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The best wine book ever

I love wine and I love books.

So it would stand to reason that wine books hold particular interest for me. So much so that when I visit a winery and the gift shop has a selection of books on wine, I’m likely to spend more time with the books than I do in the tasting room.

That’s why I became giddy with excitement when I received the brand-spanking-new sixth edition of The World Atlas of Wine, simply the most engrossing, most complete book on wine in, well, the world.



The World Atlas of Wine made its debut in 1971, when British wine scribe Hugh Johnson felt the wine world was at a point where it needed an atlas to show people where wine was coming from. Since that time, the five editions have been translated into 14 languages and sold more than 4 million copies, and Johnson has been awarded an Order of the British Empire for his services as wine writer. Heady stuff.

This edition is co-credited to both Johnson and Jancis Robinson, another Brit with an international reputation as a wine writer. Apparently Hugh is getting on, and the younger travel legs that Robinson possesses were vital to completion of the project given how far-flung the world of wine has become.




In the introduction, for example, there is a photo of a man with a merlot cutting in the Hebei province of China, where an Austrian wine concern has a new venture called Bodega Langes. Where, you ask, is the Hebei province? Well, if you turn to page 372, a map will show that it sits about 500 clicks southwest of Beijing.

Basically for every wine region in the world there is a comprehensive map. Say you have an interest in the Middle Mosel region of Germany where some of the best Riesling in the world is grown and made. Open up the maps and you’ll get topography, a rating of vineyards ranging from “exceptional” to “other,” and a history of the region that is exquisitely written.

The grandeur of the book lies in its immense coverage of the wine world. But the beauty of the book, the thing that sets it apart from other wine tomes, is found in the prose. The way in which Jancis and Hugh introduce readers to places and soils and shade and light and rivers and breezes. They write from experience. And their experience comes from being two knowledgeable and finely tuned human beings who can recognize the joy of river wind blowing up a slate hillside and have the ability to describe that joy.

And they are not above including opinions in their prose as well. Agree with them or not, both Hugh and Jancis have strong feelings about things like the over-oaking of wine, the consolidation of the industry, and how money has changed the art of winemaking. But while they may address these issues in dry asides, they are not so jaded as to miss all the best that wine in the 21st century has to offer.

The best way to use The World Atlas of Wine is to keep it near your bar or cellar or wine rack. When you select a bottle to drink, take 10 minutes and open the book to the area where the wine came from and read a passage or two. It will help you get a greater “world” perspective on what you drink, and it will be a lot of fun as well.

Many wine shops think so highly of The World Atlas of Wine that they have it in-store to help buyers by providing them a reference. It is an excellent tool for use in perusing the wine shelves.

If this book were a wine, it would be a fine Burgundy: steeped in history, in love with the land from which it came, and crafted by a winemaker with a deft and talented hand. The only downside is it is too big to take with you.


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