what makes Bordeaux’s Left Bank and Right Bank different. What’s the big deal about Napa’s Howell Mountain growing area vs. Napa Valley’s Mount Veeder growing area?
So, what’s fascinating to me and what puts me in awe is the fact that the three most important wine reference books all and the three most important books for a great wine education all come from the same person: Jancis Robinson.
I was reminded of this when I received an advanced copy of the new completely revised and updated (7th Edition) of The World Atlas of Wine (WAoW) by Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson. Combine this work with “The Oxford Companion to Wine” and “Wine Grapes”, both edited by Robinson, and you have the three most important wine reference books currently available in the world. And Ms. Robinson is the headliner of all three.
The great Hugh Johnson was responsible for creating the first WAoW when it was first published in 1971. Since 2003, Ms. Robinson has been actively involved in its update and revisions. It is, to say the least, a monumental effort.
The Atlas has amazingly detailed maps of every wine region in the world including graphic depictions of appellations as well as topography. The WAoW is much more focused on European winemaking countries than New World winemaking countries. Of it’s 400 pages, fully 100 are devoted to France. Two hundred and thirty pages are devoted to European and Mediterranean winemaking countries. Each country or regional section contains significant background information on its history and current state of affairs along with photos, labels of significant producers, a table outlining key topographical and weather and grape types, and of course the most well rendered maps you’ll find in any book on wine. I have no doubt that Master of Wine and Master Sommelier students have earlier versions of this book splayed open across their desks and work spaces as a key tool used to study the world of wine.
And it’s also important to point out that when this book says it is both “revised and updated” it means it. I own two earlier editions of the WAoW. There is no region or country detailed in the book that I found not to have been updated in this new edition. The sixth edition was published six years ago. It is a testament to Johnson and Robinson’s heroic efforts to create a true reference volume that they have surveyed the world and attempted to include the major changes that have come to the different regions of the world over the past few years.
Some will be disappointed that their favored wine region doesn’t get the attention they believe it deserves. Napa Valley, for example, has six pages. They are detailed pages with sections devoted to Rutherford, Oakville and Stag’s Leap District. But still, it is but six pages. And Sonoma is given but five pages, broken up into Norther and Southern Sonoma. My primary gripe with the Sonoma section is that the very important “true” Sonoma Coast is not given the importance I think its wines truly deserve. It’s Pinots, Chardonnays and Syrahs are trend setters now.
Still, I go back to the remarkable achievement that one person is responsible for the three most important wine reference books now in publications. It’s as though Ms. Robinson is attracted to herculean projects that end by giving official outline to the world of wine. The student of wine—the real student that is intent on providing themselves with a great and complete wine eduction—must have this volume, along with Robinson’s “Grapes” and her “Oxford Companion to Wine”. There are no alternatives.