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What we have here is a snapshot of 20023, already a bit out-of-date.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.