The Whole (mostly) Wine World: In a Nutshell
If you by chance had it in mind to author a smallish pocket book that economically and entertainingly attempted to condense and describe the bulk of the global wine world, don’t bother. Oz has that covered.
Oz Clarke’s Pocket Wine Book 2012 is the 21st incarnation of this amazing little book. By use of code, symbols, small type, varied typeface and years of experience, Clarke uses this (literally) pocket sized book of 368 pages to draw a very concise picture of the wine wine world. It is an astounding accomplishment of condensing, digesting and nutshelling.
The cover of the book points to part of the challenge that a nutsheller like Clarke faces here: “7,500 wines, 4,500 Producers, Vintage Charts, Wine and Food.” What’s really amazing is not merely that Clarke goes about digesting 4,500 producers and 7,500 wines in 360 pages. What’s remarkable is that he not only takes on this load, but also include:
•keen vintage charts•detailed profiles on major and minor wine producing countries•provides advice on matching foods with with wines
•describes various subject matter from storing and serving wine to decanting and glasses
•offers a survey of the various wine styles now in vogue
•provides a glossary of wine terms• Delivers numerous lists of his favorite wines by category•includes a quite detailed index.
Suffice to say, very little of each page in this book goes to waste.
But here’s the kicker. In the midst of chronicling all this vast amount of information and shoving it into a well-designed and dense little book, Clarke also has the good sense to render opinion. What’s true is that in doing so, he carves a careful (self conscious?) path between keenly opinionated observations on one hand and extraordinarily broad generalizations on the other. Put another way, there is something for everyone in this slim, dense volume.
A good example of Clarke’s renderings of opinion comes in the book’s introduction (among other places) where after slamming New Zealand’s Marlborough growing region for letting plantings get out of control and diminishing the reputation of the region’s wines, he goes on to deliver an overview of the current quality of the rest of the world’s wines—in two pages (you have to see it to believe it). In condensing his view of the state of California wines, Oz puts it this way:
“Certainly California Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays get ever more drinkable…”
I assume this is an English turn of phrase that doesn’t imply the same underhanded compliment that an American’s use of the phrase would deliver. But I could be wrong.
Much of the opinions throughout the book come in the way of symbols and code. The bulk of the book is a combined alphabetical listing of the world’s wine regions and a selection of producers. Below is an example of the entry for Saintsbury Vineyards in the Carneros region. It is typical of the producer entries in the book.
There is a lot more information here than appears at first glance. The three glasses to the left indicate Saintsbury makes reds, whites and rose. The stars indicate Clarke’s assessment of the overall quality of the varietals produced by Saintsbury. *=”a particularly good wine or producer”; **=”an excellent wine or producers”; ***=”an exceptional, world-class wine or producer”. The bold vintage dates indicate these wines are now ready to drink.
The problem and primary criticism with a book like this is what it does not include. Despite the amazing amount of information packed into this little book, there is a great deal left out. For example, Clarke includes assessments of 160 American wineries. This includes California, Oregon and Washington wines. Poor Oregon is provided for with only 16 producer entries. And California’s list numbers a little over 100 entries.
It’s also true that Clarke’s finds himself a bit behind the curve, at least where the state of North America’s
wine industry is concerned. A close reading of the book with North America in mind will show that many of the producers listed are a combination of large, medium and small producers, most of which are very well established. In other words, this book does not survey anything like the cutting or bleeding edge of the wine world, but rather does an extraordinary job of acquainting the reader with intricacies of the wine world that lie inside the well drawn lines.
Who needs Oz Clarke’s Pocket Wine Book 2013? It ought to be put in the hands of any beginning or well-interested wine lover as an important reference. Furthermore, it is an indispensable volume for anyone with deep knowledge of wine who requires a very easy-t0-use reference book that will allow them to get their hands on basic information quickly and have it delivered concisely. That’s most folks.
A final thought is this. One has to be pretty brave to write of book like this one. They open themselves up to criticisms by those who don’t think you have properly addressed a topic or have brushed over a topic too quickly and in a cursory fashion. The retort, of course, is that “there is only so much room,” “the book isn’t meant to be a comprehensive encyclopedia,” and “the words used in every instance throughout the book are chosen carefully to impart a greater density of meaning.”
One also must be extraordinarily confident in their knowledge base and their opinions to so brazenly stuff the world of wine into such a small volume. I think it is that justified confidence that allows Clarke to succeed so well with this new edition of his now so-well-established Pocket Wine Book.
Pocket Wine Book 2013
By Oz Clarke
Available October 2, 2012