Monday, September 21, 2009

Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson have earned their places at the top, with classic works on wine, separately and jointly, that belong in every wine lover’s library. But two new updates – both significantly sub-par – suggest that the two may be flagging.

The 2010 edition of Johnson’s once-irreplaceable Pocket Wine Book is a mess. The icons and graphics are confusing, the type ridiculously cramped, the regions in which Johnson himself is not the specialist (a lot of contributors fill in the bulk of the New World material) are sometimes thin, often out of date, vague, and, at least in the case of the Pacific Northwest entries, an outright embarrassment.

Publisher Mitchell Beazley’s PR material trumpets the book as a “definitive, compact guide by the world’s pre-eminent wine writer, with the assistance of expert global contributors [e.g. PR and marketing people], [that] provides current news on 6000 wines, as well as regions, vintages, and growers around the world.” You may agree it is current and definitive if you find value in lists such as “A Safe Pair of Brands…” which points out corporate plonk from nine different countries, or vintage reports consisting entirely of a single phrase such as these for California: “2004 – Grapes ripened quickly with uneven quality. At best average. 2003 – A difficult yr all around. Overall, spotty.”

Beyond the watery opinions are massive amounts of errors. The five pages devoted to the Pacific Northwest (all of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho) are simply loaded with factual mistakes. For a convenient pocket guide these days, you are best off relying on your iPhone, Google and Wikipedia.

I had hoped for better New World coverage in the Hugh Johnson/Jancis Robinson “The Concise World Atlas of Wine” (Mitchell Beazley) – a more compact version of the recent sixth edition of this acknowledged classic. But it’s neither small enough to be a handy travel guide, nor updated in any way to bring the increasingly outdated material up to speed. Again, it is the North American wines and wineries that suffer, with the Pacific Northwest really bearing the brunt of it. The text box accompanying the map of Washington places the Willamette Valley in Prosser! The text suggests that all of eastern Washington is a mix of wheatfields intermingled with orchards and hops. The vinifera acreage is quoted as surpassing 50,000 acres – a figure well beyond the 35,000 acres I’ve seen quoted everywhere else. The book quotes the number of wineries as “nearly 400” when in fact the number is now closer to 700.

I’ll stop here. But what both these books tell me loud and clear is that 1) the internet is a far better source for accurate and current information about New World wineries; and 2) Washington State does not exist in any meaningful way for writers and publishers in the U.K.


Wawineman said...

Maybe it's time you invite those two blokes over for some afternoon "tea".

NicoRiesling said...

We're just not on the radar screen for the UK Paul....

You need to go to the UK with us next time we go.

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