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1 Jan 2014

Paul O'Doherty reviews the latest crop of wine books.

Max Allen's Wine Know How - A Vibrant Dash Through the World of Wine
Max Allen
Hardie Grant

In what is essentially a no-nonsense quick run or dash through Max_Allens_Wine_Knowhoweverything you would need to know about the world of wine, Allen ticks many of the boxes you'd expect in a primer of this kind, from which are the best glasses, to how best to decant a bottle of your favourite tipple. Not wasting time on pictures or fancy diagrams, he examines how to taste wine for maximum enjoyment: what makes a good wine; how to spot a good or bad wine; runs an eye over vinous terms from aromatic to zesty; explains what to expect when one's nose pinpoints lychees and rosewater; suggests how best to chill a bottle of wine quickly; and how to get a broken cork out of the bottle. There is also a substantial section on how best to match food with wine; how to use wine as a basis for a cocktails from Bellinis to Kir Royale; why it's best to drink in moderation and not to drink and drive; what constitutes the ideal wine shop; and which wines are worth keeping. The last three chapters offer a bluffer's guide to wine, taking the reader through the grape varieties and how they are pronounced, for example, Pinot Noir (Peeno Nwah); 'the basic winemaking recipe'; and a quick look at the countries in the wine producing world (Greece gets roughly the same amount of attention as the whole of South America). While it's an exaggeration to say it's a vibrant dash, it is overall a well-written, personable look at the wine world with plenty of introductory titbits and preliminary wisdom that those new to wine literature will certainly find interesting and entertaining.

The World Atlas of Wine, 7th Edition
Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson
Mitchell Beazley
£40/$66 or iBook at roughly half this

WAW7_US_200x200Since the first edition of this atlas was published 42 years ago in 1971, it has been published in 15 languages selling four and a half million copies and is the obvious book to go to for anyone looking for a good overview of how the land lies in the various wine-producing regions around the world.

Redesigned from the last, 6th edition in 2007 (the US jacket is shown left, the jacket for everywhere else is above left but the contents are exactly the same), it follows a similar path with Hugh Johnson writing the foreword and Jancis Robinson writing the introduction, the opening chapters much the same with sections on the ancient world of wine; the evolution of modern wine; the vine; international and regional grapes; wine and weather; terroir; making wine in the vineyard; making wine in the cellar; oak and its uses; 'stoppering' wine; anatomy of a winery; new winery - new thinking; wine and time; and an analysis with figures/statistics of the world's vineyards and wine production comparing 2010 figures with 2004. Considering that this data coming into 2014 is already four years old and that the lag between the sixth and seventh edition is six/seven years, one would have thought in a book where the first 40-odd pages contain only minor changes the wine data might at least have been a little bit more up-to-date. That said, this is only a minor grumble.

Other than that, the layout is much the same as previous editions although the illustrated section on the wine-grower's year is no longer included whereas there are pictographic diagrams on how mass-produced white wine and top-quality red wine are made with accompanying text. After that, we're into the conventional country-by-country analysis which follows the usual high standards with regions broken down into its constituent parts with dedicated panels showing latitude/altitude; average growing season temperature; average annual rainfall; harvest month rainfall; principal viticultural hazards; and principal grape varieties. In a region such as Burgundy, each individual area on the map from Chablis to Beaujolais is again colour-coded giving greater visibility to what can be densely-filled cartography. What's probably a little surprising in the England and Wales section, bearing in mind the expectations for those regions in the coming years, is that the map is not up to the standard of what we get elsewhere and could do with being a little bit more explicit and detailed. But, again, this is a minor whine. Of its 215 maps on 400 pages, more than 25 are new.

Looking to the future, the publishers this time around have also launched an iBook edition (£19.99/$33), which includes everything in the book as well as author videos, panoramic and interactive maps, pop-up features, note taking and scrollable thumbnail page-spreads at the bottom of the screen to aid navigation through the text. This is obviously a canny innovation and addition that is just perfect when one is dealing with maps in particular, especially if one is zooming in and out on a specific appellation or looking to visualise coordinates or contextualise a smaller district in a larger zone. One wonders down the line if the eight edition of this book will sell exclusively as an iBook where everything one needs in an atlas is accessible on a lightweight platform rather than in its more familiar form, not forgetting the effort it takes to turn the pages of what is a considerable body of work? Such is the scope in the digital age that the possibilities for this book in future editions are unimaginable. In essence, this is still the first wine atlas anyone interested in wine is going to reach for, overseen by two of the most accomplished names in the business, and again beautifully laid out to the usual high standards we've come to appreciate.