Hugh Johnson captures six decades of wine writing in latest book


Hugh Johnson, perhaps best-known in the wine world for his magnificent and decidedly heavy-weight tome "The World Atlas of Wine," has a new book.

The latest work bears the understated title "On Wine" and is, as the dust-jacket blurb suggests, a "personal take" on wine and its ongoing evolution as a world beverage over the nearly 60 years Johnson has written about wine.

The list of his previous wine books includes such notable entries as his first book, "Wine," published in 1966 and the table-setter for easily digestible book titles, to his notable masterwork "The Story of Wine" (2006).

Johnson is a masterful and prolific writer (he is as well known in some circles for his horticultural interests as for his wine writing) and his popularity derives not only from his prodigious knowledge of the subject but from his approachable, succinct and scholarly (without being overbearing) writing style that he self-effacingly describes as "scribbling."

This is "one man's wine history," writes Johnson, and notes that wine has developed more in the past 50 years than in the previous 500.

"Although 'improved' is probably a more relevant word," he corrects himself. "Good wine has flooded into our lives from places, countries, even continents that were innocent of wine before."

The stories in the book (actually a compendium of articles written for various publications) come in chronological order, including entries from the '60s (the 1964 vintage in Bordeaux fell just short of spectacular, he says) to the 2010s, where Johnson's rambles include Sonoma ("a propitious spot for Cabernet Sauvignon"), the explosion of wine interest in China, and Australia's mixed and mixed-up wine fortunes ("They've prostituted their best brand names," he writes accusingly.)

Full of opinions, information and wisdom, "On Wine," aptly subtitled "Good Writing from 55 Years of Scribbling," is worthy of inclusion in anyone's wine library. ("On Wine," Mitchell Beazley, publisher; 288 pages, hardcover.

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