One of the great things about wine is that it’s different every year, and one of the confusing things about wine is that it’s different every year. To keep up with the times, Jancis Robinson OBE MW and Julia Harding MW delivered a new edition of The Oxford Companion to Wine, this time joined by Tara Q. Thomas as Assistant Editor (who brings 25 years of experience editing Wine & Spirits magazine to the project). With over 300 new entries, some from the more than 100 new contributors, it clocks in at 944 pages, which makes the $65 price seem more than fair. The content makes it an invaluable addition to any wine-lover’s bookshelf (or kitchen table, if you keep reference books around like security blankets, as I do).
Many of the new entries are surprising, either because they are new to the work (aszú, Finger Lakes, alberese, Dogliani, bottle shock, Ruster Ausbruch…), or because they are completely unexpected (e.g., places from Arkansas to Senegal, New Jersey to Easter Island). Others are timely additions to the encyclopedia, reflecting trends or issues in viticulture (no-till, regenerative agriculture, drones, wildfires, the spotted lantern fly and the brown marmorated stink bug), new or updated appellation laws (MGA, UGA, Van Duzer Corridor), new approaches in the cellar or distribution (zero-zero, carbon footprint of wine, paper bottles, tariffs, blockchain, NFT), or wine culture (unicorn wine, glou-glou). With regard to grape varieties, while the Companion adds such entries as vidianó and kydonítsa to a collection already including drupeggio and dunkelfelder, the list is not meant to be comprehensive, and you will not want to toss your copy of Wine Grapes. Likewise, the new edition of the Companion does not make your copy of the World Atlas of Wine redundant, as one of the few shortcomings is its maps: for the most part, they are too generic to be useful.
Some things that I learned paging through the new edition include that vines have now been planted in Sweden, turning the subject of many a sommelier’s joke over the past decade into reality, and that vineyards in tropical areas such as Tahiti (!) can be manipulated into producing two crops per year. A careful perusal of the data in the appendices on vineyard acreage, wine production, and wine consumption by country will reveal some surprising findings. For instance, nearly every European country is down in terms of surface area devoted to vines, as well as the US and Argentina, while areas with significant percentage increases in vineyard acreage include Afghanistan, Russia, Namibia and Palestine.
The latest edition reports that production is actually up in Spain, France, Italy, the US and Türkiye, despite that decline in vineyard land. And consumption per capita appears to be down in many traditional wine-consuming countries (e.g., France by 24 percent, Argentina by 15 percent, Portugal by six percent). Maybe the French and Argentine wine drinkers have moved to Namibia, as that country displayed a 363 percent increase from 2010 to 2020. Those who appreciate Robinson’s dry wit will find entries to love (“zymurgy, the study or practice of fermentation. It is a word more useful in Scrabble than in everyday life.”). As for her delightful concision in Wine Grapes’ preface on the topic of varietal being an adjective, that was unfortunately lost in the entry here, another reason to keep your copy of both books.
The Oxford Companion to Wine, 5th Edition, By Jancis Robinson OBE MW, Julia Harding MW and Tara Q. Thomas, Oxford University Press (2023), 944 pages, $65
This story appears in the print issue of Winter 2023.
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