Tasting Notes with Jim Beauregard: A great wine book keeps getting better

By JIM BEAUREGARD April 18. 2017 10:54PM

The Oxford Companion to Wine, 4th Edition: Edited by Jancis Robinson. Oxford University Press, 2015, 852 pages, $65.

I know, I’ve been on a bit of a book-review kick for the past month or so, but there is good stuff out there, new and recent, that is worth mentioning. And, since the last two reviews have been about beer, it’s time to balance things a bit with a review of one of the great wine books — the Oxford Companion to Wine, now in its fourth edition.

I have been eyeing this volume for a while, and finally took the plunge this week. It was worth it.

Its editor, Jancis Robinson, who has been at the forefront of British wine writing for decades, describes it as the most thorough revision of the text to date. And that is saying something. It has truly been a companion to my wine writing now for many years.

The first edition was released in 1994, so this fourth update, which involved updating many of the already existing articles, also adds some 300 more entries to reflect what has been happening in the wine world since 2006.

Here are just a few of the new topics: Alaska, biochar, Cambodia, Casablanca, earthworms (yup), films about wine, Lesotho, microbial terroir, prodelohinidin, sustainability, Tahiti, urban wineries, vine architecture, Zelen, and information about some of the new wine designations as well.

The new entries as a whole all reflect advances in wine science, the biology of the vine, practices of viticulture, and the new ways technology has been brought into play in grape growing and wine making.

The book, in encyclopedia style, covers every major wine-growing region on the planet, including, yes, Alaska, which has been establishing wineries in the past few years and making wine from grapes imported from warmer climes.

And, what does the OCW have to say about the former colonies? We are “an important wine importer and producer of wine and drying grapes” (p. 766). That’s just getting warmed up. There’s a history of winemaking in America, a section on wine laws (they don’t exist only in the EU), the types of grapes that have been shown to thrive here, in a country that has wide variations in climate, and a trip through many of the 50 states and their viticulture.

Of course, after reviewing a wine book, we should review a wine:

Stemmler 2012 Winside Vineyard Pinot Noir: Russian River Valley, Sonoma, Calif; 14.5% abv; $35.99, NH Liquor & Wine Outlets.

Deep purple, suggesting it’s still young, with a medium intensity nose, a dry Pinot Noir palate, medium acidity, medium alcohol that’s well integrated, medium body and flavors of fruit including raspberry, strawberry, red plum and a hint of black plum as well as some oak flavors. 88 points.

What does the OCW have to say about Pinot? First, Pinot Noir is one of the original noble grapes, a part of the Noiren family, and is known for making wines that are “sensual.” It’s now grown around the world, first in France, and subsequently in Germany, Spain, the United States, Chile, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. Each of these countries, due to different climates and soils (in other words, terroir), produce wines of distinction.

OCW also notes the big uptick in Pinot Noir sales as a result of the 2004 movie “Sideways,” and note that it’s a finicky grape, one that takes a practiced hand to bring it to its full potential, wherever it’s being grown.

Lastly, this being the 21st century, I looked up OCW’s entry on “Internet,” to be redirected to the entry on “Information Technology” — much more sensible, actually. What one learns there is the incredible extent of information sharing thanks to the internet, giving winegrowers the world over nearly instant access to information about new technology, new facts about the vine, the latest developments in wine science and more.

One important fact: “And price comparison websites such as wine-searcher.com have revolutionized wine retailing and encouraged fair pricing on a global scale” (p. 372).

Contact wine and beer writer Jim Beauregard at tastingnotesnh@aol.com


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