Hugh Johnson's Pocket Wine Book 2010 was popped under my door this week and is the 33rd edition of one of the UK's most popular yearly wine guides. The guide is packed with everything you need to know about producers, grape varieties, the best vintages, when the wines are ready for consumption etc and is a really great guide to food accompaniments. However, unless you have particularly thin and freakishly long "pockets" you can't really call this a pocket guide. You can call it a handbag or manbag sized wine book but I doubt the people at Mitchell Beazley are going to change the name on account of me. We could petition them?
So who is Hugh Johnson?
If there is a wine enthusiast who hasn't heard of Hugh Johnson and doesn't have just one of his books I would be amazed. Hugh is behind several wine bibles including this yearly pocket wine book and the World Atlas of Wine (with Ja-Ro*) and Hugh Johnson's Wine Companion.
What sets this guide apart from other Pocket Guides is Hugh himself. From reading the foreword you get a real sense of Hugh's priorities and his devotion to wine including his deep and understandable concern about the EUs interference with our time honoured passion. Having myself spent some time talking to producers in the Rhone last year it's true that in France, as well as the rest of Europe, the attempts by the government to install a kind of prohibition are causing widespread concern for drinkers and producers alike.
Hugh has also given us, in this edition, a little something extra. A list of the best wines he has tried in the last 12 months. Of course, we all have our own palates and our taste buds may not run along Hugh's line or our pockets as deep, but the wines he has chosen are at least indicative of a wine performing to excellence within it's varietal and for wine enthusiasts whose tastes are broad these tips will be much appreciated.
The real winning formula behind this book is not simply Hugh's information and experience but the ease of use. Starting with easy to read vintage tables and progressing to a concise description of grape varieties, the best section is, in my humble opinion, the food matching guide. I have found with many pocket guides that this vital information is completely omitted, however in this book you can look up any number of meals and food types and be presented with several options for accompanying wines, including different cheese and vegetarian plates. There is but one problem with this, Hugh. It's the wrong way around. As a wine-o, I have countless bottles of wine lying around and want to know what food I should be buying for my wines, not which wines I should be buying for my food! For dinner parties my first thought is "which of my wines is at it's peak right now", then I will build a meal around it. Wine first, food second!
As an Italian wine enthusiast, this guide, like all general wine guides, isn't bursting with Italian-centric information. It covers the usual suspects in both grape variety and producers and only covers the vintages of the Piedmont and Tuscany so hard cheese to anyone in love with Amarone (which FYI, is a perfect wine/cheese combo) for that kind of information you have to buy the Gambero Rosso guides. This book tells me, Sarah Newton, nothing I don't already know about Italian wine but as I do drink wines from around the world it would be the first book I went to if I had a quick question about what to match with my Côte-Rôtie this weekend.
Even if you have the '09 guide, you should need to upgrade, you have a vintage report and the listings of the last drinkable year, but also every year the book covers new wine making areas in more detail. I may be among the few, but actually I do want to know if Romania and China are producing better wines!
This book is perfect for the serious wine drinker, but when you kick it up a notch to "geek" it doesn't cover everything but that's why it's called a pocket guide and of all the pocket guides around - the smart money's on Hugh. Just swap around the food matching and add vintage guides to Sicily and the Veneto to the 2011 book please Mr Johnson.
Where can I buy this Book?
A family run business - Amazon.com - £6.59
*Ja-Ro - Jancis Robinson