Back to all articles
  • Jancis Robinson
Written by
  • Jancis Robinson
17 Sep 2015

Today is the official publication day of the fourth edition of The Oxford Companion to Wine. You would be forgiven for thinking this massive tome had been out for several weeks, so long have we been plugging it on this site and on its very own site www.oxfordcompaniontowine.com. But apparently even the mighty Amazon obeys the strictures of an official pub date and will ship copies only from that date.

Since the third edition of the Companion was published way back in 2006, this has been the longest wait to date for a new edition of what has come to be, to my amazement and great personal delight, a book that plays an important part in the lives of wine lovers and wine students all over the world. It's effectively the major resource for Diploma students on the top course offered by the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (which is why publishers OUP allowed the WSET an exceptional pre-publication consignment of copies for this year's student intake). And, as Singapore's respected wine authority Poh Tiong very sweetly observed yesterday to all those on his mailing list, 'even wine writers refer, even defer, to it'.

Assistant editor Julia Harding MW and I have had our work cut out to bring this million-word work up to date. The world of wine has changed enormously since 2006 and we found ourselves having to revise substantially, sometimes rewrite completely, more than 60% of all the 4,000 alphabetically listed entries (from abboccato to zymase), which include 300 new ones (from access system, wine to Zelen). 

As you may imagine, this was not a job that could be done overnight. It has taken us two solid years' work – a period even longer for Julia, who not only took charge of updating the maps and all the entries on vine-growing and winemaking, building up an unrivalled network of scientific informants, she also scrutinised the proofs at the very end of the process, having been a brilliant professional book editor in a previous life.

Of course with a massive reference work on a subject as fast-changing as wine, we were loth to spread the work over a longer period for fear of things getting out of date; as it was we were able to revise quite a few entries before the book was printed in Slovakia (not China nowadays). It took me five years to assemble the first edition because it had to be done from scratch - 800 double-column pages to fill! The first edition came out – at last – in 1994 and the second in 1999, giving rise to my family's referring to it as my 'fourth child'.

Of course we are hugely dependent on the 187 authorities who have also contributed to this edition of the Companion – including a particularly hard-working Viticulture Editor in the form of bi-hemispherical Richard Smart and Oenology Editors Denis Dubourdieu and Valérie Lavigne of Bordeaux - from eminent historians to leading scientists via specialists in different countries or even regions, most of whom have had to update their articles enormously. Even some of the historians have had to revise their entries in the light of new discoveries, and leading authority Patrick McGovern has completely rewritten 7,000 words on the origins of what he calls viniculture. All the entries on geology, recognised as an increasingly important topic for anyone interested in wine, have also been completely rewritten, by Professor Alex Maltman, who I see is now a regular contributor to The World of Fine Wine .

Then we have benefited from the new brooms wielded with particular energy by Walter Speller, who has rewritten most of the Italian entries, Huon Hooke on Australia, Sarah Ahmed on Portugal, and David Schildknecht, who has done the same for Germany and Austria. As you may imagine, the whole of eastern Europe is unrecognisable today compared with how it was in 2006. Thanks largely to specialist Master of Wine Caroline Gilby, all these entries have been rewritten. Linda Murphy, co-author of American Wine, has done the same for the host of entries on US wine regions.

Last weekend I devoted an entire article, Nine years of new words , to a survey of some of the more notable brand new entries, including whole new countries that are now producing wine, thanks often to the effects of climate change (itself a dramatically revised entry). But, if anyone interested in wine doubts whether they need this new edition, I mention just one word: minerality. It seems extraordinary that this fashionable concept was not an important part of wine-tasting vocabulary back in 2006 – but at least this serves as proof of how rapidly the world of wine has been changing.

Of course I am hardly impartial, but I do think that if you were sufficiently interested in wine to have acquired any previous edition, then you seriously need this new one. There are links to where to buy both print and digital versions on www.oxfordcompaniontowine.com, wherever you are in the world. The digital version is still being tweaked to ensure that those blissfully easy links between different entries work perfectly. It is hoped that it can be launched on the many platforms that will be offering it by the end of next week.

Last time it took us six months from publication to get the third edition on to JancisRobinson.com. This time around we hope to have an online version available exclusively to Purple Pages members before the end of the year. For the first time, we plan to embellish relevant entries with audio pronunciation guides I recorded last April.

To see sample pages and what people have thought of earlier editions, see www.oxfordcompaniontowine.com. See also the many events in UK and US to celebrate this landmark publication.