The fifth edition of Oxford Companion to Wine is 25 per cent longer and contains over one million, meticulously researched, words
Review by Joelle Thomson, 22 December 2023
When every wine blog at this time of year is full of recommendations to drink (and my Top 20 of 2023 remains in draft form), here is a recommendation of what to read this festive season and over the years to come. But where to begin? This review is of a book that is destined to win top publishing prizes and which I regard as the world’s most compelling wine book ever published but, more importantly, the fifth edition of The Oxford Companion to Wine will leave many of its readers speechless, thanks to the sheer volume of information, digestibly written entries and subtle touches of humour.
The nearly 900 page tome has come a long way since its first incarnation, which was published in 1994 as a hefty but smaller format hard cover book, edited solely by Master of Wine Jancis Robinson, who admits to being terrified by the task of putting it together. She did a stunning job alone on the first editor and, over the years, has been joined by fellow editor and Master of Wine, Julia Harding. Nearly 30 years on from the first edition, there are now three people working on the project, all fellow female writers. Julia Harding was the lead editor on this, the fifth edition of The Oxford Companion to Wine, and worked with fellow Master of Wine and editor, Jancis Robinson, and Tara Q Thomas as assistant.
The new edition is a beautiful book in both presentation and writing. It is a far cry from the original first edition, which more closely resembled a traditional Oxford Dictionary in terms of format, at the time. Despite the overtly serious presentation of the first edition, the first Oxford Companion to Wine was a fascinating read and set a new high bar for wine publishing in the mid 1990s. Climate change and technology have now entered the equation and are covered in detail by experts in their respective fields, along with an impressive number of wine experts whose words and speciality areas are maximised everywhere from Jerez to Finland. Speaking of which, the new edition also includes entries for the first time on wine made in Estonia, Latvia and Finland (all previously considered to be at the cold marginal edge of grape growing) and, at the other end of the spectrum, in Gabon, Senegal and Uganda.
The fifth edition also covers, among many many other wine related subjects, Mexico’s growing wine industry and gives wide ranging, indepth information about North American wine from Alaska to Arkansas, taking in many other places in between. This new edition addresses, digestibly, new understanding of the chemistry of winemaking, consumer wine drinking trends, DNA profiling of wine grape varieties, sustainability and robotics in wine production.
The sheer volume of information means there is something to entice every reader and, impressively, the writing has depth, accuracy and care was clearly taken to maximise every precious word. The entry on screwcaps was particularly interesting to me, having followed and documented the introduction and use of the sometimes controversial closure on wine from their first successful inception in 2000 due to a group of Australian producers in the Clare Valley, who were swiftly followed by The New Zealand Screwcap Initiative, chaired by Master of Wine Michael Brajkovich, in 2001.
This book is absolutely essential for students of wine and is a must have for wine lovers who want to know what makes their favourite beverage tick.
It is an outstanding scholarly collection of written work about wine, unrivalled, unmatched and awe inspiring in its magnitude. It is also a book of beauty from its stunning cover to its last, information filled page.
The Oxford Companion to Wine, fifth edition
Edited by Julia Harding, Jancis Robinson with Tara Q Thomas RRP NZ$99.99
Outstanding tome to wine that has equal place on the coffee of wine lovers as it does on the desk of wine students and writers. Beautifully compiled and edited. Exceptional.