Wednesday, November 01, 2006
Everything from abboccato to zymase: the new Oxford Companion to Wine
Not even the most ardent wine lover can learn all they need to know about wine simply from drinking it. The new 2006 edition of The Oxford Companion to Wine, edited by Jancis Robinson, is the resource to take your knowledge of wine to the next level, without taking a sip.
The first page alone is an indication of the range of resources and wonderful riches you will find on all 813 pages. You learn about Spanish and Italian terms for medium sweet wines, the slogan ABC, a wine region on the Canary Islands, a rare French varietal, the Abruzzo, a hormone that regulates vine growth, and an Arab/Persian poet of the 9th century known for his verses on wine. And that's just the first page. All entries are arranged alphabetically, in classic encyclopedic style, which makes it easy to find whatever you are looking for. There is also excellent cross-referencing, so one entry leads to another and pretty soon half an hour has sped by!
I was especially struck by how Robinson and her team of writers managed to balance out the very latest DNA research with a deep knowledge and appreciation for wine history. One of my favorite entries was "Fashion" that explained how wine tastes evolved through the centuries, from the Ancient Roman preference for sweet, old wine to today's vogue for what they referred to as wines with "physiological ripeness" and high alcohol levels. Geographically, though there is a definite focus on the classic wine regions, there are also references to wine-growing all around the globe. And yes, there is an article on wine-writing that mentions the influence of the web.
You may not want to sit down and read the book from cover to cover--for one thing it's too heavy to hold for more than a few minutes!--but the writing is so clear and accessible that you could if you wanted to and had the arm strength. Most of us, though, will put it on the shelf and pull it off again and again to look up a varietal, find out exactly where Brouilly is, or actually come to grips with the chemistry of fermentation.
With the holidays coming, this would make a great gift for wine lovers or something to buy yourself to help you recover from all the parties. Even though this is a book, it still is excellent QPR.