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.


Anonymous said...

Dear Dr.Debs…

Great blog by the way. Glad to see the review of the new Oxford – I got it myself last week, its great just to peruse the pages. You reference to unknown wine-lands in the Canary Islands is great, because so often people don’t think about how many places in the world are growing wine successfully and with passion: they just haven’t been put on the map because corporate buyers tend to be a little close minded. Sometimes I wish there was an online retailer where I could find wine from the Canary Islands or from Hungary – or find single varietals bottles of unknown or newly hybridized cultivars. If you’re interested in wine I have a great book recommendation for you from the South African wine legend John Platter. John is basically South Africa’s Robert Parker equivalent – and some time ago he and his wife took a road trip up through Africa to find some of the remotest and most obscure vineyards – don’t forget that a lot of West Africa used to be French and Belgian run. The book has fantastic accounts of vineyards and culinary experience from Morocco to Algeria. Its available on Amazon and is a must read.

In fact, I have a couple of buddies, Greg jr., Greg sr. and Jake who are all dead keen on wine, and I think that one day we should have a big charity event for Bono’s African enterprise… and maybe make a wine tour of Africa part of the prize in our fund-raiser. I think it would be great to see some more African wine on the markets… think about it – that soil is the oldest in world and supports the most diverse flora and forna on the planet – there must be thousands of potential regions. I’ve had a few awesome Ethiopian wines brought to me by a friend who was in Addis Ababa – I think as wine bloggers we really have a potential to lend focus to these previously ignored regions. What do you think?

Anonymous said...

Here is the link for the book

Dr. Debs said...


Glad you like the blog, and welcome back. Thanks for the recommendation for the Platter book. I've put it on the holiday wish list, and since I know nothing about African wine it will be a great education. And stay tuned here because I've got a Hungarian wine I found at Trader Joe's that I'm going to open up on Sunday. Like the Celler Can Blau you reviewed recently, this is part of my efforts to expand my geographic knowledge of wines.

GollyGumDrops said...

This is a book you can get lost in for hours, although when I first got a copy I thought it would be too academic. I was wrong!

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