The Oxford Companion to Wine
edited by Jancis Robinson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 3rd ed. 2006): 840pp, £40 (hbk), ISBN 978 0 19 860990 2.
Reviewed by Josephine Bacon
As is apparent from the number of pages, this is a pretty weighty tome, and Michèle Clarke must have been pretty grateful to offload it to a reviewer at last year's conference.
The preface to the third edition explains that the first edition had 3,000 entries, the second 3,650 and this third edition has 3,900, hence the need for this latest version. I always prefer the later editions of this sort of reference material as problems arising in earlier editions will have been ironed out, omissions included and there will be a general improvement in the content.
The fact that a third edition was needed is not so much due to problems with the earlier ones but is a consequence of the geographical changes which are such a headache to publishers of reference material (but a boon to map publishers!) and the huge recent advances in wine-making throughout the world. There is a helpful list of the new entries, which is revealing.
Enthralling bedtime reading
My personal interest is in phylloxera and fungus diseases, and these are very well covered. The book is not only a valuable reference resource, but the articles on the philosophy, history and politics of wine make for enthralling bedtime reading (if you have the strength to haul the book into bed!).
I greatly appreciated the very clear cross-referencing which stands out in maroon small caps against the running text, making it easy to spot. This is very important when one is seeking technical terms, and there are so many new ones around, such as the spinning cone column as an alternative to vacuum distillation for removing the alcohol from wine to make non-alcoholic versions.
From debina to huxelrebe
A huge variety of stocks are discussed, from debina grown on the Greco-Albanian border to huxelrebe, a cross grown in Germany and England. Every possible wine-making country is included, though with global warming, there is no question that a fourth edition may be required
I found this to be by far the most informative and comprehensive of the wine atlases and encyclopædias that I possess and, of course, the most up to date. Jancis Robinson and the editors are to be congratulated on such a through and well-designed volume.