Reaching for Everything In Wine: Vintage Hugh Johnson
The first edition of Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book I ever picked up was the 1987 edition. Hugh had already been writing the annual guide for ten years. This year’s 2014 edition of the ubiquitous handbook is his 37th edition.
For a number of years, the Hugh Johnson Pocket Wine Book was indispensable as a quick guide to the most important wineries (along with the author’s opinions of them), the basics of the world’s varied wine regions, reports on recent vintages, and an annual bit of up-to-date wine wisdom in the form of Johnson’s introductions where he muses.
Today, the Pocket Wine Book may be in its final throes. The 2014 is as expanded as ever, thicker than any past vintages of the book. But it is still primarily a listing of wineries, categorized by country and rated with stars and given very short descriptive commentary—a sentence or two with lots of shorthand to fit it all in. For example:
“Silver Oak Alex V *** Separate wineries in Napa V, Alex V. makes Cab Sauv only. Classic Napa Cab Sauv, Alex V. a bit more supple. Both have loyal following.”
While there is a real art to boiling down the basics into 25-60 words, it is still 25-60 words. More importantly however, there is absolutely no way that Mr. Johnson can ever hope to be comprehensive in this little handbook, even with the help from friends he gives so much credit to in the Acknowledgement. The choice of which wineries to include in the handbook must be very difficult. There are roughly 250 wineries given short descriptions in the California section. However, there are upwards of 3,500 wineries in all of California.
Anything like a global handbook of producers must be a lost cause at this point, given the explosion of wineries world-wide. The task would be either impossible to complete or the book too massive to publish. Perhaps the Internet is the place for this, but even with its unlimited amount of digits, the task of putting together a comprehensive eHandbook seems like a fool’s errand.
But Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book is different. It’s a franchise that wine drinkers, wine readers and book sellers know, have confidence in and have seen for years and it still works for these reasons.
So, how to make a fading franchise relevant? Perhaps do what I love most about this book. On nearly ever other page is a nice little note, description, thought, piece of trivia and such that is thrown in to break up the list. These little nuggets about what’s hot in a region, Hugh’s favorite producers in a region, the amount of organic acreage planted here or there or just his seasoned opinions come like little drops of wisdom splattered across the pages.
As I leafed through this 37th edition of Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Book of Wine, I began to wish I had collected each annual edition. I wanted to have a vertical of Hugh Johnson going back 37 years. The reason is his introduction to the Pocket Book. For three or four pages, Johnson muses on his pregnant thoughts concerning wine. I recommend serious wine lovers investigate what he has to say in this 2014 edition. He speaks to “a tipping point…and historic pivot” in the wine world. What a fascinating thing it would be to look back and read through 37 years of introductions to his famed Pocket Wine Book.
Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book 2014
By Hugh JohnsonGeneral Editor: Margaret Rand
Publisher: Mitchell Beazley