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Hugh Johnson's Wine Companion, fifth edition
reviewed by Dean Tudor
 (February 2, 2004)

Hugh Johnson's Wine Companion: The encyclopedia of wines, vineyards, & winemakers, fifth edition (Mitchell Beazley, 2003; distr. by McArthur, 592 pages, ISBN 1-84000-704-4, $50) has been fully revised and updated by Stephen Brook, another award-winning UK wine writer. The first edition was in 1983, and the last revision was in 1997. Brook is co-author for the first time, and presumably will take it over at some point.

But I'm not sure the book needs to continue. There are so many changes each year that it is difficult for anyone to keep up, and it is certainly next to impossible to keep a book such as this one up to date, given its revision history. It needs to come out every two years, at a minimum. Witness these changes: new wine laws, new vintages, new techniques, new markets, new ownerships, new winemakers, and newly emerging regions. "Wine" is now a moving target, and it is best to keep abreast through the Internet.

What we have here is a snapshot of 2002–3, already a bit out-of-date. Johnson has only the essentials for each wine country and region, with next to nothing on wine laws (a mistake), and bare-bones names and descriptions of the wines. It merely extends the pocket guide, and perhaps for 2004 or 2005, one need not buy both that annual and this companion.

It is arranged like the pocket guide (country first, winery next) with an alphabetical index. Canada gets pages 474 and 475. The rating scores for Ontario are okay, but the scores for BC wines are too low, particularly in view of the All Canada and Canadian Wine Awards winners of the past few years. There are good notes on the current critical audience for wines. More wine media reports mean more audience exposure to more wines and to more winemakers. Thus, more competition ensues. But there is no mention in this companion as to what the wine media are!

What I don't like about this book: alas, there is no resource list: no mention of competing books, magazines or websites! It also needs to be updated more frequently, but there are no notes from the publisher indicating that this will be the case. Indeed, there is no mention of the Internet as a source of news gathering.
What I do like about this book: the Canadian price in numbers is the same as the US price! And the book is a needed bridge between Johnson's annual guide and his wine atlas.
Quality/Price Ratio: 88.

 

 

 

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