The 2014 edition of Hugh Johnson's Pocket Wine Book is like its predecessors a true delight. This comes with the slight concern as to how long he can keep calling it a "pocket" book because at over 300 pages it is three times as thick as the one I first purchased in 1980.
As always it is packed with both general and detailed information on the wines of the world. It's not an encyclopaedia of wine as it does not cover every wine or even every wine producing country but it does manage to cover the vast majority. This is not a book for wine snobs (although I would bet that many of them buy this book) but for the vast majority of people who want to have more a detailed wine knowledge at their fingertips. Johnson as always strikes a good balance, not talking down to those who are new or inexperienced in the world of wine, while providing a wealth of information for the more experienced wine lover.
Whether you are buying cases to lay down in your cellar or just popping down to the supermarket to pick up a bottle to have with your Sunday lunch the Pocket Wine Book will be there for you, guiding and informing on one of nature's greatest gifts.
I'm no wine expert. When ordering in restaurants I usually leave it to someone else to order and until recently, when I became interested in the subject, my idea of a good bottle of wine was the £4.99 special in the local supermarket. Or something German, and sweet. Recently though I've dragged myself into semi-civilisation and enjoy increasingly fine, and expensive wines.
This book is a huge help in my quest both to enjoy wine, but to learn more about it, as well as to hunt out those hidden gems I might enjoy but haven't been brave, or rich, enough to try.
This fine book is organised by region, and then alphabetically, with each wine getting a couple of sentences describing it and an easy to understand rating. It is also punctuated with info boxes on all kinds of wine related subjects, all of which are a huge help when choosing and learning about the drink.
What I like most about this book though is that it isn't pretentious or complicated. It's thrillingly easy to understand and use, even for someone like me. And for that reason alone it is absolutely worth buying if you've even the smallest interest in what a good wine is.
There is soon going to come a point where 'pocket' becomes a misnomer as each annual edition seems fatter than its predecessor! I tend to buy the Hugh Johnson Guide one year, and the Oz Clarke equivalent the next. I'd say that the Oz Clarke is perhaps more approachable and easier for the inexperienced to get to grips with (and the text is easier to read too) but there is no doubting the depth of information & experience contained in the Hugh Johnson guide - let's face it he has been writing about wine for well over thirty years.
The guide is split by country and has a brief preamble which gives a view on recent vintages and then follows a detailed summary of producers and the producer or region's output with a guide to what to drink now, recommendations as to the best years, and what to buy to mature further. There is also a star-marking or range of markings for the producer/wines. The vintage reports supplement this and warn you off certain years or encourage you to drink up quickly where appropriate. I also like his comments about once-favoured producers who have gone off the boil, and others who are emerging from the doldrums. The guide covers all the main wine producing areas, including lesser known countries such as Israel, Lebanon, Mexico & Canada with a nod to new places on the way up like China & India.
In my view, Johnson is pitching at an audience that is already interested in wine, rather than a general audience wanting advice on what wine to buy to have with Sunday lunch. There is a certain amount of general information at the beginning, including an 'if you like that, try this' section which gives good pointers and which will help expand horizons, and snippets of information throughout, but overall the information on producers, vintages, etc is probably overkill for many people, particularly if their source of wine is the supermarket (many of the recommended wines will only be available from specialist wine merchants).
The only gripe I have is that as the content has increased, so the typeface used has got smaller (and it was never large to begin with). On occasion I have had to resort to a magnifying glass.
I like to think that I have the average pocket, but according to Hugh Johnson I may not have because his new edition of the `Hugh Johnson's Pocket Wine Book 2014' is a little too long and thin for me. `2014' may be slightly less of a pocket edition than it used to be, but that does not stop it from being an excellent resource for the wine lover. The book opens with an introduction from the man himself about the recent trends and future direction of wine across the world. More importantly, you also get a mini guide on how to use the book itself.
This is much needed as `2014' is crammed with details of wine produced across the globe. You can look up a supplier, the type of wine they produce and there will likely be a score telling you the standard of the drink. As a non-wine expert the book was a little full on at times and had me lost at first. However, to cater more for this novice reader `2014' has included a star system for good wines that can be found at a reasonable price. This is far more to my liking! I also liked the guide to what wine to drink with what food, very useful.
As with so many annual books `2014' is only good for 12 months, so buy it early if you are going to. There is a little added value at the end of the book with an article on some of the latest trends in wine growing. This basically gives you an idea of the type of person that will get the most out of the book; wine connoisseur or knowledgably novice. For this person, a copy of `Hugh Johnson's Pocket Wine Book 2014' would be a great addition to help them choose the correct wine.
Given the popularity of this pocket guide (over 11 million copies worldwide) you'd half-expect to see small herds of deeply-engrossed wine-lovers roaming supermarket aisles with their noses buried in a copy - or maybe they leave it in the glove compartment and scan it quickly before entering, so as to look effortlessly informed and sophisticated? Either way it's a perfectly formed little guide to what you should, and probably more importantly shouldn't, be seen drinking this year. It takes a bit of effort to attune yourself to the book's abbreviated listings - in fact it's slightly impenetrable at first, but a bit of work with the glossary and the quick reference charts (inside the front and back covers) helps a lot. Reading the introductory articles and grape variety guides at the beginning helps too, all of course having been updated for this issue.
A couple of other things might help too - a good pair of reading spectacles and/or a portable reading light, because apparently getting all these words into your pocket means they have to be printed really small. Plus, if you're really seriously interested in good wine and it's provenance then I'd also recommend a copy of Hugh Johnson's other (co-authored) book The World Atlas of Wine, which makes a perfect (and unashamedly lavish) partner to this slimmed down version. I assume the title is ironic, since this diminutive volume would probably be more accurately named The Empty-Pocket Wine Book, given how many bottles you'll probably sample.
Not a wine encyclopedia but a reference book that leads the way through an ocean of wine related guff and points you in the direction of a decent bottle, or case, without the need for 'science'. Succinct, to the point, and easy to follow with a good mixture of facts and personal comments running alongside the more usual features such as 'wine and food'. I particularly enjoyed the section 'if you like this, try this' which gave me a few new ideas.
One of those books you can't help but keep dipping in and out of and one that's extremely useful to those buying for pleasure or buying for business.
This is a brilliant book for those who want to know more about the wines they are drinking (or thinking of drinking). It's entertainingly written with information on countries, producers, vintages and the various types of wine you might like. I suppose at over 300 pages it's getting a bit chunky to continue to be called a pocket book, but it really is still a slim volume which you can carry around with you. I shall be consulting on a regular basis to inform my wine buying in the year ahead.